Meet our Board of Directors

BOD_ResizedJulie Opheim

Board Chair

Julie Opheim’s 27 year career with GE Capital Fleet Services has included positions such as Strategic Consultant, where she partnered with Sales Leaders to drive growth for GE, New Customer Implementations and other leadership roles within operations. She is now the Director of Acquisition and Remarketing Operations.

Julie joined the A Breath of Hope Board of Directors in January of 2015. She is passionate about serving and giving back to the community and has led many GE efforts to rally volunteers and support local nonprofits such as A Breath of Hope. Julie has been a stellar supporter of A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation in honor of her mother, a nonsmoker who died of lung cancer after many missed and inaccurate diagnoses. Julie is especially passionate about changing the stigma that keeps lung cancer tragically underfunded and misunderstood.

Julie was born and raised in the Twin Cities and makes her home in Maple Grove with her husband and two daughters.

jeffrey-kendall-smJeffrey Kendall, Psy.D.

Board Co-chair

Dr. Kendall received his degree from Indiana State University and completed his Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Psychosocial Oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. For the past 18 years, Dr. Kendall has directed oncology supportive care departments within NCI-Designated comprehensive cancer centers, academic medical centers, and community cancer centers.

In 2016, He joined the University of Minnesota Cancer Care program as Director of Oncology Support Services where he is dedicated to addressing the impact of cancer on individuals and families. Currently his professional time is divided among direct patient care, program administration, program development, and research collaboration.

To raise awareness of the needs of cancer patients, he speaks nationally and internationally and has published 38 journal articles and abstracts on topics related to psychosocial oncology and cancer survivorship. As a nationally recognized thought leader in his field, Dr. Kendall serves on committees for the American Psychosocial Oncology Society, the Association of Community Cancer Centers, the American Cancer Society as well as the Board of Suite Hope.

Curt Anderson


Curt is a lung cancer survivor and is very grateful to be among the very small percentage of lung cancer patients who do survive this disease.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree in management and finance from St. Cloud State University, Curt spent most of his career in the investment securities industry as a manager of sales and investment advisory services. He currently is an instructor and senior content specialist in the areas of investment securities and insurance. Curt makes his home in Minnetonka, MN.

Since completing his treatment in 2011, Curt has been a volunteer, a committee member, an ambassador, and a fundraiser for A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation and is currently a member of the board of directors. He is also a member of the Allina Patient and Family Advisory Council and is a patient representative on the Allina Lung Program Committee.

He is dedicated to increasing awareness of lung cancer that will result in increased survival rates and reducing the funding gap for lung cancer research.

Gary Brausen


Gary is the Firmware Engineering Director at Seagate Technology, where he has worked much of his career.

Gary’s personal connection with lung cancer started in November of 2010 when a persistent cough led him to numerous doctor appointments. As a 50-year-old nonsmoker athlete, lung cancer never entered his mind, yet he knew something was wrong. After several months and many diagnoses, he received a phone call on March 15, 2011 that would forever change his life. Gary was diagnosed with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer. Soon after he lost his left lung.

You can read Gary’s survival story on our About Page, but know this: Gary Brausen has dedicated his life to A Breath of Hope’s mission to beat lung cancer. His own experience helped him understand the terrible stigma that keeps lung cancer off the general public radar with the facts hidden and the research drastically under-funded.

Gary has been married for more than 20 years to the love of his life, Rosey. Gary and Rosey have two sons, Bennett and Alec, and make their home in Bloomington, MN.

mark-bacigalupoMark Bacigalupo

Development Committee Chair

Mark’s motivation to join A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation in the fight against lung cancer stems from the loss of an aunt, great friend and most recently his mother to the disease.

He is a 1980 graduate of Montana State University where he currently serves on the board of the MSU Alumni Foundation and chairs the Investment Committee. He works in the financial services industry for UBS serving clients as their key financial advisor since 1991.

Mark and his wife Anne live in Blaine and enjoy spending time with their three daughters and their families, serving others, and traveling.

Arkadiusz Dudek, MD, PhD

Research Committee Chair

Dr. Dudek is an Investigator at Metro-Minnesota Community Oncology Research Consortium

Affiliations/other offices held: University of Minnesota, University of Illinois at Chicago

Joined the Health Partners Institute: 2016

Education and training: MD, Medical University of Warsaw, Poland; internal medicine residency, Pinnacle Health Hospitals, Harrisburg, PA; fellowship in hematology and oncology, University of Minnesota.

