ASPECTS Southern Illinois University School of Medicine | Summer Fall 2020 | 43-2

50 Years of Moving Research Forward

INDEX PHOTO: Teonna Piphus, researcher in the Hascup Neuroscience Laboratory for the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. ON THE COVER: Assistant Professor Michael Olson, PhD, Medical Microbiology, Immunology & Cell Biology.


Research at SIU School of Medicine demonstrates what happens when an academic environment nurtures creativity among its clinicians and scientists. Research teams are continually discovering, investigating and testing cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment methods that are as innovative as those being developed anywhere in the world.

Multi-disciplinary research labs are working toward new and exciting breakthroughs; up-and-coming researchers are advancing novel ideas, while our seasoned scientists continue to demonstrate the dedication and persistence to withstand the slow pace of research. They have made remarkable achievements.

But what does all this mean for the people served by the school? Here are just a few examples of the impact:

  • A new drug protects cancer patients’ hearing from damage caused by chemotherapy
  • Improved screenings for ovarian and endometrial cancer are being developed, and there are promising new insights to prevent ovarian cancer using natural agents
  • Clinical therapies offer hope for treating depression
  • Tissue engineering is being used to grow new skin and physical structures to repair traumatic injuries
  • Studies are exploring ways to slow and prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders

In short, SIU research laboratories are investigating complex problems and diseases that affect not just citizens in central and southern Illinois, but millions of people throughout the world.

During the past decade, SIU Medicine has established two distinct units to more efficiently move its research from bench to bedside: The Center for Clinical Research provides team-based, shared resources to increase clinical and translational research infrastructure and capacity; and the Office of Technology Transfer pursues initiatives that bring our scientists’ discoveries to the marketplace and enhances the regional economy.

SIU School of Medicine’s commitment to innovative research extends to medical education as well. SIU scholars have led the way to national improvements in medical curriculum design, delivery and performance evaluation. For example, former associate dean for medical education Howard Barrows, MD, spent nearly 20 years at SIU developing the world-renowned concepts of problem-based learning and standardized patients. In 2000, he received the AAMC’s prestigious Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education.

Resources are also directed toward the next generation of problem-solvers. SIU researchers are superb teachers, making the esoteric concepts of basic sciences applicable to medical students and graduate student alike. Opportunities exist for the students, residents and fellows to participate in research projects and cultivate a love for laboratory learning while at SIU.

In the decades to come, SIU’s commitment to advancing human health will further expand with projects in clinical, translational and population health research. The medical school has plans to increase collaborations with other health professions schools, affiliated hospitals, private sector entities and other organizations. It’s an exciting time to see research programs evolve to generate better treatments and targeted cures. The school’s scientists have built a solid foundation of research, the laboratory cabinets are stocked, ideas are flowing and the great adventure of research continues.

White Coats for Black Lives Leads Efforts for Racial Equity

This spring SIU School of Medicine students formed a chapter of White Coats for Black Lives, a national organization devoted to counteracting systemic and interpersonal racism and its effects on the practice of medicine and the health of patients. The learners organized a march to raise awareness against racism and police brutality on June 18. A crowd of more than 200 learners, faculty, staff and supporters from the school and its partners at Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s Hospital gathered at 801 North Rutledge in a show of solidarity.

“Racism is a public health issue, and we need to fight it like COVID-19,” said Alexander Worix, one of the third-year student organizers. Worix, Katie Lincoln, MS3, and Barra Madden, MS2, each spoke to the group at the school’s education building. An 8-minute, 46-second period of silence in memory of George Floyd preceded the march, to allow reflection and underscore the dire need for change. Participants in masks and white coats then walked around the Mid-Illinois Medical District in groups of 10 or less, following social distancing guideline then in place for Illinois residents.

“I am proud of the school’s strong anti-racism stance, but I want the community to know where we stand, too,” Lincoln said. “I was amazed by the crowd and all of the support from faculty, students and staff that made this a success.”

Hascup is New Director of Alzheimer’s Center

Erin Hascup

Erin Hascup, PhD, was named as the new director of the SIU Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (CADRD) beginning January 1, 2020. Dr. Tom Ala is CADRD’s medical director. Dr. Hascup has been with SIU School of Medicine since 2012, initially as a research associate within CADRD. She joined the faculty of the Department of Neurology in 2013 as an assistant research professor and was promoted to associate professor in the tenure track in 2018. Her research is centered on neurodegeneration and in particular, Alzheimer’s disease. She is a recipient of several external grants, including two from the National Institute of Aging totaling more than $6 million.

Amongst her duties as director will be a re-visioning of the mission and goals of CADRD, including research, clinical care, outreach, education and philanthropy. This is a golden age for research funding in Alzheimer’s disease, as a growing wave of Americans is expected to be afflicted with the disease in the next 20 years. Hascup would like to leverage current resources and grow the center’s research efforts for the causes, treatments and modes of AD patient care.

Stack Chair of New Otolaryngology Department

Brendan C. Stack, Jr.

Brendan C. Stack, Jr., MD, FACS, FACE, has been appointed chair of the new Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at SIU School of Medicine.

Stack attended Brigham Young University and earned his medical degree with AOA and Sigma Xi honor s from Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1989. He was trained in surgery for two years and then Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery for four years at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Dr. Stack completed a fellowship in head and neck oncology and microvascular reconstruction in 1997 at the University of Washington, Seattle. While in Seattle, Dr. Stack also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in molecular biology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and served as an instructor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and on the medical staff of the Seattle VA Medical Center.

