Toral Family Foundation supports traumatic brain injury research at UF COM

Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine, signs paperwork to help establish the Toral Family Foundation Professorship in Traumatic Brain Injury, alongside Frank Toral, an advocate for brain injury research and education. Watching are Joseph A. Tyndall, M.D., chairman for the department of emergency medicine, and Latha Ganti Stead, M.D., chief of clinical research for the department of emergency medicine and the first Toral Family Foundation professor. Photo by Maria B. Farias

The Toral Family Foundation, a Florida nonprofit organization that supports efforts to help families affected by traumatic brain injuries, has given a substantial gift to the University of Florida College of Medicine to support a new term professorship and establish a research center. 

The College of Medicine has announced that Latha Ganti Stead, M.D., a professor and chief of clinical research in the department of emergency medicine, has been appointed the first Toral Family Foundation Professor in Traumatic Brain Injury. 

“I decided to make the gift, because for the past 16 years I’ve represented families who had a loved one with traumatic brain injuries,” said Frank Toral, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who started the foundation with his wife,Olivia, to support brain injury research and education. “We’ve really seen how access to resources has improved quality of life.” 

Toral received his bachelor’s degree in political science from UF in 1989 and today is senior partner of the firm Toral Garcia Battista. The firm, with offices in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Tallahassee, handles serious personal injury cases with a focus on helping survivors of brain and spinal cord injuries negotiate with large insurance companies and major corporations. 

Stead, who focuses on research that can have an immediate impact on patient care, said she shares Toral’s passion for helping traumatic brain injury survivors get the long-term therapy and comprehensive care they need. 

Concentrating primarily on acute stroke and traumatic brain injury, Stead is the co-principal investigator for a clinical trial in mild and moderate traumatic brain injury at UF being done in association with Banyan Biomarkers Inc., a UF spinoff company. 

She is also the principal investigator for the UF Department of Emergency Medicine’s traumatic brain injury and acute stroke registries. 

“Sometimes a disease or condition doesn’t get the attention it deserves until there is a champion for it,” Stead said, adding that she is working to establish the Center for Brain Injury Research and Education, an interdisciplinary, cross-college project that would combine the efforts of UF clinicians, educators and researchers working on the different aspects of care for patients with traumatic brain injuries. 

Prior to coming to UF, Stead was a professor of emergency medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry from 2008 until 2010. Before that, she served as professor of emergency medicine and chair for the division of emergency medicine research at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, where she became the first full professor of emergency medicine in the history of the college. 

According to the Brain Injury Association of Florida Inc., about 210,000 people in the state have been disabled by traumatic brain injuries. Such injuries are also among the most common received by U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“One of the reasons I wanted to partner with UF was to increase the awareness and visibility of brain injury,” Toral said. “There is a direct correlation between access to resources and improved outcomes in persons with traumatic brain injuries.” 

Often insurance only covers initial care, he said, although many traumatic brain injury survivors need years of costly therapy and round-the-clock care. 

“Over the years, my frustration has been once they are discharged from the hospital, many of them fall through the cracks,” he said. 

Toral hopes his gift encourages more donations for traumatic brain injury research and the center at UF. He envisions the center as a place where traumatic brain injury patients will be able to get multidisciplinary care and benefit from the research the college is doing. 

Toral earned his Juris Doctorate degree in 1992 from Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law School Center. He has served as an assistant state attorney in Broward County from 1992 to 1993. He also spent two years working at a large private practice in Hollywood, Fla., before launching his own practice in 1995. 

Toral is immediate past president of the Brain Injury Association of Florida and serves on the Sarah Jane Brain Project National Legal Advisory Board. He served on the board of the Brain Injury Association of America and is a past member of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital Pediatric Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Advisory Board.