Overview/research interests: Dr. Dudek has been published more than 100 times in peer-reviewed medical journals for his work in lung cancer, melanoma and kidney cancer. In addition, he has written several editorials and book chapters on topics such as tumor biology and targeted cancer therapies. He serves as a research and clinical mentor to graduate students, junior faculty and clinicians.

Dr. Dudek received his M.D. in 1989 from the Medical University of Warsaw, Poland. He received internal medicine residency training in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and subspecialty training in Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation at the University of Minnesota. He received his PhD from Military Medical Academy of Warsaw in 1998. He joined the Faculty of University of Minnesota Medical School in 1997 and served there until joining the faculty at UI Chicago in 2013.

Dr. Dudek discovered his calling to become a medical oncologist very early in medical school. He found cancer to be one of the most challenging human diseases, requiring the physician to have broad knowledge of all other medical disciplines and an understanding of cellular and molecular biology. The need for development of better therapies for cancer has led Dr. Dudek to look for novel cancer therapeutics and provide them to his patients who participate in cancer clinical trials in the early-phase clinical trials program at Regions Hospital.

peter-buckaPeter Bucka

Peter’s passion for lung cancer started when his dad, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. After a three year battle, Peter’s father passed away. During his care conference, shortly before he passed away, Peter and his family were made aware of A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation. His dad’s motto during his journey was “Choose Joy” – a motto his family continues to live by each day.

Peter works in the financial service industry and has held leadership positions across technology and corporate risk groups at two major financial services companies in Minneapolis.  He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he earned his undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees.

Peter and his wife, Katie, live in Plymouth, MN. They are busy raising their daughter and enjoying all the Minneapolis area has to offer.

Justin Ballsrud

Justin Ballsrud received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminal Justice from St Cloud State University in 1999. He completed the senior management and supervision series from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and is a nationally certified emergency medical technician.

He has been a police office for South Lake Minnetonka Police department for sixteen years. Over his career he has had many additional responsibilities including event management.

Justin has been volunteering with A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation since the first Twin Cities Ling Run/Walk in 2007. His wife, Shanna and his mother-in-law, Judy Golz were founding members. His dedication to the fight against lung cancer has been consistent. He lost his mother-in-law, and recently lost his aunt Gloria to lung cancer.

Justin and Shanna have been married for 11 years and they have three children, Preston, Gavin and Azalea. They reside in Victoria.

Jody EifertJody Eifert

Jody is the Lung Cancer Care Coordinator at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. She works with a multidisciplinary medical team to coordinate care for newly diagnosed lung cancer patients. She is passionate about her work and brings many years of oncology nursing experience to the board. Jody also facilitates a lung cancer support group in partnership with Minnesota Oncology and A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation. As a result of this partnership, Jody has become a strong advocate for A Breath of Hope and helps patients get connected with A Breath of Hope events and services. Recently, Jody worked with A Breath of Hope’s leadership and the Abbott Northwestern Foundation to pilot the first Ambassador Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Jody received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, MN.

Jody joined the A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation board of directors in January of 2015 and is excited to help increase awareness and expand resources for lung cancer patients.

dan-lefevreDan LeFevre

Dan earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing from the University of Iowa and also spent time studying in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is now the Regional Sales Manager at Total Expert.

He is dedicated to the fight against lung cancer after seeing his 70-year old father, Mac LeFevre, passed away from the disease after an 18-month fight. Mac was an avid marathon runner and golfer and did not smoke.

Dan and his wife, Abby reside in Maple Grove, MN and stay busy with friends, family and being “up north” as much as possible.

Mark L. Solfelt, MD

Dr. Solfelt brings to the board more than 25 years of experience as a Thoracic Surgeon with a special practice emphasis on lung surgery.

His desire to become a surgeon dates back to his early childhood when his father suffered a major heart attack at a young age. Mark experienced first-hand the anxieties faced by a family in that situation. He would like to be remembered someday as a surgeon who ministered to the needs of heart and lung patients and their families in a caring, compassionate way.

A special emphasis in his practice is lung surgery related to the treatment of lung cancer. Acknowledging that lung cancer has become the leading cancer killer in our country, and the diagnosis and treatment quite involved, Dr. Solfelt is committed to getting to know each patient personally and coordinating their care with other specialists. He stays with his patients throughout the treatment and follow-up process.

Dr. Solfelt is constantly striving to advance his expertise and techniques in lung surgery, and this includes the use of minimally-invasive techniques whenever possible.

