Hospital executive promotes Jackson County sales tax

David Westbrook, 64, said he went blind at age 17, the same age as the seeing girl next to him who has the same eye disease.

“The reason I cannot see and she can is because of research,” he said.

Medical advances made the difference in her case and more of it can make much more difference, he said at a Thursday press conference.

Westbrook, a senior vice president at Children’s Mercy Hospital, spoke in favor of the half-cent sales tax for medical research that goes to Jackson County voters Nov. 5.

It took six doctors and a trip to the Mayo Clinic to diagnose him with juvenile glaucoma, he said. By age 17, eight surgeries had failed and he went blind.

Emily Mallette, 17, was quickly diagnosed with the disease at age 9 and treatment that included laser surgery has so far saved her sight.

“… blades of steel replaced by blades of light,” Westbrook said.

Mallette said research funded by the tax “gives me hope that one say there will be a cure, (there will be) more treatment.”

The half-cent sales tax would raise $40 million a year for 20 years to fund a new research institute on Hospital Hill. Supporters say it would attract world-class researchers who would work on translational medicine, creating new treatments and cures.

The institute partnership would involve Children’s Mercy Hospital, Saint Luke’s Health System and UMKC.

If the tax is approved, the Hall family and the Hall Family Foundation have pledged to spend $75 million to build a structure for it adjacent to Children’s Mercy on Hospital Hill.

Several groups oppose the tax, including editorials in the Kansas City Star.

They question whether a sales tax – usually used to fund city, county and state infrastructure needs – is appropriate.

The Star suggested that business leaders backing the tax are hoping to pass it with a low voter turnout on Nov. 5.

Asked about that, Westbrook said, “We think the greater the vote, the more likelihood” it will pass.

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