Stack has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed papers, chapters and articles and has been co-editor of medical textbooks. His research interests include machine learning/artificial intelligence in healthcare informatics related to thyroid and parathyroid diseases and medical device development in the areas of radio-guided surgery and free tissue transfer perfusion monitoring. His clinical interests include endocrine surgery for the thyroid and parathyroid.


Helping to protect our communities against threats like the COVID-19 pandemic is at the core of our 50-year mission. Many of the dedicated providers across the region are part of the SIU School of Medicine family. In times like these, our doctors, together with our faculty, researchers, staff and learners, help to make us #SIUStrong.

For those of you who have helped us throughout the years, thank you for your ongoing support. A number of you have asked how you can help. Below are some areas where a gift will make a difference as we work our way through this COVID-19 pandemic and look to life after this challenging period for SIU School of Medicine and all medical providers. Here are some of the ways that your gift to the SIU STRONG Pandemic Fund can help the communities we serve during this time.

  • The Family & Community Medicine Food Pharmacy provides food and hygiene products to those affected by this crisis.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), supplies for our front-line workers and other measures that will promote the health of the community, remain in high demand. Your gift helps us provide optimal care to maintain the safety of all.
  • Telehealth Services are currently being used to offer our patients primary and specialty care while they remain safe at home. Telehealth preserves the continuity of care for our health care professionals and their patients.
  • The Medical Student Emergency Fund is available to help medical students who may be experiencing unforeseen situations due to the pandemic that impact or interrupt their academic coursework.

Thank you for considering a gift to the SIU STRONG Pandemic Fund, giving us the tools to remain flexible and fulfill our mission. Your gift today will make a significant difference. You are all valued members of the SIU School of Medicine Family and together, we are SIU STRONG.


The following set of communications were offered to the SIU School of Medicine and SIU Medicine community during the season where systemic racism was revealed in a new way through the twin tragedies of COVID-19 and police brutality.

A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic lends itself to self-reflection. We have responded with rapidity and with actions that in usual circumstances would not have occurred. Some of our actions have revealed a silver lining, as meager as it might be. Sometimes, however, the revelations of a crisis are not so positive.

On April 7, at a presidential press conference Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “When you are in the middle of a crisis, it does ultimately shine a bright light on the real weaknesses and foibles in our society.”

Over the last 48 hours, that light has shined brightly and directly on America’s greatest shame – the inequities that African Americans have suffered and endured for centuries.

Dr. Fauci continued, “Health disparities have always existed in the African American community. This crisis is shining a bright light on the unacceptable health disparities in African Americans…and the disproportionate suffering caused by the disparities.”

Inequities have always existed for African Americans. Over centuries, inequities perpetrated by systemic and institutional racism have held African Americans at a collective disadvantage, with less chance for a quality education, less chance for financial success, less chance for health and wellness, and a greater chance for maltreatment and mass incarceration.

And that is not the whole story. When socioeconomic class is controlled, the health outcomes for African Americans are still worse than those for all other groups. These disparities in health outcomes are caused by inequities in access to care and by inequities in the delivery of care.

This toxic mixture of adverse social determinants of health and inequitable healthcare is manifest in the COVID-19 pandemic.

We cannot wait for this pandemic to cease before we act. It is now time for aggressive focused action and outreach. SIU School of Medicine has pledged to be an anti-racist organization.

As we have joined together to combat COVID-19 in our community, let’s join together to fight the inequities that have been and will be in our presence far longer than COVID-19.


On April 6, 2020, my message to SIU Medicine employees focused on racial inequities in the delivery of health care, racial disparities in health care outcomes, and the overt and implicit systemic racism that lies at the root of these inequities and disparities for African Americans.

On that day, I echoed concepts articulated by Anthony Fauci, writing: "This crisis is shining a bright light on the unacceptable health disparities in African Americans…and the disproportionate suffering caused by the disparities.”

Since that time, things have gotten dramatically worse. Now, more than 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 infections. And now, a series of events has shined that light even more intensely on violent racism in America – beyond the health care system.

Breonna Taylor, killed when her home was stormed by police hunting for suspects already in custody. Ahmaud Arbery, pursued and murdered by vigilantes. Christian Cooper, threatened by a woman emboldened only because she knew her race would trump his race and the facts. And then, one of the most horrid of all the recent events that expose our nation’s deepening racism - the brutal, slow torture and murder of George Floyd that occurred before the eyes of bewildered bystanders.

These repeated violent atrocities have numbed us, just as we have become more and more numbed by all manner of bigotry, insensitivity, belittling, cold-heartedness and callous, demeaning behavior. We feel anger, but we cannot imagine the pain and suffering that this has caused for millions of people.

We can no longer stand by and idly give meager excuses that tiptoe around the core issues. Health and human life are in our hands. We, at SIU Medicine, institutionally and individually, reject violence and hatred. We reject racism in all its forms, overt and insidious, systemic and implicit, national and local.

Racism is a threat to individuals, and it is a threat to the health of the public. And, it is a threat to the heart and soul of our nation. We will actively fight all of its ugly manifestations. As healers, we must. And we must teach all of our learners that health care and medicine are much more than that which occurs within the walls of our hospitals, and clinics, and classrooms.

We must be in the community, proximate to the people, proximate to the racism, learning and understanding, helping to influence thought, helping to tear down barriers and to build up understanding. We must empower others to rise above the cruelty.

It is time for a new concept in America – equal justice under the law. And equal justice in all of our institutions. Just mercy.

