updated 10/15/2008 12:02:04 PM ET 2008-10-15T16:02:04

Philanthropist Annette Bloch donated $20 million to the University of Kansas Hospital's cancer program Tuesday, in what is believed to be the largest individual gift ever to a hospital in Kansas or the Kansas City area.

Bloch is the widow of Richard Bloch, a founder of Kansas City, Mo.-based H&R Block Inc. The couple have been longtime activists in the fight against cancer.

In announcing the gift Tuesday, Annette Bloch said she was trying to pay a debt she and her husband owed to those who helped them overcome cancer.

Richard Bloch was diagnosed in 1978 with terminal lung cancer and told he had 90 days to live. But he decided to fight and survived until 2004, when he died of heart failure. Annette Bloch said she was successfully treated for breast cancer at the University of Kansas Hospital this year.

"I feel so lucky and so blessed that I can do this," Bloch told a large crowd of hospital employees. "I know that if my husband were alive, he would be just thrilled that I am."

Bloch said she also hoped the donation would expedite the effort to have the Kansas Cancer Center designated as a National Cancer Institute. The cancer center is blended with the hospital's cancer program.

The National Cancer Institute designation would entitle the cancer program to attract more federal grants, clinical trials and research programs.

"People should not have to go elsewhere, you have everything right here," Annette Bloch said. "This will be so wonderful for people who can't go to the other cancer centers. ... I could have gone anywhere, but I was lucky to come here."

The donation will be used to expand and improve the blood and marrow transplant, radiation oncology and breast cancer imaging programs, hospital officials said.

Dr. Roy Jensen, director of the cancer center, said Bloch's gift will provide physicians access to cutting-edge technology, will allow the center to recruit more cancer faculty and to leverage more philanthropic gifts.

Lives affected
Hospital officials said they hoped Bloch's willingness to donate such a large amount to the center will encourage others throughout the nation to donate and push the center closer to the National Cancer Institute designation.

"I was trying to imagine how many lives will be affected by this gift," said Robert Honse, chairman of the Kansas Hospital Authority board. "I bet it's in the tens of thousands.

"This is truly a great day not only for the University of Kansas Hospital and the Cancer Center, but it's a great day for the city, the community, the entire region and I can't thank you enough."

University of Kansas Hospital will rename its outpatient cancer area at its Westwood campus the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavillion. The name also will be on the radiation oncology building on the hospital's main campus in Kansas City, Kan.

Annette and Richard Bloch have worked for decades to improve cancer care and research, establishing the R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation in 1980, sponsoring several programs to help cancer patients get information, establishing cancer survivor parks throughout the U.S. and writing three cancer-related books.

Annette Bloch also donated $1 million to the hospital's Westwood facility when it opened in 2007 and has underwritten the Bloch Heart Rhythm Center at the University of Kansas Hospital.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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