Jim Wigginton sky jumping

The Extreme Devotion of the 7-Mile Man

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Jim Wigginton has always said he would go to great heights to remember his beloved wife, Nancy, and to spread the word about thyroid cancer and quality of life for cancer patients. True to his word, the businessman and adventurer recently made a parachute jump that has been certified by Guinness World Records.

“She was just one of those energetic, happy, loving, kind people. If you met her once, you’d never forget,” says Wigginton, a resident of Belleville, Michigan, and a managing partner in True North Equity, LLC. “I wanted to do something big, something that would honor her life and everything she went through.”

In her memory, Wigginton has made numerous skydives around the world, including one in Antarctica, and is on a path to climb the steps of the tallest building in each U.S. state. He and his son also walked the Camino de Santiago trail and ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, in honor of Nancy.

Jim Wigginton challenger holding Punya sign

Last October, he and tandem partner Arkadiusz Majewski made a tandem skydive from the staggering height of 37,417 feet in Poland. Guinness World Records has certified it as the highest tandem parachute jump. “Officially amazing,” the Guinness representative said when she presented the certificate.

Earlier this year, Wigginton made history by becoming the oldest person ever to reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean. He also became the first person both to skydive from seven miles up and to dive seven miles down to the lowest point on Earth.

In 2013, Wigginton established the Punya Thyroid Cancer Endowed Fund at Michigan Medicine and later gave gifts to establish professorships in her name at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Punya,” a derivative of the Polish word for “Mrs.,” was his nickname for Nancy.

Nancy Wigginton was diagnosed with advanced thyroid cancer in 2007. She was treated at U-M by Megan Haymart, M.D., who is now the Nancy Wigginton Endocrinology Research Professor of Thyroid Cancer, and Francis Worden, M.D., who is now the Nancy Wigginton Oncology Research Professor of Thyroid Cancer. She enrolled in a variety of cancer studies at U-M, joined a thyroid cancer support group in Ann Arbor, and became a guiding presence of hope and comfort among the members.

“We lived with cancer for seven years and, for quite a while, we were lucky to have a normal quality of life,” Wigginton says. “But there came a point when she couldn’t do the things she loved anymore. My thought was that everyone is focusing on trying to cure cancer, but why not try for something more achievable? Why don’t we put some money into helping patients live longer, healthier lives with fewer side effects?”

In the years since the Punya Fund began, Worden says, the median survival rate for thyroid cancer patients who do not respond to radioactive iodine therapy ranges from 2.5-3.5 years. When patients take tyrosine kinase inhibitors to treat thyroid cancers, “we can improve the median progression-free survival — that is, the time that the cancer does not progress on treatment — from approximately four to six months up to 11 to 20 months. This translates to our patients being able to live longer with their disease with improvements in their qualities of life,” he says.

To learn more about the Punya Fund, visit https://sites.google.com/a/umich.edu/thycare/home/punya-foundation. To learn about supporting thyroid cancer research at Michigan Medicine, visit https://www.rogelcancercenter.org/thyroid-cancer/support-thyroid-cancer-research.