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From Patient to Partner

Impressed by the care she received for a rare eye disease, Meredith Cross has generously supported her physician and rallied dozens to do the same
Posted May 18, 2015
Meredith Cross and Jennifer Thorne, MD, PhD, (SPH ’06) Meredith Cross and Jennifer Thorne, MD, PhD, (SPH ’06)

To wake up one morning and find that something is wrong with your vision can be a terrifying experience. But even scarier is when no one can tell you what’s wrong.

That’s exactly what happened to Meredith Cross in 2012 when debris appeared to flood her vision — she likened the sensation to looking through an Etch a Sketch. After initial visits to local physicians yielded no answers, she came to the Wilmer Eye Institute, where she received a diagnosis from Jennifer Thorne, MD, PhD, (SPH ’06), in the Division of Ocular Immunology.

Cross had birdshot chorioretinitis (BSCR), a rare type of inflammation, first described by Wilmer ophthalmologists, which derives its name from the scattered spots that develop on the retina. Thorne is one of the world’s few experts on the disease and was able to work with Cross on a medication plan that allowed her to retain her vision and continue her work as a corporate finance lawyer.

“It’s a lifelong disease, but Dr. Thorne told me right at the start that I didn’t have to worry, that I’d be her patient for many years to come, and that we’d make it all work out,” Cross says. “There have been ups and downs with my condition, and through it all, she has worked with me, talked to me when I was worried, changed things when I travelled on business.

“At Hopkins, you find people like Dr. Thorne who have this surprisingly wonderful combination of being compassionate and kind while also working at the top of the field in research,” adds Cross. “Plus she’s hilarious, and I needed that.”

Over time, Cross found that she and Thorne had a great deal in common — both with a wicked sense of humor and a strong drive for success. Cross attended Vanderbilt Law School and has since built an impressive career, including serving for nearly four years as director of the Division of Corporation Finance at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. She left the SEC in 2013 to rejoin her law firm, WilmerHale, where she has a busy practice as a corporate and securities partner. 

As for how she made the jump to being a donor, it began simply. She got a card from Wilmer around the holidays and decided to respond with a contribution. But she wanted to do more, and so in 2013, she stepped forward with a substantial gift for research that allowed Thorne to pursue new lines of BSCR investigation and hire a research fellow to assist in her studies.

And Cross wasn’t done yet.

She started asking others to give to the cause as well. She asked family. She asked friends from many corners of her life, including neighbors, current and past co-workers, college and law school friends — even her car dealer and her architect. She admits that it felt a little awkward at first, but because she believed in Thorne and her work and the impact additional research funds could have for BSCR patients, she persisted. Cross says she tries never to be pushy, and makes a point to write a detailed personal “thank you” letter to each donor. She also worked with the Wilmer development office to make sure that their website had an easy option for giving to BSCR research online.

Cross is proud of and humbled by the outpouring of support: since 2013, dozens of people who know her have given to Thorne’s BSCR research, for a total of more than $280,000.

Meanwhile, Cross continued to think about the best ways to direct her own resources. While she was passionate about providing an immediate source of funding for Thorne’s work, she also hoped to do something more lasting. In 2014, together with her husband, John, and her son, Joseph, she made the decision to establish the Cross Family Professorship in Ophthalmology. While this was a major investment for the family, they were all in agreement on the importance of this commitment and their confidence in what it would help to accomplish at Wilmer. The position was officially dedicated this April, with Jennifer Thorne as the inaugural recipient.

“By raising the profile of the disease and enabling Dr. Thorne to do her work, there could be help for people like me forever,” says Cross. “The fact that there will always be funding for her research and that Dr. Thorne is recognized as holding an endowed professorship means a lot to my family.”

This new support has expanded Thorne’s work and will aid in her ongoing efforts to examine the epidemiology, progression, and treatment of BSCR and related conditions. Cross and her family and friends are all partners in that mission and the greater mission of Wilmer to reduce suffering from blindness and vision loss.

To direct your gift for the Birdshot Research Fund, please select that designation from the drop down menu of our giving form to the right.