INDIANAPOLIS—To create a legacy for his soulmate and to honor their 42-year marriage, IU School of Medicine alumnus Kip E. Virts, MD, has made an $8 million estate gift to support bile duct cancer research at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The gift established the Melissa Ann Virts and Kip E. Virts Endowed Cholangiocarcinoma Research Fund and Melissa Ann Virts and the Kip E. Virts Endowed Cholangiocarcinoma Research Chair. Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer of the bile ducts, a network of tubes connecting the liver, gallbladder and small intestine.
Melissa Virts, the beloved wife of Kip Virts, was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma in May 2021, just days after she retired. Kip Virts says she was “a trooper as she danced with death” as she recovered from treatments at their home in Elk Grove, California. Melissa died in his arms on December 28, 2021.
“Melissa continues to be my sentinel and lighthouse beacon, and this gift will share that light with others faced with this terrible disease,” Kip Virts said. “We always said to one another, ‘It’s you and me, and me and you.’ This named gift will keep that ‘you and me’ alive in a joint legacy.”
The estate gift will provide $6 million to the endowed research fund and another $2 million to fund the endowed research chair.
“This incredible, heartfelt gift will position the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center to become the nation’s leading research center in cholangiocarcinoma,” said Kelvin Lee, MD, director of the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Dr. Virts is creating a legacy that will allow for unprecedented support for scientific advances in treating and curing bile duct cancer.”
As an IU School of Medicine alumnus, Dr. Virts has long known about the cancer center’s track record for tackling rare cancers like thymoma and testicular cancer.
“Cholangiocarcinoma is a very rare type of liver cancer that is aggressive with limited treatment options. There is a dire need to fund additional research to allow us to research new therapy strategies for this disease,” said Anita Turk, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine at IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center. Turk’s research focuses on cholangiocarcinoma and pancreatic cancer.
About the Virtses
The couple met in 1976 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in a biology 101 lab. A Fort Wayne, Indiana, native, Kip received an athletic scholarship from UCLA for swimming. Melissa grew up in Lodi, California, and was studying nursing. That biology lab changed the course of their lives, when Kip was seated across from “the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.” He purposefully sabotaged his microscope’s lightbulb so he could partner with Melissa to complete that day’s coursework. Melissa and Kip were inseparable from that point forward.
Kip and Melissa were engaged in the summer of 1978 after Kip was accepted to IU School of Medicine. Kip knew they would be separated for a year while Melissa was completing nursing school and wanted to make certain his commitment to her was clear. They married on July 21, 1979, in Santa Monica.
After graduating from IU School of Medicine in 1982, Kip completed his residency in California and became an anesthesiologist. Melissa’s nursing career led her to become an RN tech flight attendant nurse on commercial flights. In 1990, Kip and a group of physicians formed Anesthesia Consultants of Sacramento. Partners in life and business, Melissa joined the corporation to manage internal accounting. She later returned to school to earn a bachelor's degree in general business. The couple worked together until Kip retired in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic led to decreased demand for anesthesiologists. Melissa continued working until April 2021 so she could finish transitioning her work to others. Days later, Melissa learned that her recent health issues were due to cancer.
More information about the Virts endowed chair and research fund is available online.
IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.