We will make a collective statement that we reject and denounce all violence, bigotry and hatred, and that we will stand up against violence and brutality against African Americans, and that we stand by our African American colleagues and grieve with them and fight for them.

We will restate and recommit to our pledge to be an anti-racist organization, as articulated in our new strategic plan: “Anti-racism is the active process of identifying and eliminating racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices and attitudes, so that power is redistributed and shared equitably. An anti-racist organization is one in which racism is actively opposed and in which justice and fairness are actively promoted.

SIU Medicine will become an organization that fully embraces and promotes equity and inclusion in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status; SIU Medicine will identify, address and minimize overt and implicit bias, SIU Medicine will become an anti-racist organization.”

We grieve with all the families and friends of the COVID-19 victims. We grieve with the families and friends, and the greater community, of George Floyd and of all those who have lost their lives from senseless acts of racism.

We stand beside our African American sisters and brothers. We support you. We will fight for you – and with you as you fight and heal.

Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH

Dean and Provost, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine CEO, SIU Medicine

An appeal from Erik Constance, MD, '88

Celebrating 50 years of SIU School of Medicine's mission – that was our plan for 2020. Just as quickly as our celebration began, we became SIU STRONG, a medical community supporting one another as we adapted to life during a pandemic. Amidst these changes, the tragic news of George Floyd’s death filled our homes.

Despite the current unrest in our nation, I have hope. Daily, I am surrounded by the best and the brightest future physicians who remind me why SIU School of Medicine exists. They are the ones who are making the changes our world so desperately needs, and they cannot do this alone.

As those who have gone before them, we have an obligation to give them every tool available that they need.

In an effort to end racism in medicine wherever it exists and create awareness of racism as a threat to the health of people of color, we have created the SIU White Coats 4 Black Lives Scholarship. This scholarship will be awarded to a disadvantaged student who has demonstrated a commitment to and passion for social justice. Through this and other ongoing efforts, we will assist disadvantaged students and develop young leaders to better serve the health care needs of our communities.

At SIU School of Medicine, we teach our medical students that health care and medicine are more than what occurs within the clinic or hospital walls. We know that racism is a threat to an individual’s health and that inequities harm entire populations within our service region. We must empower our future physicians to influence thought, build up understanding and tear down the barriers of ignorance and apathy that affect health.

► Please stand with me as fellow physicians, fellow alumni of SIU School of Medicine, and support this scholarship. Donate today at forwardfunder.siumed.edu/whitecoats4blacklives.


Seventy new physicians achieved degrees this May in the School of Medicine’s first virtual celebration of commencement amid a global pandemic. The event was numerically and historically significant: The Class of 2020 included the medical school’s 3,000th graduate during its 50th anniversary year. And COVID-19 safety protocols prompted the “ceremony” to take place on school grounds under controlled conditions.

In the pre-recorded video ceremony, Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, welcomed students, and Erik Constance, MD, associate dean of student affairs, read the names of the graduates, who were presented degrees and walked across the virtual stage. Wendi El-Amin, MD, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, offered a congratulatory message. Class Chair Aaron Hancock, MD, delivered remarks on behalf of the graduates. The video was shared on the school’s social media accounts and website to allow students to view and share with their families near and far.

A pair of medical school faculty members were also recognized during the annual event. The Class of 2020 selected Michael Sass, MD, director of education in pathology, to receive the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. The Alumni Society Board of Governors at SIU School of Medicine chose Erik Constance, MD, Class of 1988, to receive the 2020 Distinguished Alumni Award.

Ann and John Havey, Class of ’77
Lacey Rokita and Aaron Hancock, Class of 2020
GENETICS CHALK TALK SIU research instructors love to share knowledge and bench space with young learners who want to know the “whys” of human health. In 1980, professor Lenny Maroun, PhD, discusses a Nobel-prizewinning genetic concept with student Phil Franciskovich in Maroun's microbiology lab.

Aspects of a LEARNER

Jenn Becker, MD

Photography by Sara Way

Jennifer Becker, MD, MPH, is a first-year resident in Emergency Medicine. She completed her dual degrees in May, just after she received a 2020 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee for projects she initiated in southern Illinois.

WHAT DID YOU ENJOY ABOUT THE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AND SPRINGFIELD? I don’t think I could’ve had a better group of students to go through school with, and I had a lot of tutor groups with people that I really enjoyed seeing all of the time. Third year was by far the best, getting to rotate in so many different specialties. I would absolutely do that year again. I also loved my time in Carbondale; I was able to spend a lot of time outside, exploring the Shawnee National Forest, which is such a great part of the first year of medical school.

WHAT DREW YOU TO PUBLIC HEALTH? I started doing research with the goal of getting into medical school. I’m not sure if I was more enamored by research or the fact that it allowed me into the clinical space, but when I was accepted into SIU SOM, I had a great mentor who thought you should always take the opportunities available to you. My public health education has been hugely valuable and made me more aware of the world and what our patients deal with every day. I think it will make me a better physician. Also, the people I've been able to meet through public health make me excited about the future and how much good there is in the world.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR PUBLIC HEALTH PROJECTS. During my first year of the MD/MPH program, I had the opportunity to be an intern at the Neighborhood Co-Op in Carbondale. It was fantastic because they enabled local growers a place to sell to the community. My job was to reach out and find as many local growers or farmers as possible and increase their ability to sell to communities in the region while also providing consumers the ability to shop for homegrown products.

