The Pittsburgh Foundation

Family Medicine: Miklos Family Trust FundSiblings and their scholarship fund support Pittsburgh’s future doctors.

Donor Barbara Miklos (center) talks medicine with two of her fund’s scholarship recipients: fourth-year medical student Zerina Hodzic (left) and Dr. Elizabeth O’Neill (right), a resident physician at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.

Ryan Rydzewski

By Ryan Rydzewski

Ryan Rydzewski is a former communications officer at the Foundation.

FOR DR. MICHAEL MIKLOS, the lone neurosurgeon at what is now UPMC McKeesport, patients came first — whether in the middle of the night, during a family dinner or on a quiet Christmas morning.

“He was all doctor,” remembers his sister, Barbara Miklos. “I can’t tell you how many family meals he missed or snowstorms he braved in order to save someone’s life. Even today, I still hear stories about him: ‘Your brother cured my husband,’ someone will say, or they’ll tell me about how Dr. Mike bought their child a wig after a tough operation. His patients adored him.”

Now, 25 years afer Dr. Miklos' death, this whatever-it-takes attitude and unwavering devotion to others continue to define the Miklos family’s legacy. It’s reflected in their scholarship fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation, which supports students in need who attend the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine. It’s carried on in new doctors, whose lives — and the lives of their patients — have been touched by the family’s generosity. And it began, says Barbara, with her parents — Slovak immigrants who settled in Duquesne, Allegheny County.

“My father worked in the steel mill there,” she says. “He couldn’t read or write, but he knew he wanted his sons to go to college. That was rare at the time — a higher education was not as common as it is now. And besides, we didn’t have any money. But my father was set on the idea, and he worked every day for it.”

However, he died suddenly of a heart attack when Barbara was 6 years old, just as her three older brothers — Michael, Bernard and Francis — were entering college or enrolling in medical school. The family finances went from bad to worse. They sold their only car and stopped the bulk of their spending. “My mother, a homemaker, sat us down for a meeting,” remembers Barbara. “She said that no matter what, we’d still support the boys, because that’s what our father would have wanted. But we’d have to work together to scrape by.”

Enter Barbara’s eldest sibling: Ann Miklos, an administrative assistant at U.S. Steel. As the family’s sole breadwinner, Ann stepped in to support the family as best she could. The Miklos brothers worked odd jobs and carried mail to raise extra money, sometimes hitchhiking to their classes at Pitt. Eventually, all three achieved their father’s dream — and then some. Michael became a neurosurgeon; Francis became a dentist and later a faculty member at Pitt’s dental school; Bernard became a doctor of internal medicine and neurology. Barbara, too, enrolled in Duquesne University’s nursing school and later earned her master’s at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. “By the time it was my turn [to go to college], my brothers were well-enough off financially that they were able to support me,” she  says.

What they did for each other, the siblings decided, they could also do for others. Early on, Francis pitched the idea of a scholarship. As the siblings grew older, Barbara and Ann searched for a place where they could establish a fund. “Our counsel at that time, Mark Zacharia, suggested we approach The Pittsburgh Foundation,” says Barbara. “[Zacharia] recognized how much work and maintenance and regulations come with a scholarship. Now that I’ve seen what it takes to manage one — and the expertise with which ours is being handled at the Foundation — I’m so thankful. Ann and I could not have done all this on our own.”

Since 2009, the Miklos Family Trust Fund has helped nine students at Pitt’s School of Medicine become doctors. The scholarships, based on financial need, are awarded to students in their third and fourth years of study. 

“I knew from the time I was 3 years old that I wanted to help sick people,” says Dr. Elizabeth O’Neill, a scholarship recipient and resident in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC. O’Neill grew up wanting to practice medicine after watching caregivers comfort her cancer-stricken grandfather. “However, my mom and dad divorced at a young age, and my mom was the foundation of our family,” she says. “She supported me and helped me through school, but one person can only do so much. [The Miklos scholarship] eliminated a huge financial burden for me. Medicine is a lot of work, but if you’re passionate about helping patients, then the good days make it all worthwhile.”

 For Barbara Miklos, success stories like O’Neill’s are among the greatest joys of giving. When Ann died in 2013, the Miklos legacy was left to Barbara. “My three brothers and I all earned advanced degrees, which is incredible when you consider where we came from,” she says. “And we couldn’t have done it without Ann. I’m so proud of my family. I’m proud of my sister for taking care of us. I’m proud of my brothers and the good they did for their patients. And I’m proud of the students we’ve helped, and who we’ll continue to help, through our scholarship at the Foundation.”

Original story appeared in the Forum Quarterly - Summer 2016