Cystic Fibrosis Researcher Christens Petroleum Barge that Bears her Name

Physicians and researchers can get any number of awards over the course of a career.  Landing a Nobel Prize is the tops, of course.  But Bonnie Ramsey, MD, received a different sort of honor this week.  She christened a petroleum barge in Portland that bears her name.  Dr. Ramsey is quite excited about the honor, even if it doesn’t seem very medically mainstream.   

Barge christening by Dr. Bonnie Ramsey“It’s a unique award,” she said.  “It’s not the sort of thing most people get, to have something that huge be named after you,” she said, with a smile.  Barges can measure more than 400 feet long, bigger than a football field.  A barge of this size carries more than 3.5 million gallons in fuel, too.

Harley Franco, chairman and CEO of Harley Marine Services, Inc., is the man who leads the barge-naming efforts. He is a board member of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and has helped raise millions of dollars for the cause.  “We got involved with cystic fibrosis a long, long time ago,” he said. 

“When Lissy Moore was born, a bunch of us got involved with advocacy for cystic fibrosis.  We started our guild, ‘The Patrons of Cystic Fibrosis,’ with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation based on our affiliation with the Moore family.”  Lissy, daughter of Seattle Children’s Research Advisory Board Resa Moore, was born with cystic fibrosis.  She died at the age of 15 in 1998. 

As Franco’s business grew over the years, he started naming some of his tugboats and barges after cystic fibrosis patients, with Lissy as the inspiration.  Alyssa Ann and Lissy Too are tugboats named in her honor. 

Petroleum barge Dr. Bonnie W. RamseyIn 1995, Franco named one of the vessels after Dr. Ramsey.  That first boat, the Bonnie R., was retired in recent years.  “We wanted to do a brand-new ‘Bonnie Ramsey,’” said Franco, who said he’s known the physician for 25 years.  “She’s so dedicated, is selfless about the cause and has great relationships with patients and families.  All the strides that they’ve made in cystic fibrosis because of her commitment and dedication is very inspirational to us.  And it gives hope to the families.”  The new barge bears the name: Dr. Bonnie W. Ramsey. 

Dr. Ramsey was lead author of a ground-breaking study on cystic fibrosis published in the New England Journal of Medicine last November.  A few months later, the FDA approved Kalydeco, a drug created to treat some cystic fibrosis patients with a rare gene mutation. 

Franco said the advances Dr. Ramsey and others have made provide hope for patients and families.  “When you see the progress being made, it helps on the fundraising end of it, too.  The fact that there’s always something new coming out of a discovery, it enhances a person’s life and it inches us closer to a cure,” he said.  Franco, wife Lela, and his company’s work for cystic fibrosis causes goes beyond just dollars, too.  “Educating the public on what cystic fibrosis is, that’s a huge part of it,” he said. 

Educating people takes place via the tugboats and barges.  “When people see the ‘Bonnie Ramsey,’ they’ll ask, ‘Who is that?  Who is Alyssa Ann?’  It makes more people aware,” he said.  One barge is named “65 Roses,” which is what some children with cystic fibrosis call the disease because the words are much easier for them to pronounce.

Franco has also used the expression “Cruisin’ for a Cure” for various fundraising events.  The expression seems even more apt these days, with the ground-breaking results from Dr. Ramsey’s research.  “We certainly feel that we’re getting closer to that cure,” said Franco.  “It makes you feel pretty good.”