Every year, the Omega Boys Club honors men or women who exemplify the club’s mission - to help individuals stay alive and free, unharmed by violence and out of prison. This year, the prestigious Friends of Omega Award went to Harvey Brody, DDS, UCSF professor emeritus and director of stomatology, for helping a young man overcome epilepsy.
Brody has lent a hand to many young people through his volunteer efforts, said Margaret Norris, director of academics at the Omega Boys Club, a nationally recognized youth development and delinquency prevention program that serves the San Francisco Bay Area and southern California. This year, Brody gained the Omega family’s love and respect for his extraordinary efforts in helping DeAndre Taylor secure funds for brain surgery, said Norris.
Taylor grew up in San Francisco as a misunderstood kid. The subtle signs of his undiagnosed epilepsy—confused memory, episodes of blank staring, extreme fatigue—went unrecognized for years. He had problems in school and began slipping through the cracks. In 1994, at the age of 19, Taylor became involved with the Omega Boys Club and turned his life around. He became an inspirational leader and, despite frequent seizures and epilepsy-associated health problems, began college at Clark Atlanta University in Georgia.
Before heading to college, Taylor had befriended Robert Mitchell, at the time a UCSF medical student who volunteered with the Omega Boys Club and who recognized that Taylor wasn’t getting optimal medical care for his epilepsy. He convinced Taylor to see Daniel Lowenstein, MD, UCSF professor of neurology, for an evaluation.
“DeAndre has become one of my favorite, most beloved patients,” said Lowenstein. “Everyone who meets him falls in love with him. Never once have I seen him give up.”
Lowenstein determined that Taylor suffered from mesial temporal lobe epilepsy syndrome, a very resistant form of epilepsy that cannot be treated with medications. Instead, Taylor would only be cured by having a lobectomy to remove the part of his brain that was causing his seizures.
Surgical removal of seizure-producing areas of the brain has been an accepted form of treatment for more than 50 years and is covered by most health insurance plans. But for Taylor, having neurosurgery was financially impossible - his family had tried to get health insurance and social security for years but kept running into red tape. Without the surgery, Taylor’s condition became so debilitating he had to drop out of college as a freshman. Many people thought his life would be cut short due to his physical problems.
And then Harvey Brody stepped in.
“Harvey became the point person for DeAndre and guided him and his family through the medical and insurance systems,” said Lowenstein. “He played an enormously important role by pushing to make sure DeAndre got the care he needed.”
Brody played the role of Taylor’s social worker, helping him secure disability benefits, arranging for appointments, explaining procedures, and providing encouragement. Brody’s efforts culminated in an eight-hour neurological procedure performed by Nicholas Barbaro, MD, UCSF professor of neurology, in which part of Taylor’s temporal lobe was removed. Since the October 1st, 1999 operation, Taylor has been seizure-free.
“Through all the steps - EEGs, MRIs, the surgery - Harvey’s been by my bedside for me,” said Taylor. “If it wasn’t for Harvey getting the funds, I wouldn’t be thinking about going back to college right now.”
Brody met Taylor through Omega’s Institutional Violence Prevention program where Brody has volunteered twice a week for the last two years. The program operates at the Youth Guidance Center in the San Francisco County jail and at the Potrero Neighborhood House. Each week, thirty to forty young men and women share their experiences and talk about how to change their lives for the better.
“We work with kids whose lives are full of despair and negative kinds of influences,” said Brody. “These young boys and girls are bright and have tremendous potential. Every once in awhile there’s an absolute miracle, a young person starts to make better choices, and turns his or her life around.”
The Omega Boys Club strives to give young men and women the opportunity to build positive lives and move into contributing roles in society. Brody’s work at Omega includes developing peer-counseling programs that train young men and women in public speaking and peer-counseling. He steers those interested in science to jobs at UCSF and does his best to expose them to different ideas and experiences.
“Harvey talks and listens from the heart,” said Jack Jacqua, co-founder of the Omega Boys Club and peer counseling director at San Francisco Juvenile Hall. “He relates to and understands inner-city youths. We work in-between the jail house and the school house, and Harvey knows how to give a lot of tough love.”
Brody’s willingness to help others permeates all aspects of his life. After a distinguished career at UCSF and a stint as a health policy advisor in Washington, DC, Brody came out of retirement to develop and direct a new UCSF endeavor called the Post Baccalureate Program designed to help disadvantaged students gain admission to the health professions.
“We started the model last year and all five of my first group are now in dental schools, two at UCSF and three at the University of Pacific,” said Brody. “In the dental program we now have 16 very interesting and worthwhile students.” The UCSF School of Medicine has recently initiated a similar program.
Receiving the Friends of Omega Award came as a “total surprise” to Brody, but perhaps it shouldn’t have.
“Harvey helps people out of the kindness of his heart and asks for nothing in return,” said Norris. “A friend is someone who will never lead you to danger, and who will always help you out. Harvey is that type of individual.”
Former recipients of the Friends of Omega Award include the 49’ers Jerry Rice, actor Danny Glover, and KGO-TV sports anchor Martin Wyatt.