Cancer research fund established in honor of Liz Karnes

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public affairs | August 15, 2003

picture disc.A fund to advance cancer research and care at the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center has been established in honor of Liz Karnes, an Omaha community leader who died earlier this year after a 12-year battle with cancer.

The fund - called Liz's Legacy - was announced Thursday at an outdoor news conference in the Healing Gardens at the medical center. The announcement was made by Liz's husband, Dave Karnes, Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center, and Stephen B. Smith, M.D., chief medical officer for The Nebraska Medical Center. They were joined by two of the Karnes' four daughters - Laurel and Kara.

"We are honored to have this fund in Liz's name," Dave Karnes said, on his 33rd wedding anniversary. "She received much of her cancer care at The Nebraska Medical Center, and she truly felt Omaha was fortunate to have such an outstanding medical center.

"Liz inspired people with her life. And through this initiative, her example will continue to give hope to those suffering from cancer."

Fund to support research, help others

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Dave Karnes and his daughters, Laurel and Kara, release three dozen butterflies Thursday in The Healing Gardens. UNMC's Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., far right, assists the family. The butterfly is a symbol of hope to the Karnes family.
The fund, which will be managed by the University of Nebraska Foundation, will help support promising research at the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center, while also creating an enhanced awareness among Nebraskans about the importance of understanding cancer.

"Helping others was truly Liz's legacy," Dr. Cowan said. "Throughout her struggle with cancer, she never stopped helping others. She would visit recently diagnosed cancer patients and show them - through her example - that they could live with cancer. Along with the Karnes family, we want to continue to share her message through new community events, partnerships and outreach activities."

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A butterfly befriends Laurel Karnes after Thursday's butterfly release.
"This fund to support cancer research will help to provide state-of-the-art care for cancer patients at The Nebraska Medical Center," Dr. Smith said. "It supports the work of physicians and scientists who are diligently working toward new, more effective cancer treatments and someday a cure. Through this collaboration, we are able to provide our patients with the most advanced means of detecting, preventing and treating cancer."

Butterflies represent hope

The news conference featured the release of several dozen butterflies, as the butterfly had a symbolic meaning to the Karnes family.

When the family realized they were sharing their last Christmas with Liz, they wanted to give her something uplifting. They wanted to reinforce that this was a time of hope and not of sadness. They chose a butterfly pin.

Today, the four Karnes daughters share the butterfly pin. They wear it on special occasions or just when they need to feel Liz's presence. "It reminds them of how their mother lived her life, and the hope she embodied," Dave Karnes said.

How to contribute to Liz's Legacy Fund

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Liz Karnes

Donations to Liz's Legacy Fund can be made payable to and sent to the University of Nebraska Foundation, 8712 W. Dodge Rd., Suite 100, Omaha, Neb. 68114. For more information on Liz's Legacy Fund, go to

"Liz touched so many people. We know there are many people, businesses and organizations who will want to return their love and support of Liz to this fund," Dr. Cowan said. "Cancer is the second leading cause of death in Nebraska. This fund can truly make a difference in helping us make new breakthroughs."

Fund-aising efforts to begin

Dave Karnes made an initial gift to establish the fund, said Tom Thompson, director of development, UNMC Eppley Cancer Center. Even though the fund is just beginning, Thompson said several businesses have already indicated they want to be a part of the fund-raising efforts on behalf of Liz's Legacy.

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Dave Karnes and his daughters, Laurel and Kara, announce Liz's Legacy, a fund to advance cancer research and care.
Two of the local Hy-Vee grocery stores have expressed a desire to participate in Liz's Legacy. Thompson is working with the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team and several local businesses on possible fund-raising initiatives. He said the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center hopes to kickoff this effort at the Maverick Stampede on Oct. 10 and 11, when three hockey powers - the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Maine - will visit the new Qwest Center Omaha to compete against UNO in an early season tournament.

"This initiative only goes forward with involvement and support of the Karnes family," Thompson said. "Dave and especially their daughters will keep Liz's Legacy a vibrant program for cancer research and awareness. We can't thank the family enough for sharing in this vision."