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a few projects investigating rural emergency medicine. My time at SIU, particularly first year when I would visit my physician mentor in Harrisburg, exposed me to a large rural population. Also, through other public health initiatives, I learned about the disparities and the high prevalence of comorbidities or illness severity in rural Illinois. There are a lot of disparities for rural communities when it comes to access to emergency services, and I think it will be interesting to see how our rural emergency departments are able to serve their communities and if there are ways we can help to improve things and ease the disease burden.

WHY EMERGENCY MEDICINE? In EM you get to see the whole spectrum of the patient population and the variety of medicine while working with a team each day, where every member is valued and essential to delivering the best care possible. I’ve seen the impact that an emergency physician can have on patients in a short time, by just listening and acting in an empathetic manner. While I absolutely love high acuity and procedures, I don’t think there’s anything more impressive than watching your mentor really listen to a patient and trying everything they can to improve their lives.

HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED YOUR PERSPECTIVE ABOUT MEDICINE AND THE DISCIPLINE OF PUBLIC HEALTH? I think COVID cemented the importance of public health and the need for a culture change on the ways we view health care in the U.S. I really hope that one thing that comes from the pandemic is a new perspective on the need to implement more primary and preventive care resources, policies and funding opportunities so that we have a better prepared society with lower comorbidities or other outcomes that could have been prevented with the right structures in place. Personally, I think I will be a stronger advocate for public health and plan to continue efforts in improving the care in communities around me.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE GOING THROUGH GRADUATION WHILE THE COUNTRY WAS IN LOCKDOWN? It was disappointing not to be able to celebrate Match Day and graduation with all of my classmates, but I think the school did a great job of putting on a virtual ceremony for us, which we all will appreciate and can always look back on. It was a very strange time realizing you are done with medical school and about to enter residency while the medical field is vastly changing in ways we couldn’t, and still can’t, prepare for. I think it rejuvenated the excitement for a lot of us to start helping people directly. I’ve been very impressed by my classmates and all of the medical students who have really shown their desire to help in times of need.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS AFTER RESIDENCY? I’m not quite sure yet. I am curious about pursuing a fellowship, potentially in academics or research, but I think I would like to work in an academic facility and do a few shifts each month at a more rural location.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE? “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I always interpreted it as, if I try my best, good things will happen even if it’s not what I expect. This year was all about the unexpected.


COVID outbreak turns dream cruise into month-long odyssey

Just as the United States was beginning to grapple with the global pandemic approaching its shores, an outbreak of the coronavirus on a cruise ship, the Grand Princess, placed its passengers — one of whom is a colleague at SIU School of Medicine — in uncharted waters.

Kathy Cargnino, administrative assistant to the Dean at SIU School of Medicine, had been looking forward to her vacation for months. She, her husband, Chad, and her parents had booked a Hawaiian trip on Princess Cruise Lines. The foursome would depart from San Francisco on February 21, visit the 50th state and return March 7 — a 16-day adventure in paradise.

Instead, it lasted 35 days, and became an entirely different kind of adventure.

As she prepared for the trip, Cargnino was aware of news about a recently discovered virus in China, but it was a minor concern. When the subject came up at an office lunch before her vacation, “I remember saying ‘I hope it stays over there,’” Cargnino says. She was more excited about seeing San Francisco for the first time and the cruise to follow.

Fortunately, the sightseeing and ocean voyage lived up to everyone’s expectations. It was on the return trip, after three days at sea, that things suddenly shifted. “The captain came over the intercom and said we were not going to be able to port in Mexico (their final stop before disembarking in San Francisco), but would be returning to the United States. Some passengers and crew members had shown symptoms of the coronavirus, and the California National Guard would be delivering test kits to the ship by helicopter.”

The passengers were told to remain in their cabins while officials pondered what to do.

Under Quarantine

The Cargninos had booked an interior cabin, separate from her parents. On past cruises, they’d spent most of their time out doing things, so a spacious room with a view was not a priority.

“We didn’t see daylight for five days. It was just me, my husband and the TV,” she says. A masked room steward was their only contact with the outside world, as he brought meals and towels. Two days before they disembarked, he brought face masks.

The captain would provide updates three times a day. The TV was the other source of information, “but it got turned off a lot,” Cargnino says. “We couldn’t be sure how accurate it was, and sometimes watching it was too much.”

“I remember the coverage saying President Donald Trump didn’t want us back in California. That’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re quarantined, floating around on the ocean.”

Daily messages encouraged anyone exhibiting symptoms to call the medical help line. Anyone symptomatic was tested. Testing was voluntary for the rest of the guests.

On March 6, Vice President Mike Pence announced that of the 46 tests conducted on the Grand Princess, 19 crew members and two passengers had tested positive. The ship would be brought to a non-commercial port, with everyone on the ship being tested and quarantined as necessary. The ocean liner cruised offshore for two more days while government and health officials planned what to do with the 3,533 people on board (2,422 passengers and 1,111 crew).

On March 9, the ship was redirected to Oakland. Healthcare workers from the CDC and HHS in full personal protective equipment met the passengers on the tarmac and performed screenings and took temperatures as everyone disembarked.

Cargnino says they boarded buses still unsure of “what our next destination was” and were given a police escort to the Oakland airport, where a chartered plane was waiting. On the plane, a passenger asked how long the flight would be. That is when they learned they were heading to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

Three hours later the wheels touched down in Texas. Ushered to an airplane hangar, the group endured another round of screenings, more rigorous questions and were served dinner. Finally, room keys were distributed and buses arrived to take them to their new homes on the military base, dropping them off just before midnight.

