In addition to health institutions, student and employee housing, recreation and fitness options, a library, more medical office buildings, a hotel with a conference center, a community center, a day care/preschool and more dining options are all being discussed for the district. The city of Las Vegas is considering offering breaks to businesses that choose to set up in LVMD.
“The city is doing all it can to help the district and the medical school with infrastructure,” Councilwoman Tarkanian said. “Wires have been buried underground, streets and sidewalks have been improved. There are aesthetic improvements on Wellness Way with palm trees. ..We’re putting in a garage for the medical school.”
As the LVMD grows, the councilwoman -- she has four children and 12 grandchildren -- becomes more excited.
“The Las Vegas Medical District is my passion,” she said. “I am thrilled to see a vision that I started talking about back when I first took office taking flight. Things are falling into place.”
She says her own battle with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body -- skin, joints, and/or organs -- has played a large role in her working to better healthcare in Southern Nevada.
During the 1980s, she went to see her mother in Fresno, CA. “She looked at me and said, ‘What’s happening to you? You have terrible blotches on your face.’”
Upon her return to Las Vegas, she went to a dermatologist and other doctors to find out what was wrong. There were also outbreaks on her legs and elbows. Soon, she was suffering from what felt like electrical shocks. No doctor could diagnose her condition. Finally, a Las Vegas physician, Dr. Elias Ghanem, sent her to the UCLA immunology clinic in Los Angeles.
There, she was diagnosed with lupus. Over a period of several months, many different treatments were tried until a drug given to organ transplant patients worked to alleviate her symptoms. Though she would be in and out of hospitals for short stays during a four year period, the drug, which she still takes daily, keeps the autoimmune disease in check.
“My husband was a great basketball coach (she was married for 53 years to the late Jerry Tarkanian, who led UNLV to the national championship in 1990) so I could afford to go see the best doctors. But I’ve always wondered what happens to people who can’t afford to go out of state. It’s not that we don’t have good doctors in Las Vegas. We do. We just don’t have enough specialists. I think the new UNLV School of Medicine will help change that.”
A stroke suffered by her 5-year-old grandson Jerry in 2015 -- the namesake grandchild of his grandfather is now doing well -- reinforced Councilwoman Tarkanian’s desire to improve healthcare in Southern Nevada. Again, the proper treatment was found at UCLA.
“I don’t want people to have to leave Las Vegas to get the proper treatment,” she said. “I don’t want our doctors to think I’m criticizing them. I’m not. We just need more doctors, more specialists. People shouldn’t have to wait months for an appointment.”
Though she had a bout with uterine cancer in 2013 -- it was treated successfully in Las Vegas -- term limits mean she must soon give up the council seat she first won in 2005.
If her past is indicative of the future, it’s doubtful that she’ll be able to sit back and rest. In California, when her husband coached there, she was a first grade teacher, speech pathologist, principal, central office administrator and California State University instructor. She also founded Oralingua, the first private day school for deaf children in California.
After her husband started coaching the Runnin’ Rebels in the 1970s, she initiated Nevada’s first full inclusion program for deaf children in the demonstration preschool at the Community College of Southern Nevada. She also served for 12 years as a member of the Clark County Board of School Trustees.
“When I see something that needs to be done, that needs to be improved, I work very hard to get it done,” Tarkanian said. I think persistence is very important. Sometimes things don’t pan out right away, but you have to stay with it...I grew up on a farm where you worked every day, except Sunday morning to go to church, to get things done right. It’s just the way I am.