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Program for Jewish Genetic Health Educational Weekend in Pittsburgh Commemorates YU Alumnus

The Program for Jewish Genetic Health (PJGH), a joint initiative of Yeshiva University and its Albert Einstein College of Medicine, visited Pittsburgh earlier this month to deliver a weekend full of educational programming surrounding Jewish genetic health issues, in commemoration of the 10th yahrzeit [anniversary of death] of YU alumnus “Mikey” Butler ’02YC. Butler was afflicted with cystic fibrosis (CF), a Jewish genetic disease, and fought it valiantly and bravely until his untimely passing in 2004 at the age of 24.

Mikey

Mikey Butler z”l received his diploma from then-President Rabbi Norman Lamm during a surprise ceremony at Pittsburgh International Airport.

The Mikey Butler Yahrzeit Weekend was the brainchild of his mother, Nina (Novetsky) Butler’78S, who sought a way to honor Mikey’s memory while delivering community outreach to the Pittsburgh Jewish community. After learning about the PJGH bringing a weekend of educational programming on Jewish genetic issues to Memphis a year earlier, she worked with PJGH personnel to develop a series of talks for a host of different audiences, including students, parents, young professionals and medical professionals. The events drew approximately 700 Pittsburghers over the weekend.

Butler’s battle with CF, one of the genetic diseases afflicting Ashkenazi Jews, was well known when he attended YU. Then-YU president Rabbi Norman Lamm personally conferred a bachelor’s degree in political science and business on Butler in a surprise, private ceremony at Pittsburgh International Airport.

“We wanted to do something constructive and positive with the pain of losing Mikey,” said Nina. “Mikey loved YU, so teaming up with YU’s Program for Jewish Genetic Health made perfect sense.” Nina then went to work, recruiting more than 25 Pittsburgh area Jewish organizations across various backgrounds and affiliations to co-sponsor the weekend’s events.

Topics that the PJGH presented to the Pittsburgh community included carrier screening for Jewish genetic diseases, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (a form of in-vitro fertilization for couples who both are carriers of the same Jewish genetic disease), hereditary breast and ovarian cancer in the Jewish population and screening for BRCA gene mutations, disclosure and stigma issues, and the future of genetics.

“The Program for Jewish Genetic Health speakers dazzled our audiences,” said Nina. “Danny [her husband] and I are deeply appreciative of YU’s support and partnership in honoring our son’s memory by providing such meaningful programming for our community.”

Read more about the Program’s experience in Pittsburgh. For more information on the, visit the Program for Jewish Genetic Health website.