To Cargnino, the three-story units looked like a hotel. Exhausted, they settled into the small, efficiency apartment for the night. “It was certainly more spacious than our cabin on the Grand Princess,” she says. It became their home for the next two weeks.

As their second quarantine began, testing was again offered voluntarily. Cargnino was worried about her parents. “They are pretty social and had done a lot of things on the cruise without us,” she says. The couples decided to get tested.

"Testing kits were in short supply at the time. If at the end of the two weeks, you weren’t exhibiting any symptoms, you were free to go. My parents and my husband got their results in six days. Mine took eight.” The additional 48 hours became another nerve-wracking footnote to Cargnino’s trip. “Of course we all tested negative,” she says.

The government and public health officials cannot be accused of over-reacting, however. The first known person in California to die of the virus at the time, as well as the first cases in Alberta, Canada, Hawaii and Utah, were all former passengers of the Grand Princess.

The family’s cruise is now undeniably their most memorable trip ever, Cargnino says.

“Looking back on it, it all seems surreal. At the time, I was focused on trying to stay positive and not get myself too worked up about anything. It wouldn’t have done any good anyway,” she says. “We were not calling the shots.”

Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU


By Maggie Poteau & Steve Sandstrom

Simmons Cancer Institute (SCI) at SIU School of Medicine is celebrating an important milestone. Ten years ago, the comprehensive cancer center opened its doors to residents in central and southern Illinois, expanding access to world-class cancer treatment and providing a one-stop shop for cancer care close to home.

SCI has developed the most comprehensive cancer program in downstate Illinois, using a proactive team approach that distinguishes the institute from other health care facilities. Its cancer care teams go beyond traditional tumor boards to allow multi-disciplinary input from a variety of specialists and researchers, treating cancer in a more effective, efficient way. Typical teams include a radiation therapist, chemotherapist, surgeon, speech therapist, radiologist, dietician, psychologist or social worker and nurse, all offering expertise in one setting for the best treatment options for the patient. A plan of action is usually crafted the same day. With approximately half of SCI’s patients traveling from outside the Springfield area, the time saved with this coordinated care is invaluable.

To better understand the distance traveled to reach this anniversary, we offer a story of an important meeting that didn’t go as planned and the lasting result it had on regional health.

The Simmons Cancer Institute’s path from idea to reality started 20 years ago. An SIU strategic planning retreat led to an initiative to create, design and fund a permanent cancer facility in Springfield. The purpose was straightforward: establish a center of outstanding cancer care for patients in the community and an educational institution that works hand-in-hand with SIU’s medical practice to train future generations of physicians specialized in treating cancers.

The State of Illinois invested $21.5 million in the plan and SIU pledged $7 million toward construction of the 63,000-square-foot facility. The board also sought support from private entities to enhance the cancer center’s research budget and create a regional force for healing and innovation in cancer treatment.

John Simmons was one of the SIU trustees. Founder of SimmonsCooper law firm in East Alton and Chicago (now Simmons Hanly Conroy Law Firm, a national group practice), Simmons is an SIU-Edwardsville alumnus and expert litigator. At a board meeting in 2005, he recalls the School of Medicine’s dean, Kevin Dorsey, MD, PhD, “proposed the idea to reach out to some of these big corporations to consider naming rights for the cancer institute,” Simmons says. Curious about the process, he asked to go along.

Soon after, SIU Chancellor Walter Wendler and SIU Foundation CEO Rickey McCurry had Simmons join them for a meeting with a well-known pharmaceutical company, and a proposal was presented to one of its officials. When there was no subsequent interest shown — financial or otherwise — Simmons was disappointed.

“I said, ‘What’s the deal with that?’ And Dr. Wendler said, ‘You didn’t think we were going to walk out of there with $10 million, did you?’”

“I said, ‘Yes! That’s why I wanted to come — to see how you did it.’”

At home that evening, Simmons discussed the meeting with his wife, Jayne. Their family had a history of cancer and Simmons’ legal practice had successfully represented thousands of individuals who had contracted mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Together the couple decided that their family foundation and his law firm would collaborate to donate money toward the new cancer center.

To Simmons, it was a matter of equity. “It’s how we were raised. We were very fortunate to be in a position to do it.”

In November 2005, John and Jayne Simmons and the law firm pledged a $10.2 million philanthropic gift to SIU School of Medicine to support research at its new cancer center. It is the single largest financial donation in the medical school’s history.

As the United States prepares to embark on a push for improved rural and regional health care, Simmons believes the cancer institute bearing his name can be a part of it.

“I want us to lead the charge and be a beacon for how things can be done,” he says. “From here in southern Illinois, we can show the nation how health care can work for the good of the population.”

SCI Executive Director Aziz Khan, MD, also sees a bright future. “We are educating and training the next generation of cancer specialists to provide the best care, and our research and clinical trials offer hope and promise for improving patient outcomes. We will keep striving to make the better days possible.”

John and Jayne Simmons and family in 2008

Learn more at: siumed.edu/cancer


By Steve Sandstrom | Photography by Sara Way

State institutions are required to have emergency response plans in place for catastrophic events like floods, fires, tornadoes and active shooters. A global pandemic, on the other hand, is not something for which most have prepared a detailed playbook.

