Gift from Tim and Barbara Michels Inspired by Teen Daughter to Fund Professorship in Pediatric Neurological Surgery

The Micheles Family

The Michels Family/Sophie Michels

Sophie Michels is a happy, vibrant college sophomore who loves exercising, playing polo and being with friends and family.

Diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at age 11, Sophie can enjoy all these things and more, thanks to a remarkable endoscopic surgical technique pioneered by Dr. Mark Souweidane, vice chair, Department of Neurological Surgery; professor of neurological surgery, Department of Neurological Surgery and Pediatrics; and director of pediatric neurosurgery, NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

To honor Dr. Souweidane’s groundbreaking work, Sophie’s grateful parents, Tim and Barbara Michels, have pledged $3 million to endow the Michels Family Professorship in Pediatric Neurological Surgery. The endowment – the first in pediatric neurosurgery at Weill Cornell Medicine – will help Dr. Souweidane innovate the promising field of endoscopic brain surgery.

“We have been very blessed as a family, and we want to help others,” explains Mrs. Michels.

Natives of Wisconsin, Sophie’s parents knew something was very wrong when their daughter suddenly collapsed at a parent-teacher conference in 2012. Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, diagnosed choroid plexus carcinoma (CPC), a rare, slow-growing cancer that starts deep in the brain.

They immediately opened Sophie’s skull to reach the large tumor – a very risky and invasive procedure. Sophie also underwent rounds of potent chemotherapy.

By 2017, the family was living in the New York area when a scan revealed that Sophie’s tumor had returned. A family friend recommended Dr. Souweidane, who is adept at using minimally invasive techniques to remove brain masses.

“Her surgery and recovery were amazing,” says Mr. Michels, owner and vice president of Michels Corporation, an international energy and infrastructure contractor based in Wisconsin. “Sophie walked out of the hospital in 24 hours, versus the days she spent in the hospital following her other (brain) surgeries.”

Philanthropy comes naturally to the Michels family. Generous supporters of hospitals, education and a handful of other causes “where we can make a difference,” the family was so grateful to Dr. Souweidane, they wanted to begin funding his work immediately. 

Mark Souweidane

Weill Cornell Medicine will put the Michels family’s generosity to work right away. The gift will fund research into Dr. Souweidane’s drug delivery mechanisms, as well as endow the new professorship for generations to come.

“The generosity of the Michels family imparts an indelible mark on our program for children, who deserve the most innovative approaches to care for brain and spinal cord tumors,” Dr. Souweidane says. “This extraordinary gift will fuel creative pediatric brain tumor research at Weill Cornell Medicine, impacting the lives of countless families around the world.”

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