Dr. Solfelt and his wife, Sara, have three children and make their home in Eden Prairie, MN.

Paul J. Thurmes, MD

Dr. Thurmes has been on the physician staff of Minnesota Oncology since 2007. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in Medical School in 2001. He subsequently completed his internship and residency at Hennepin County Medical Center, Minneapolis, MN before graduating from Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine, Rochester, MN where he did fellowship training in oncology and hematology. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Medical Oncology, and Hematology.

Dr. Thurmes is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Society of Hematology (ASH), and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC). He is active in providing patients access to clinical trials, and has a strong interest in lung cancer. He brings to A Breath of Hope Lung Cancer Foundation his expertise and commitment to funding lung cancer research.

As a lifelong resident of Minnesota, Dr. Thurmes appreciates the change of seasons (there’s no such thing as a bad day!) and also enjoys hiking, biking and cross-county skiing. He came to medicine as a second career after seminary training and parish ministry. He and his partner enjoy gardening and cooking at their home in Minneapolis.

Kiara Ellis headshot imageKiara Ellis

Kiara Ellis is the Community Engagement & Education Manager at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Family Social Science and a Masters in Social Work: Community Practice at the University of Minnesota. She held previous positions coordinating grants at the University of Minnesota and HealthPartners focused on creating support services that lessen the burden of cancer and diabetes on diverse populations.

Her passions lie in serving as a change agent for the community and impacting systemic change that will further cancer health equity in the state.

Kiara is excited to join the board to help address community lung cancer education and needs. As cancer has burdened many members of her family and friends, she looks forward to serving an organization that is making a difference!

Emily Elswick

Emily has a passion for improving outcomes for lung cancer patients – and she’s fortunate enough to live that passion every day in her professional role at Medtronic as Vice President and General Manager of Lung Health.

Her diverse roles over 14 years in the medical device industry – including sales, management, program and market development, strategic account management, and most recently building the marketing organization for the Medtronic Lung Health business – has given her a unique perspective of healthcare and the role each of us plays in advancing patient care. Emily puts that perspective to good use not only in her “day job” but also as a leader of the Medtronic Women’s Network where she manages a team focused on the professional development of Medtronic women around the globe.

Emily joined the A Breath of Hope Board of Directors in 2018 after a long history of supporting and partnering with the foundation through her work at Medtronic. She’s excited to apply her passion and experience to help the foundation raise awareness, increase research dollars, promote earlier detection, and improve treatment opportunities that will save lives.

Emily makes her home in Minneapolis with her husband Jason and their three beautiful children: Georgiana, Maxen and Sophia. Formerly from Indiana, Emily and Jason are graduates of Indiana University. One of the few things that matches Emily’s passion for improving lung cancer outcomes is her passion for the Hoosiers!

Nancy Torrison

Executive Director, Ex Officio Board Member

In 2012, the A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation board of directors made the decision to hire its first full-time director. Since its first Twin Cities Lung Run/Walk in 2007, the volunteer-led organization had grown steadily, had donated more than $400,000 to research focused on early detection and improved treatments, and had built a contact base of more than 2500 Minnesota households. However, fundraising and outreach were limited without staff and the foundation’s board knew the time had come to increase its efforts, becoming a force to reckon with in the fight against lung cancer.

Understanding that this vastly underfunded and misunderstood disease is a major social health risk, striking smokers and non-smokers alike, the foundation hired Nancy Torrison, a skilled and successful local nonprofit leader to help the group develop formal programming and a strategic internal structure to advance its mission. With a plan and leader in place, the foundation was now positioned to grow in impact against one of the most deadly forms of cancer.

Today, 18,000 families follow the work of the foundation, annual income has grown from $200,000 to over $1,000,000, research investment has surpassed $1.2 million mark, and new programming is offering hope for patients and education in our communities.

After completing her degree in French and Business Administration, Nancy started her career in sales and marketing, yet quickly transitioned to sales management where she and her team created 700% territory growth over a four-year period. Years later, while home raising four children, she was elected to the local school board in her city and was involved in advocacy, policy, budgeting and governance for the district. Prior to being recruited by ABOHLF, Nancy worked for a national fundraising company, as well as two nonprofits where she served in various leadership positions such as public relations, community and media relations, new business development, marketing, communications and advancement (fundraising). Her reputation as a collaborator and her background and passion for fighting injustice make her an excellent fit for A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation’s mission, growth and program goals.