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Thanks to mice, Joe Nagy's inventive mind will remain intact for at least a little while longer. The rodents don't go unappreciated. But more of Nagy's gratitude is directed toward his local ad community, which mounted a lifesaving campaign called Operation Joe when his insurance plan failed him.

Nagy, now a senior copywriter at the Martin Agency in Richmond, VA, helped revive Harley-Davidson's flagging image a decade ago at Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, before moving to Martin in 1993 to do the same for Mercedes-Benz. You've seen his work in enough annuals to sink a ship with.

But not all was well. Last summer, Nagy suffered several killer headaches, about three weeks apart each. His doctor sent him for a CAT scan, and when Nagy went for the results on Monday, August 25, his life changed forever. He was told he couldn't drive his car, or, for that matter, leave: He was being admitted.

"It was pretty brutal," recalls Nagy, 37. Physicians said there was a lesion in his right frontal lobe. In plain talk, a malignant brain tumor -- with a very high recurrence rate.

After brain surgery in August and November, followed by radiation therapy, doctors recommended liquid brachytherapy: the cavity left from the tumor would be injected with radioactive mouse antibodies that recognize and destroy human tumor cells. Though not considered standard by most insurance companies, the procedure had helped treat cancers like Nagy's, and his oncologist, Dr. Friedman of Duke University Medical Center, had persuaded countless insurers to pay for it in the past.

Treatment was to begin on January 15. But on the 12th, Friedman called with bad news: Nagy's insurer, Virginia Healthkeepers, had said no dice. Nagy would have to pay out of pocket if he went. Two weeks later, an MRI showed that a few suspicious spots left over from one of his operations had tripled in size. The cancer was back.

Enter Don Just, Carolyn McGeorge, and Lorna Wyckoff of Richmond's Just Partners. "We realized that if he didn't get the treatment fairly quickly, [the tumor] would grow to the point where they couldn't do it," says Wyckoff.

Everyone in her agency knew Joe and his wife, Amy, also at Martin. Some had worked with them. "They're talented, funny, hard-working," says Wyckoff. We thought, 'We know how to do this. Let's do it.' And we knew [the ad community] would come through."

A bustle of activity ensued: Just Partners contacted Richmond's Legal Information Network for Cancer, who located a foundation that could be used to collect funds for Nagy. Martin president John Adams began negotiations with Duke about trading advertising services for Duke's hospitalization fees. Just Partners went to work on the campaign. And surgeons went to work on Joe Nagy.

That was in February. Things are looking up now. Nagy's May MRI scan showed no new cancer growth, and his first round of chemo caused minimal side effects. The hospital agreed to barter with Martin. And more than $120,000 has been raised through Operation Joe.

It's a good thing. The tab for Nagy's treatment is not what you'd call small potatoes, Amy says. "I got a bill for $30,000 last week . . . It was such a relief when the money started coming in. People in advertising have huge hearts."

It's hard to know how much money to raise, but Amy's goal is $250,000. Meanwhile, Duke's Friedman remains optimistic about Joe's future. The February treatment bought time, and with headlines screaming that a cure for cancer is around the corner, that's a precious commodity. "He definitely has a chance of a cure," says Friedman. "The kind of cure where his grandchildren bury him."

Tax-deductible contributions may be sent to: Operation Joe, 1710 East Franklin Street, Richmond, VA 23223. Checks should be made out to the Barbara Anne DeBoer Foundation, with 'Operation Joe' written on the memo line. Call 1-800-895-8478

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