HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- They were trailblazers in breast cancer prevention and detection three decades ago. Through their women-supporting-women business model, "The Rose" has saved thousands of lives by providing affordable and accessible quality breast healthcare.
In the 1980s, a doctor and a hospital marketing executive saw a need more than 30 years ago. Their vision has grown into a nonprofit they never imagined. Now, they've served tens of thousands of insured and uninsured women across 40 counties in Texas.
Dorothy Gibbons recalls the year: 1986.
"Remember it was the oil bust. More foreclosures than we've ever had. People were losing their jobs and losing their insurance," recalled Gibbons.
She is now CEO and co-founder of The Rose, which she found with Dr. Dixie Melillo, one of the first female surgeons to graduate from University of Texas, Medical Branch.
While the two worked together at Bayshore Medical Center, they saw a large number of women coming in with late-stage breast cancer.
"It always seemed so bad that we had the technology and we had the ability to catch it earlier but we weren't," said Gibbons.
After some brainstorming and an encounter with a breast cancer survivor at a conference, The Rose began.
"You know what, we all need a rose in our life or we need to be a rose," said Gibbons.
For every three insured women who visit for their mammograms, the nonprofit can fund an uninsured woman's mammogram.
"I'm really concerned that we haven't found a better way to take care of the uninsured," observed Gibbons. "I'm really concerned that we think the uninsured are only 'the undocumented' or people who aren't working. All of our uninsured are working. They just can't afford insurance."
Gibbons admits running a nonprofit isn't easy, especially during a tough year following Hurricane Harvey.
"I think if we didn't have nonprofits, our world could not work. I don't think that, I know that. I'm so proud of the different people who have come to me and said what do I need to do. I try to give them my best advice, but it is tough," said Gibbons.
To date, The Rose has helped a half million women, about 200,000 were uninsured.
They've also help diagnose thousands of women. Gibbons had the idea in the late 1990s to add a patient navigator program. The "Navigators" join diagnosed patients at appointments and help them get through the challenges of treatment.
"Healthcare is confusing even if you're in it. It's confusing. So I'm very proud of that," said Gibbons.
A mobile coach reaches thousands in outlying counties, and in many cases, it's the only 3D mammography program around.
"I think it's incredible that we're still having to convince people that there's value in mammography. There's been a 42 percent decrease in mortality rate. That didn't happen by itself," said Gibbons.
Today, The Rose is a model for nonprofits in other states who have mirrored what's been done here in Texas.
"I'm most proud of my employees. If I were to go missing tomorrow, they would carry it on. They all have that passion," said Gibbons.
And it is a passion that saves lives.
"I hate to use the word 'rewarding,' but when I have a 10-year survivor come back and say, 'you know, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for The Rose,' then it really supports that, you know, we're still on the right track. We're still doing what we said we were going to do," said Gibbons.
Gibbons says the charity is also currently in the running for a $100,000 grand prize from Reliant Gives that will help 500 women without insurance receive the quality breast healthcare they need. Anyone drawn to support quality breast healthcare for more women and interested in joining the fight against breast cancer can visit the Reliant Gives website. You can vote for The Rose, wait for your confirmation text and do it again every day until Sunday, May 6.
CELEBRATE AMAZING HOUSTON AREA WOMEN IN THIS SPECIAL INTERACTIVE FEATURE:
Woman of the Week: Dorothy Gibbons, the woman behind affordable breast healthcare group The Rose
WOMAN OF THE WEEK