Planned Giving

Turning Tragedy into Hope for Others
Ann Helderman Vaughan

Photo of Ann Helderman Vaughan
Ann Helderman Vaughan

The death of Ann Helderman Vaughan's beloved Seal Point Birman cat in 2011 was a tragedy. However, through an endowment set up in the feline's name, researchers at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine are working to create a cure for the often fatal feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) disease.

Sneezing and coughing were the first symptoms of Vaughan's beloved blue-eyed Gauguin. Named for her love of art, the Seal Point Birman cat became Vaughan's "only baby" in 2009. Gauguin went from hitting the cat show circuit as Grand Premier (the championship designation for a spayed or neutered cat) to visiting veterinarians.

"Gauguin's body was being ravaged by FIP; but no matter where I went, no one knew definitely what was wrong," says Vaughan. "There were many opinions and guesses because many realized I was one of those pet owners who would go to any lengths to care for Gauguin."

A medical mystery first identified in 1963, with little medical progress of understanding the disease until about a decade ago, "it is one of the most complex diseases I have ever studied," explains renowned animal health researcher Dr. Al Legendre—professor emeritus and an original faculty member of UTCVM.

Photo of Ann Helderman Vaughan's beloved Seal Point Birman cat Gauguin
Ann Helderman Vaughan's beloved Seal Point Birman cat Gauguin

“I learned of Dr. Legendre and his work at UT after reading an article about FIP," says Vaughan, who graduated from UT Knoxville with a home economics degree in 1963. "I established an endowment (the Gauguin Memorial Research Endowment in Veterinary Medicine) at my alma mater in hopes that research can be done on all issues related to FIP, particularly the cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure."

With funding by Winn Feline Foundation, Legendre's pilot study treating cats with the dry form of FIP, just like Gauguin, has proved promising—with more than three dozen cats who have surpassed the one-year survival mark.

It's a small victory that Vaughan hopes will be the birthplace of saving cats from this fatal disease, plus sparing other pet owners from the same emotional and financial toll she has experienced.

"I hope that our lives, Gauguin’s and mine, will have some special meaning and will benefit others—human and animal."

Want to learn how an endowed gift can support teaching and research that’s critical to the care and well-being of animals? Download this brochure. For more information, contact Angelia M. Nystrom, JD, LLM, at 865-974-7423 or


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