In March, research faculty at SIU School of Medicine found themselves creating one on the fly. The work of SIU’s scientific investigators was crucial to not only maintain important research functions, but also to channel new energy toward combatting the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Associate Dean for Research Donald Torry, PhD, oversees about 175 full- and part-time medical personnel dedicated to research spanning the continuum from discovery-based science and education to clinical trials. The institution has approximately 140 active extramurally funded projects from sources like the National Institutes of Health, worth $16.6 million in annual funding. Typical economic multipliers show that this translates into more than $100 million in economic benefit to central and southern Illinois. The medical school’s studies have advanced understanding and patient care in women’s health, cancer, hearing, regenerative medicine and aging, to name a few.

The school’s modest size presented a distinct advantage when the COVID-19 outbreak occurred this spring. While other larger research universities across the country had their programs completely shut down, SIU was able sustain its operations and maintain leadership in research as the crisis developed.

Shelley Tischkau, PhD, the interim chair of both the departments of Pharmacology and Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology (MMICB), met with faculty to devise a plan structured to protect investigators, students and staff and consulted with Dr. Torry. Laboratory shifts were then staggered, working from home was encouraged and all proposed new projects were tabled. Lab spaces were big enough to allow natural separation and still get work done. Foot traffic was reduced by up to 90 percent, but the essential research activity continued uninterrupted. “People were able to submit papers and get grants out the door during the pandemic, which is remarkable,” says Tischkau.

Because of its place in the community as an academic medical center, a receptive audience was looking to SIU for education on the novel coronavirus. Instructors offered lessons online and created social media content to help educate the public and address their concerns. Assistant professor Michael Olson, PhD, has a background in bacteriology, but had volunteered to teach virology to the second-year MMICB students in 2019. The timing was fortuitous. “He was primed, and then the coronavirus hit,” Tischkau says. “He’s become a great community educator on social media.” Olson is now collaborating with Erin Hascup, PhD, and Kevin Hascup, PhD, in the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, on a grant to study the role the viral infection plays within the aging brain.

Across SIU’s campuses, numerous research and clinical teams came forward to donate materials and expertise to join the fight against COVID-19. Two especially ambitious projects were launched to meet urgent supply-and-demand needs.

In March, Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office asked university laboratories to help make up for a shortfall in viral transport media (VTM), a key ingredient for coronavirus testing. Faculty in the College of Science, Department of Microbiology (Scott Hamilton-Brehm, Matt Geisler, Vjollca Konjufca, Laxmi Sagwan-Barkdoll and others) at SIUC, with assistance from School of Medicine colleagues (Buffy Ellsworth, Buck Hales, Karen Hales and others) teamed to produce the VTM mixture for Illinois Department of Public Health laboratories.

The fluid is composed of substances that preserve the genetic information of a virus until it can be tested. The researchers gathered supplies in bulk, calculated the orders-of-magnitude increases for the larger batch recipe and kicked into production. They produced 115,000 vials of VTM for the state over two months, working 5 days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., until commercial labs were able to pick up the slack.

In Springfield, MMICB associate professor Andy Wilber, PhD, Chris Chambers, PhD, and Torry developed a quantitative serological antibody test that can be used to gauge the effectiveness of new vaccines. Antibodies indicate whether an individual has mounted a robust response to a viral attack. They are also working on an in viro neutralization test to determine if those antibodies can limit the abilty of the virus to infect human cells. Knowledge of the immune response is critical, Torry says, “because we need to know how much protection is necessary. How long does it last? If it tapers off, are you susceptible to a reoccurrence?”

The group has partnered with Memorial Medical Center, the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center and the School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Disease to obtain serum samples for validation of the assay. The tests for neutralizing SARS-CoV-2 antibodies can be used to determine immune status in patients under investigation, in frontline SIU Medicine providers and for other purposes.

Amid all the turbulence, Dr. Torry is encouraging faculty to find the teachable moments.

“As an academic medical institution, we constantly try to put things into context for our learners. They are experiencing this pandemic in real-time with us. None of us have been through anything like this either, but the faculty have a certain knowledge-base that allows us to better understand, educate and model scenarios today than what worked in, say 1918.”

“We’re figuring out ways to use components of this pandemic for our students in epidemiology, public health, public service and research. The pandemic is affecting tens of millions of Americans. It’s providing a shining example of why biomedical research and its application to public health is so important.”

The Associate Dean for Research says he’s proud of the way that the medical school has responded.

“I knew SIU had a great teamwork attitude before this happened. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to come here. There’s a cultural mindset that we’re all in this together, that we’ll not only persevere but lead at SIU. It’s been shown throughout this pandemic.”

Dr. Donald Torry has been leading the school’s research programs as associate dean for research since 2016. Originally from Washington, IL, he joined the Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology (MMICB) faculty in 2000 and was appointed chair of the department in 2012. Torry has roots at SIU, earning his doctorate, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Carbondale. He also completed a three-year research fellowship in pathology at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass., in 1992. From 1993-2000, he was an assistant professor of immunology and an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine in Knoxville, Tenn. The father of six seized the opportunity to return to SIU in 2000, to be closer to family and his teaching roots.

In 2019, SOM Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, approached Torry about combining the departments of MMICB and Pharmacology administratively, while running them on parallel tracks academically. Torry discussed the reorganization plan with faculty, and they were receptive to the idea. With the merger, he was able to pass the MMICB reins to Shelley Tischkau, PhD, as the new interim chair of both departments, and focus on his duties as Associate Dean for Research.


By John Mellinger, MD

In her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin recounts the life stories and presidential journeys of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. A major theme of the book is that each of these impactful leaders was forged out of the challenges they faced in their early life, including rejection, failure, loss of loved ones and loss of health, amongst others. The character they brought from these experiences to the unexpected challenges they faced during their presidencies ended up being the resource that made their leadership effective. It seems the pressures we encounter in our personal journeys, and the way we apply the lessons therein learned in times of future challenge, often become the defining moments of our lives.

