Law alumni define pro humanitate through life-saving gifts

Photo of Nicole "Colie" Dupre ('10 ) and Chris Bechler ('01)

Nicole "Colie" Dupre ('10 ) and Chris Bechler ('01)

When alumni talk about Wake Forest University’s pro humanitate orientation, they mention the School of Law’s emphasis on law clinics and its encouragement of public service careers.

They remember numerous opportunities to participate in charitable endeavors and especially, the Public Interest Law Organization Charity Auction, which raises money to help students pursuing unpaid, public interest work.

They also remember their law school experience fondly – something that many of their peers do not. They associate that with the pro humanitate philosophy as well.

“A lot of law schools are incredibly cutthroat,” said Duncan Wilson (’09 JD, ’09 MBA). “Wake Forest is competitive, but it’s not nasty. It’s collegial. For the most part, everyone respected differences. They are there to better themselves and the world.”

Wilson and at least three other law school alumni have taken the idea of doing things for humanity a step beyond what Wake Forest’s founders might have envisioned. They have donated organs or bone marrow to sick friends, family and strangers.

They shun such words as “hero.” Some of them have been reluctant to tell their stories for fear of making themselves look like attention-seekers or of breaching the recipient’s privacy. But increasingly, their desire to encourage others to consider organ donation sometimes overcomes their reluctance.

Wilson grew up with a father who believed in community involvement. His father was a district governor of Rotary International and he’s currently raising several million dollars for a clean water project in Ethiopia.

“I think giving back and doing for others was always a part of life with our family,” Wilson  said.

Even though law school was challenging, Wilson found time to get involved with fundraising projects, and he enjoyed being around other students who shared his desire to make a difference.

“Wake Forest opens your mind and it broadens you,” he said, “ and it pushes you to be a better person.”

In 2011 Wilson was working as a Certified Financial Planner at Sterling Financial Group. He heard a story on the radio about an eight-year-old girl who had leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.

“I paid attention and I listened,” he said. “It struck a chord with me.”

The girl was about the same age as his niece and Wilson was moved to register his bone marrow at the local drive that was mentioned on the radio.

Six months later, Wilson learned he was a perfect match for a child with a rare bone disease.

He flew to Washington D.C. and after tests determined he was a match, he donated marrow.

“I’m fine now and I know that there’s a child out there alive because of me,” he said.

A year after he donated bone marrow, Wilson ran a 5K race on his birthday to raise money for Be the Match, an organization that connects patients with marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant donors.

“I didn’t necessarily do things like that before Wake Forest,” he said. “Now I say, ‘What else can I do?’”

A culture of giving to others

When she was growing up in Ware, MA, Nicole “Colie” Dupre’s family used to visit a hospital for the developmentally delayed and hand out chocolates to the staff and residents at Christmas.

“That was part of our holiday tradition,” she said. “I can’t remember a time when we didn’t do that.”

Dupre, who works in the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office, was surrounded by people who quietly lived their values. Her mother was a teacher and her father worked with the developmentally disabled. Before coming to the School of Law, Dupre (’10) worked at an orphanage in Africa, where she cared for children with HIV.

When she arrived at the School of Law, she was happy to find that there was a culture that encouraged people to give to others.

“Law can be a contentious profession. I felt like Wake Forest supported those who maybe didn’t have that in their nature,” she said. “Maybe Wake Forest attracts a certain type of person and reinforces those qualities.”

In May 2011, Dupre was working at Horton & Henry when she read about Sarah Mathis online. Mathis is a mother from South Carolina who was looking for a kidney. Dupre was one of several people who responded to the call. After a year of tests and deliberations, she was told that she was a match.

Dupre said that Mathis was someone who crossed her path and needed something that Dupre could provide.

“I’m not really all that nice. I’m not that special,” she said. “If I can do it, anyone can do it. I made one decision one time to help one person. Firefighters make a decision to help people every day.”

The donation process was frustrating at times, because there was little information for organ donors. Most of the information is geared to organ recipients.

Dupre decided to change that by establishing Carolina Kidney Connection, an organization that connects donors and prospective donors, with an emphasis on helping donors understand what’s involved in the process, physically and emotionally.

Tough decision, happy outcome

Like Dupre, Betsy Jones Walsh (’94) was frustrated by the lack of information available to donors when her sister, Judy Jones Tisdale, was told that her chronic renal failure would necessitate a new kidney in 1995.

Walsh is currently vice president and deputy general counsel for Novant Health and served on the board and various committees of the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit that manages the country’s organ transplant system.

Five of Walsh’s family were tested and Walsh was the closest match. Her doctors’ support throughout the process helped her through what was considered major surgery.

“It was not an easy decision for me,” Walsh said, “but I’m grateful that I could do it.”

The surgery was more invasive in the 1990s, and no one could tell Walsh how it might impact her ability to have children. (The surgery can have a negative effect on a woman’s ability to have children, but Walsh was able to have two daughters after the surgery.)

At the time of the surgery, Walsh was in her first year as an associate in the firm then known as Golding, Meekins, Holden, Cosper & Stiles. She worried how the partners would react when she told them she would need at least six weeks off.

“The partners handled it in a way that was very generous and professional. Many of them are Wake Forest grads,” she said. “They adjusted their hourly expectations for that year and they supported me in a way that I don’t think another law firm would.”

Today her sister is healthy and Walsh’s work on the UNOS board has encouraged her to talk about her experiences.

“I realized other living donors needed to hear from me and know that it is natural to have concerns and doubts about donation,” she said. “I am also committed to advocating for increased data collection and research on living donation so that physicians and potential donors can be well informed about all the risks involved.”

Friendships in class and beyond

For Chris Beechler (’01), one of the most memorable aspects of law school was the close relationships between students and faculty.

“It was rare to go down a hall and not see a door open and go in and visit,” he said. “That’s important because you’ve established a relationship with your professors and subconsciously you want to do well for them.”

David Pishko, an adjunct professor in private practice in Winston-Salem, taught a course in pre-trial civil litigation, and was among the professors who made an impression on Beechler.

“He was one of those professors, who smiled and made everyone feel so comfortable,” Beechler said.

After graduation, Pishko became a mentor to Beechler, who is a criminal lawyer in private practice in Winston-Salem. Beechler respected the fact that a busy lawyer like Pishko sets aside time to work on cases involving Death Row inmates.

Pishko would refer cases to Beechler and sometimes call him in to consult on the criminal aspects of a case.

When the two men were having one of their routine lunches in the fall of 2012, Pishko told Beechler that he had polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary condition that can cause kidney failure, and that he was looking for a kidney donor.

“I said, ‘Hey, I’ll get tested,’” Beechler said.

Within a month Beechler learned he was a match for Pishko.

Beechler had the surgery in December and both men are doing fine. Beechler said that he is grateful to the School of Law for bringing in faculty who were not only great professional role models, but who inspired their ambitious students to maintain a perspective on helping others.

“It’s become bigger than me,” Beechler said. “This is something that’s going to affect a lot of lives down the road. I have a chance to be part of that. I’d like to see Dave as a grandfather.”