Winners of the first-ever Sanford Lorraine Cross Award say the recognition they received was a pivotal moment in their careers together with unforgettable, life-long memories.
For their work in creating a path for genetic treatments for blindness and other devastating diseases, research partners Drs. Katherine High and Jean Bennett won the inaugural $1 million Sanford Lorraine Cross in 2018 at a ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
In our first follow-up interview since receiving that award 18 months ago, both Drs. High and Bennett remember the magic, elegance and surprise of the evening.
Sanford Health News reporter Courtney Collen caught up with both of them via Zoom in May.
Q: What do you remember about that evening, Dec. 4, 2018?
“Kathy and I exchanged glances early on in the reception, thinking, ‘there’s no way we’re going to get this. People are kind of avoiding talking to us. I think these other people are going to get it. Let’s just relax and have a great time’. We kind of convinced ourselves we were not going to be the recipients and then, when our names were called, I think we were both in shock! It was astounding,” Dr. Jean Bennett told Sanford Health News.
It was a thrill to even be considered, they explained, followed by the ‘extraordinary’ experience. They managed to convince each other that the other nominees would take home the prize.
“Just before I went into dinner, I said, ‘Jean, we didn’t get it. Relax, have a good evening. Have as much to drink as you want. … I don’t think we’ll have to give a speech.’ After various conversations, I felt someone else had won the award.”
Boy, were they wrong.
“I was a little rattled, I admit that,” Dr. High said. “But it was wonderful to have the work recognized.”
Q: What do you want to say to the Sanford Lorraine Cross leaders and the advisory board?
“The biggest thing I could say is a huge thank you,” Dr. Bennett said.
“It has brought attention to gene therapy and basically helped other individuals set a path for developing treatments for debilitating diseases,” Dr. Bennett said. “I’m so grateful for the recognition and also not just mine but our team efforts. Each person deserves credit. We let them know through this award this was a total team effort.”
They both praise their research and development teams, who often go unrecognized for all the work they do from start to finish.
“All of those different pieces had to be put into place,” Dr. High said. “To do something like this requires so many people who really believe you’re going to be able to cross the finish line and give it everything they’ve got. It’s an amazing testimony to team science and collaboration.”
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