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Honoring a Valued Physician and Friend

Bill and Susan Droege flank Dr. Brian Valerian, a colorectal surgeon at Albany Med. The Droeges endowed a chair in surgery to honor Dr. Valerian.

Trust is the foundation on which all great friendships are built and it’s one of the first things Susan Droege mentions when she talks about the bond she has with Brian Valerian, MD.

They met in 2005 when Susan was referred to Dr. Valerian, a colorectal surgeon, who treated her for complications related to Crohn’s disease. He, too, remembers their early meetings. “I noticed her husband Bill always came with her and I was struck by what kind, down-to-earth people they are,” he said. “They travel to the kinds of places I could only dream about going to, like immersive tours to the Arctic to live among polar bears. They showed me pictures and it was fun to live vicariously.”

In the intervening years, Susan’s health has become further complicated by a cancer diagnosis and, while Dr. Valerian’s specialty doesn’t always align with the specific treatment she needs, he has stayed close to the couple, providing care when he can and guidance when that’s not possible.

Dr. Valerian has connected Susan to other specialists. He stood by in the operating room when she underwent a particularly complicated OB/Gyn procedure—and, later, sat with Bill in surgical waiting and listened as he spoke about his love for his wife and his concern for their future.

“For much of my relationship with the Droeges, I’ve just listened,” Dr. Valerian said. “Susan might ask me, ‘Am I going down the right path?’ If I don’t know the answer, I’ll reach out to a colleague.” He also continues to manage her colorectal care.

“Dr. Valerian has become one of the very important people in my life who’s helped me through all this,” Susan said. “We often joke we’d like to clone him.”

Throughout this period, Susan and Bill have made outright gifts paired with a bequest to support research and education in Albany Med’s Department of Surgery (“curiosity is very important to us,” Susan said). More recently, Bill said, “We started looking at our giving plans a little differently. We decided it would be good to see what we were doing in action. In the end it made sense to combine outright gifts of cash and annual Qualified Charitable Distributions from our IRAs with an additional bequest to create our new gift commitment. The new plan made it possible for us to endow the Susan Droege Distinguished Chair in Surgery to honor Dr. Valerian.”

Dr. Valerian was stunned and deeply humbled. “This is the pinnacle for me,” he said. “It’s every academic surgeon’s dream to have an endowed chair. I still feel sort of overcome when I talk about it.” The Droeges’ generous gift will fuel significant educational and research efforts, greatly benefit the fellowship program as a whole and have a positive impact on medical residents and fellows being trained by Dr. Valerian and his colleagues.

The Droeges may joke about cloning their physician friend, but they are sincere in their appreciation of his genuine nature and his caring approach to patients. And they feel their gift will help foster these same qualities in the future physicians to come out of the program.

“We wanted to do something good for the community,” Susan said. “And we feel our support of Dr. Valerian will do just that. We feel it will have a long-term influence on the lives of many people, the way it has on ours.”