Don Cannon grew up on a small farm east of Independence, Missouri, with a vegetable garden, orchard, vineyard, many chickens and a few pigs.
Today, he lives in Lee's Summit, fewer than 20 miles from where he grew up as a farm boy. These two homes bookend a career that took Don from one end of the country to the other several times, from the Ivy League to Native American reservations, and from big cities to small towns.
Along the way, Don developed philosophies about life and medicine that inspired him to make a significant planned gift to The University of Kansas Health System.
After graduating from high school, Don earned a scholarship to Harvard College, where he completed his undergraduate degree. A second scholarship took him through the University of Chicago Medical School, from which he graduated with a medical degree in 1960.
After an internship at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center, he returned to complete his doctoral studies and his residency training in anatomic and clinical pathology. In 1964, he earned a doctorate in immunotherapy. He married his first wife, Carol, in 1958 and eventually they had four children, two of whom are physicians.
Don headed farther east for a fellowship in clinical microbiology and infectious disease at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. A year later, he joined the staff of the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse as an assistant professor.
Three years later, the U.S. government made Don an offer he couldn't refuse. He was given a temporary officer appointment — the grade equivalent of a lieutenant colonel — at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He served as director of the clinical pathology training program until 1970.
Don then turned west as he was recruited by Bio-Science Laboratories, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company. He eventually rose to managing director while expanding the lab's applied research program, particularly in the use of radioimmunoassay, toxicology and endocrinology.
In 1974, the Lone Star State beckoned. Don became a tenured professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.
Don eventually sought new challenges. So, at 49, he went back to train as an internal medicine resident at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita.
"I didn't know how the young residents would react, but they invited me to a number of parties," he said with a laugh. "I played catcher on the softball team, which was enrolled in a citywide league, and had the third highest batting average. Not bad for the oldest medical resident in the state!"
After his residency, Don opened a medical practice in Pocahontas, Arkansas, where he was the only internist in the entire county — he also worked in the emergency department of the local hospital. He next practiced in Minden, Louisiana, and subsequently became director of a hospital emergency department deep in Cajun country. He semi-retired in 1998.
Don still wasn't ready to sit still, so he joined a program jointly established by the American Medical Association and the Indian Health Service of the of the United States Public Health Service that encouraged physicians to take short-term assignments on American Indian reservations. Don completed several such assignments in remote areas of the country.
"There are only two ways to get to the Havasupai Reservation, located in a branch of the Grand Canyon: a five-minute helicopter ride or a 10-hour mule trail," he said. "I chose the helicopter because I had been around plenty of mules in Missouri."
At Don's 40-year high school reunion, he reconnected with Delores, a fellow classmate, who was now a professor in the School of Music at the University of Iowa. Delores hit it off with Don, and the two were married in 1992. When moving back to Missouri in 1999, Delores began to show signs of dementia and the couple came to The University of Kansas Health System. Delores died in 2012.
With various health issues of his own, including prostate cancer, ulcerative colitis and melanoma, Don turned to the professionals within the system. He was so impressed with the care he and his wife received that he made a planned gift to support Cambridge Tower A, an expansion on the hospital's main campus.
"The University of Kansas Health System has what I consider to be the right idea — you don't give every dollar to basic research," he said. "You need significant funds going for studies to improve the efficiency and quality of healthcare delivery as well as for bricks and mortar projects, like new hospitals and clinics. We'll always need funds for the care of sick folks, like I've frequently been over the past few years."
Living near an academic medical center with specialized care is important to Don. "The health system helps people throughout the entire region, and you never know when you'll need such medical services."
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