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Gift Boosts Huggins Endowment at WVU Cancer Institute

A Charleston man’s $1.27 million gift to the WVU Cancer Institute will help improve cancer care for future patients in memory of his late wife, certified orthopedic nurse Deborah K. Knowles.

Deborah Knowles was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, among other health issues. She died Dec. 2, 2018, at the age of 63. As Mickey Knowles sought a way to honor his wife of 34 years, a friend suggested he look into the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment.

The fund seemed like a fitting tribute considering his respect and admiration for Huggins, his wife’s career in healthcare and the impact of cancer on his family. He also lost his father and mother to cancer.

“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” Knowles said. “I want to make a difference in somebody’s life, give somebody the chance my wife didn’t have. … I appreciate the fact that the money stays in the state. I appreciate the fact that the research happens here. Anything I can do to help change the outcome of cancer, I’m for it.”

Mickey Knowles described his wife as “a good woman” who was smart and strongly opinionated. She was inspired to become a nurse by her mother, a surgical nurse who died of cancer. Deborah Knowles worked for Dr. Luis Loimil, an orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, for more than 30 years, and her dedication to helping others heal often went above and beyond her nursing duties. Some patients even referred to her as “Dr. Debbie.”

Knowle’s gift supports the Norma Mae Huggins Endowment fund, which was established Huggins in honor of his mother Norma Mae who passed away May 24, 2003, following a long battle with colon cancer. Huggins partners with the WVU Cancer Institute to host and participate in fundraising events throughout the year, including the annual Bob Huggins Fish Fry in Morgantown, Huggins Homecoming in Cincinnati, An Evening with Bob Huggins in Beckley, and more. As of late 2022, his efforts have raised over $17 million to support cancer care and research via the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Endowment. To date, more than $300,000 has been raised through community events, charitable sales, and individual donations to benefit brain cancer research and comfort care for patients.

“I just want to say thanks to Mickey Knowles, on behalf of his wife Deborah,” Huggins said. “He has committed $1.27 million to the Norma Mae Huggins cancer research fund that we are building here at West Virginia University for the great people in the state of West Virginia. Generosity like Mickey’s is crucial as we continue our mission to find a cure for this terrible disease.” The generosity of Huggins and his growing legion of supporters is making a difference to lessen the cancer burden in West Virginia by offering patients the best possible care close to home.

“Who says we can’t find a cure for cancer right here in West Virginia?” Huggins said. “I think the people in this state deserve a first-class situation in terms of fighting cancer, and we certainly have that. But we’ve got to get more. We’ve got to get it to the point where we really can help. I would be the happiest person in the world if we found a cure for cancer right here in West Virginia.”

Knowles’s contribution was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. Interested supporters can also make a gift to the Norma Mae Huggins Endowmentonline at our secure giving site.

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