AstraZeneca grant funds breast health navigators

Juan Santamaria, MD, and Phyllis Mitchell-Butler

Juan Santamaria, MD, and Phyllis Mitchell-Butler

AstraZeneca has awarded UNMC a $25,000 grant for a breast health navigator program to help Omaha women from medically underserved communities receive appropriate early detection and breast cancer treatment.

The grant to the Nebraska Breast Health Navigation Program was made through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

NBHNP seeks to increase mammography screening rates among Black and Latina women in North and South Omaha and increase the proportion of Black and Latina patients who take part in clinical trials at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at UNMC.

“This amazing and generous AstraZeneca grant will assist us with our breast cancer navigator program to decrease barriers of breast cancer care to minority and underserved patients in Omaha,” said Juan Santamaria, MD, program director. “The support of AstraZeneca is crucial to our endeavor to improve breast cancer health equity among minority women. This grant will impact cancer health in our minority population in a very positive way.”

NBHNP will train eight to 10 lay volunteers with personal or family experience with breast cancer. The navigators will act as guides for patients during screening and treatment visits, assist with appointment coordination, provide education about breast cancer treatments and offer emotional and family support. The navigators also will help identify barriers to screening, including logistical, financial or insurance-related hurdles. Navigators serving Spanish-only speaking Latinas will be proficient in Spanish. Before becoming navigators, volunteers will complete a 12-week training course led by Dr. Santamaria and breast health specialists from UNMC.

Phyllis Mitchell-Butler is one of two recently hired navigator administrator coordinators at UNMC. She said volunteer training has begun, and navigators may begin to meet with patients in April.

“We are ecstatic about this AstraZeneca gift because it will give us more power to be in a position to help minority and underserved women with breast cancer barriers,” Mitchell-Butler said. “We have some very dedicated breast cancer survivors who are ready to get started.”

One of those survivors is Indira Engel. She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in 2009, a few days after finding a painful lump in her breast. Engel and her husband took notes and recorded her doctor’s appointments but still felt in over their heads and filled with fear.

“We were blessed with an incredibly proactive group of neighbors and friends who helped us get through our new reality,” she said. “Through my journey, I met other women who were not as fortunate and didn’t have the support necessary to overcome obstacles for seeking treatment. Thus, when I came across the breast cancer navigator program, I realized this was a much-needed tool for underserved newly diagnosed patients, and I wanted to be part of it.”

NBHNP’s community partners include My Sister’s Keeper (a breast cancer support group for women of color in Nebraska). Other funding for the program was provided by UNMC, the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

The AstraZeneca grant is part of “Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future.” The campaign strives to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. More information is at the Only in Nebraska website.  


  1. E. Silva, MD, PhD, FACS says:

    Delighted to see the renewal of the Nebraska Breast Health Navigator Program which we started and helped so many women in Nebraska during my tenure at UNMC. Dr. Santamaria has done a wonderful job with his improvements of the program at UNMC.

  2. Joshua Mammen says:

    Congratulations Dr. Santamaria! A similar program was a tremendous success under the leadership of Dr. Edibaldo Silva-Lopez in the past. Exciting to see it revived and for external partners realizing its importance.

  3. Michelle Varney says:

    Congratulations on your well-deserved success!

  4. Parvez Khan says:

    Many congratulations!

  5. Jawed Siddiqui says:


  6. Melissa Baron says:

    Wonderful news! Having worked with past navigators under the leadership of Dr. Edibaldo Silva, I saw the impact these individuals had on helping women advocate for themselves and play an active role in their care.

  7. Michelle Grady says:

    This is exciting news!! I remember talking about this program with Dr. Santamaria at My Sister’s Keeper Annual Celebration a few years ago. Grateful to see Dr. Silva’s vision of helping women in medically underserved communities carried forward!

  8. Sonja Franziska Tutsch says:

    Such important work! Thank you for all that you do to help address health disparities in our local underserved communities, Dr. Santamaria.

  9. Karina Bishop says:

    Great news for Spanish speaking women that get their care at UNMC! Congratulations!

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