A True Calling: Roger Wacker felt compelled to give back after experiencing the lifesaving and compassionate care administered to his wife at Saint John’s

December 05, 2016
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As often happens in shaping a person’s direction in life, it was a traumatic experience that led Roger Wacker to his role as trustee of Saint John’s Health Center Foundation after his wife, Angelle Grace—burning with fever—was rushed by ambulance to the Health Center’s emergency room in 2010.

“It was for the grace of God that [Gilbert J. Kuhn Jr., MD] was in the hospital that day and was called in by a young doctor to review Angelle Grace’s chart,” Roger says. “Dr. Kuhn diagnosed an E. coli infection. On top of that, he picked the exact right treatment and medication for the specific strain of E. coli she had.”

Dr. Kuhn admitted Angelle Grace to the hospital, where she was treated over a two-week period, by Stanton Axline, MD. She was under medical supervision at home for another two weeks before being free of the bacteria.

“We are so grateful for the Health Center’s clinical excellence; we appreciate the wonderful care from all of the doctors, as well as the nurses, volunteers, radiologist and comforting staff, especially Irene Bristol, RN, and Coco Garcia,” Roger says. “Saint John's saved Angelle Grace’s life, and we knew then that we had to get involved.”

In 2011, after having an informational meeting with Robert O. Klein (Bob) and Allan B. Goldman, Roger joined them on the Foundation’s board of trustees. And Roger says with a lighthearted flourish—“The rest is history!”

The Wackers are now an integral part of the Saint John’s family. “Roger and Angelle Grace are committed to helping Saint John’s in anyway they can,” says Bob. “Their commitment to the Health Center is so deep that Roger is fond of saying: ‘How can we help Saint John’s? Angelle Grace and I are here for you.’”

With more than 40 years as an investment advisor, Roger currently serves as managing director of wealth management and senior portfolio manager for UBS Financial Services in Century City. That background explains why he’s a perfect fit to sit on the Foundation’s executive, annual appeal and finance committees. Roger also serves on the cardiovascular committee, because he says with a playful smile, “I want to learn more about this condition prophylactically.”

Roger and Angelle Grace banter good-naturedly, completing each other’s thoughts. On a more serious note, Angelle Grace adds that she supports Roger’s involvement at Saint John’s because her father suffered a heart attack. Of the recent large donation the couple made to Saint John’s Million Dollar Heart Club, Angelle Grace says, “These donations are critical because they enable research that helps to develop medications and treatments to provide longer survival and better cure rates.”

Roger, originally from Basel, Switzerland, stepped down last year after 25 years of chairing the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce. Angelle Grace joined him in serving the Chamber, in addition to her career as senior vice president of the commercial real estate services firm NAI Capital and past vice chairman of NAI Retail Council.

Both are active philanthropists, and share a passion for the arts and opera. In addition to his work for the Foundation, Roger is a past board member of the LA Opera, current trustee of CalArts and a member of the Global Advisory Committee for the Mayo Clinic. Angelle Grace also serves on the board of the Blue Ribbon for The Music Center. She’s long been involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and her work includes raising more than $2 million a year by staging Runway for Life galas. She was also appointed to serve on the board of governors of St. Jude’s in 2000.

The couple have been married for 10 years, which Roger quips, “is not long enough.” They enjoy many of the same pastimes: sailing, tennis and learning about world cultures through travel. They also love family time with their children—Martina, 33, and Gregory, 31—who live in Switzerland. And Angelle Grace is an avid salsa dancer, belly dancer, cook and mentor to young women.

The Wackers can’t say enough about the compassionate care Saint John’s provides to all regardless of their situation.

Angelle Grace recalls a visit from Father Patrick to her hospital room: “I saw a priest and I thought, ‘This is either good news or it’s bad news.’ When I said I wanted to go to the chapel, Father Patrick literally escorted me. We prayed together, and he walked me back to my room. I felt so safe and hopeful.”

Her husband adds, “The hospital is truly blessed to have Father Patrick Comerford, a chaplain with the Health Center’s spiritual care department; Sisters Maureen Craig, SCL [Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth], Foundation chaplain, Therese Zimmerman, SCL, Marie Madeleine Shonka, SCL, and Nancy Svetlic, SCL.”

Roger sums up his feelings saying, “I think Saint John’s will continue to have a great future, especially now with its recent partnership with Providence Health & Services. Angelle Grace and I are very happy to be part of it.”