In times less pressured than the climate we currently find ourselves, we often self-counsel on the importance of reflective activity and taking time in our busy schedules in the health care sector for strategic and generative thinking, recognizing as Covey has outlined that this ‘important but not urgent’ activity is typically the most neglected by all of us, and yet the most predictive of where will be in 5 or 10 years.

Given those reference points, I wanted to offer the following as a brief leadership (i.e., servanthood) reflection for the time in which we currently find ourselves. How can we reflect on and leverage our own character strengths at a time when they are needed? What might our contribution be in a time of challenge, one that might ultimately be looked back upon as healthcare’s “finest hour” for our generation? What matters at a time like this as our healthcare system, economy and way of life are challenged by illness, social isolation and resource limitations much of the world has been used to, but are relatively novel (no pun intended) to us in American healthcare? We would offer three responses.

Compassion and Commitment

First, we can focus on the combination of compassion and commitment. Nearly all of us went into health care in part, if not predominately, so we could pursue a way of life and work that put others’ needs ahead of our own; to make their welfare and thriving the focus of our efforts. At a time such as this, our patients, our colleagues of every description, our neighbors both literally and figuratively, and we ourselves are more than ever in a place of needing to know there is a depth of commitment, colored and textured by genuine compassion, in the interfaces we share. We need to know that this stems from the highest regard for the value of the lives we serve, both the patients before us and the colleagues at our elbows, as well as the families and core relationships that keep us whole and strong. The resolve based in caring that stems from such commitment invites our best service, the “better angels of our natures” as Lincoln referred to, and brings a dimension to our service that takes our humblest deeds and actions and renders them sacred, acts of worth-ship that not only save lives in a biologic sense, but lift hearts and calm fears. We need to be people of such compassion, and such commitment in a time like this.

What Makes Life Meaningful

Second, we need to lean into meaning in a way we societally are not used to, and indeed seem to have steeled ourselves against. Prior to the current pandemic, the average life expectancy in the U.S. had decreased for three straight years. The reason was not worsened outcomes from cancer or cardiovascular disease, nor at that time a new infectious scourge. It was from so-called “deaths of despair,” including suicide and drug-related mortality, and included elements related to the widening disparities in social determinants of health that can dictate an almost 20-year change in one’s life expectancy in three stops on the blue line in Chicago. It seems in our pursuit of the “good life” and the “American Dream” we have lost sight of those elements of life that give it ultimate purpose, significance, value and meaning that stretches beyond death itself. It is apparent that the answers to these issues don’t come with wealth, prosperity or technology, or the nation richest in those domains wouldn’t have been the only developed nation reporting such statistics and outcomes synchronous with our enjoyment of those privileges. Pausing at this time to ask what makes life meaningful, what makes our investments of time and energy worthwhile beyond possessions, resumes and the promise of leisure, is a journey from which we all can benefit, and might make the current crisis a personal and collective societal learning opportunity of proportions that could far outlive, and out-impact the pandemic itself.

Learn from the Past

Third, we can learn from those who have gone before. Recognizing that the current crisis involves a virus we believe is new for our species, it strikes me that we are perhaps distancing ourselves from a wonderful source of hope and perspective when we repeat and recite words like 'novel' and 'unprecedented' in our ongoing conversations and declarations. In a sense, all of history is unprecedented, and will continue to be so. In fact, prior generations have dealt with plagues that ultimately and proportionately claimed more lives than this pandemic will by all current predictions, including bubonic plague and the 1918 influenza. In commenting on this theme in 1948 and the then-relatively new specter of atomic warfare, C.S. Lewis offered the following reflection:

"In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply:

‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."

"In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty."

"This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes to find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds."

While Lewis’ call to “pull ourselves together” may seem a strong admonition for a society facing a very human fear, and particularly so for a health care profession, we see doing exactly that as it is called upon around the world in this time of challenge, his emphasis on “doing sensible and human things” in the face of our fears provides a rubric for engagement at a time when we ourselves, and all around us need our best and deepest presence.

Seeing that other generations have borne their crosses, often greater and with less resources than our own, gives a sense of solidarity and purpose to the current drama as an important act in a much bigger play in which we are all taking part. Indeed, we do not stand alone, in this time, or in the history of our race.

Stepping outside our present context with some good reading, or sharing of stories with some older colleagues or friends, or watching a good documentary or movie that inspires acts of courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenge, is a wise way to spend at least some of our time in the present context.

Finally, there is hope. You may know the story of James Stockdale, who was the highest-ranking prisoner of war in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ during the Vietnam War. He was asked after the war how one survived such an experience, which for him included targeted torture over an 8-year imprisonment and no certainty he would ever be released or see his family again, whilst shouldering the burden of command and seeking to be an inspiration and example to his colleagues suffering similarly. His answer was the ‘Stockdale paradox:’

“I never lost faith in the end of the story… I never doubted that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade… You must never lose faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

One of our key school symbols is the “Harbinger of Good Will” statue in the 801 building courtyard. In the sculptor, Kenneth Ryden’s own words, it “represents the many aspects of medicine… offering dignity, hope, and good will, and the figure itself symbolizes the spiritual essence of humanity.” This brief reflection is offered with gratitude for each of our lives and contributions, and a prayer that each of you, and together all of us, would embody such hope for our community, region and world, and for one another, for a time such as this. Peace, strength, and daily joy to each of you as you serve!


