By Eleni Bistika
A large crowd gathered at the Sotiria General Hospital in Athens on Friday, October 19, to pay tribute to the charity work of Aristides Alafouzos, a Greek from Santorini, who, with encouragement from his late wife Lena and their two sons, realized the dream of a fellow Santorini Greek.
While Alafouzos, the president of Kathimerini, likes to maintain a low profile, the family’s generous and ongoing donations for the development of the Sotiria Hospital’s Cancer Unit, both in terms of operations and equipment, have resulted in a major charitable project: In the space of 13 years, since its establishment in 2000, the unit has provided support and pharmaceutical and medical care, not to mention hope, to some 6,500 cancer patients and their families.
So how did it all start? The founder of the Cancer Unit, Professor Constantinos Syrigos, turned to Aristides Alafouzos, telling him that, with his help, the dream could be realized of a medical facility that would provide hope and support to cancer patients, especially those on low incomes and without any medical insurance.
“The Cancer Unit started out as two rooms with the capacity to receive visits by 10 to 12 patients a day. Thanks to the excellent infrastructure which we owe to the Alafouzos family, the medical staff and its scientific mission, as well as the research and the voluntary efforts of the staff, the unit’s outpatients department today has the capacity to treat many more, be they rich or poor, without discrimination,” Syrigos said during a presentation, as a video wall displayed images of paintings by two former cancer patients, prominent Greek artists Panos Tzortzinis and Nikos Alexiou.
Among the works shown was Tzortinis’s “I Kolasi Mou” (My Hell) and Alexiou’s award-winning “The End,” which represented Greece at the Venice Biennale in 2007.
The Sotiria’s Cancer Unit represents an exemplary hospital environment, with well-lit halls and wards, as well as the personal touches of Lena Alafouzos in the form of flowers and pleasant furnishings.
The decision to name the cancer unit after Lena Alafouzos is a small token of appreciation to the “wonderful spouse and mother who loved the unit and took it under her wing,” noted Professor Syrigos, who proceeded to invite Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis and benefactor Aristides Alafouzos to the podium for the unveiling of the commemorative plaque.
Addressing the audience, Health Minister Georgiadis said he felt honored to be invited to the unveiling ceremony and thanked the Alafouzos family for their donation and large-scale social contribution.
“Since ancient times, those who have had the means have provided for their fellow citizens – this is the message of patronage,” said the minister.
“We are very proud of the Cancer Unit, which is a jewel in the Greek medical field.”
A portrait of a sweet, smiling Lena Alafouzos by artist Eleni Asimi, from the village of Oia on Santorini, was unveiled at the ceremony, which was also attended by her sons, Yiannis Alafouzos and Themistocles Alafouzos.
Facts & figures
In the early days, the Sotiria General Hospital Cancer Unit operated in the space of two rooms which covered an area of 40 square meters, in which just 10-12 patients were treated per day.
Now the department occupies four floors, covering an area of 1,400 square meters, with the capacity to cater to about 90 patients daily.
The unit hosts several wards, reception areas, an outpatients clinic and laboratories as well as an amphitheater – the latter hosted the official naming ceremony of the Lena Alafouzos Cancer Unit.
Established in 2000, the unit was completed in 2011. The donation made by Aristides Alafouzos and Kathimerini newspaper included the refurbishment of buildings, the provision of hospital and lab equipment, as well as the creation of training halls for doctors, medical staff, health professionals, patients and members of the public.
The department has outpatient, pain and angiology clinics as well as a psychiatric ward and a clinic for supporting treatments.
“The idea behind the unit’s operation was that cancer patients must be treated by a group of doctors from different specialties, as opposed to just one doctor,” said Constantinos Syrigos, a pathology-oncology professor who has led the department since its establishment.