SIU School of Medicine’s COVID-19 Response

In March 2020, SIU School of Medicine faced the challenges of COVID-19 with a level of collaboration, innovation and resourcefulness that demonstrates the true strength of our organization.

As the school and clinical practice adapted to the changing public health needs, we developed new ways to work, learn and collaborate with our regional partners. Times of crisis often test personal and organizational character. What we have learned in this time of crisis, is that SIU School of Medicine is well positioned to lead and serve central and southern Illinois.

The following list of initiatives demonstrates the strength of the organization and adaptability to the changing needs of the internal and external communities we serve. In all of our mission areas, we proved to be #SIUStrong.

SIU School of Medicine continued essential research, quickly implemented remote teaching and learning and successfully transitioned to a remote work model.

The clinical practice remained ready to meet any of the needs of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as those needing regular care. We collaborated with hospitals and regional health care organizations in central and southern Illinois, which contributed to a high degree of preparedness.

SIU Medicine critical care physicians, pulmonologists, hospitalists, infectious disease specialists, emergency physicians and others have provided care in the trenches for even the sickest COVID-19 patients.

SIU Medicine physicians, health care professionals, and all those involved in clinical care developed new models to reach our patients in need and to meet the pandemic at the community level. We expanded our use of telemedicine and virtual contact to serve the needs of our patients who cannot come to the clinics because of social distancing requirements.

Working with the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS), the SIU Pandemic Health Worker program is serving five regions in central and southern Illinois. This program supports families in need of food, pharmacy, therapy, and telemedicine services in the SIU region of accountability. This is modeled after our successful community health worker, hotspotting and ECHO programs.

SIU School of Medicine researchers assisted in the improvement of COVID-19 testing capabilities in our region. SIU Medicine faculty members and technologists volunteered to assist the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) with testing in Springfield and Carbondale labs.

SIU Medicine worked with Memorial Medical Center to assist a minority-owned company to test a successful COVID-19 antibody test to fulfill EUA requirements by the Food and Drug Administration. SIU School of Medicine statisticians have assisted the Sangamon County Department of Public Health Department to support COVID-19 statistical tracking for central Illinois.

SIU School of Medicine researchers are mapping the COVID-19 genome and are collecting samples from downstate Illinois hospitals to enter regional strain information into the worldwide data base for COVID-19.

SIU Medicine hosted testing sites with the Sangamon County Department of Public Health in Springfield and deployed mobile health vans to provide mobile testing services at nursing homes in Western Illinois and in Metro East neighborhoods.

SIU School of Medicine worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to develop a contact tracing curriculum and assistance program. As a community partner, SIU is assisting local health departments with contract tracing directives.

SIU School of Medicine established an Equity Response Team to address the needs of marginalized and minoritized communities impacted by COVID-19. Working with hospital and community partners, this SIU-led team distributed health education materials, established demographic tracking data and influenced conversations on culturally relevant contract tracing and responsive testing.

Public Health Laboratory Science masters students and alumni are running COVID tests at IDPH labs in Springfield and Carbondale.

The Associate Dean for Research’s office aided a collaboration between SIU Radiology and UIS experts to apply artificial intelligence analyses to chest X-rays for diagnosing COVID-19.

SIU School of Medicine faculty have produced educational videos on various aspects of COVID-19.

SIU School of Medicine helped the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center (MRVBC) establish a plasma database to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients.

SIU School of Medicine has a host of faculty and staff with expertise in relevant research and clinical specialties that have been brought to bear on this pandemic. Scores of projects have been initiated and more are being created as conditions evolve. We will be living with this virus for the foreseeable future, and SIU School of Medicine will keep doing all we can to protect our communities.


By Steve Sandstrom | Photography by Sara Way

The global pandemic has exposed some vulnerabilities within the American health care system that should surprise no one: International travel bans can disrupt supply lines. Fragmented health systems can lead to bidding wars for scarce resources. A lack of testing capability limits the effectiveness of any public health response.

Amidst these systemic pitfalls, here’s a bit of good news. SIU School of Medicine has been collaborating with the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to overcome another looming problem: a national shortfall in skilled lab workers. In 2001 the Centers for Disease Control warned that understaffing in public health laboratories could lead to negative consequences. To mitigate this staffing shortage, SIU and the IDPH created the Public Health Laboratory Sciences (PHLS) program in 2005.

This novel master’s degree program was the first of its kind at inception and is currently one of only three in the U.S. It combines graduate-level classroom instruction with extensive research experience in a public health laboratory. The objective is to produce scientists who can rigorously apply knowledge as they are cross-trained in a multitude of laboratory disciplines. Andrew Wilber, PhD, associate professor of medical microbiology, immunology and cell biology, directs the two-year program. It offers experience in clinical, environmental and molecular testing protocols, with an emphasis on versatility, preparedness and on-the-job training.

Four students are currently enrolled in the program: Kyle Gruber in Carbondale, and Kurt Wisner, Clayton Lopez and Aundrea Marsh in Springfield. At the outset, Wilber explained to the interns that it is not uncommon to become involved when pandemics or disease outbreaks occur. Once they have been approved by the IDPH, the interns can float and work independently.

Marsh, 24, is in the second year of the program. She was training with IDPH in 2019 during a measles outbreak and assisted in influenza testing that spring. But she says the coronavirus experience was different.

“Our IDPH supervisor pulled us aside and said, ‘This is probably going to get very big, very fast.’ He brought us in early, when Illinois only had a handful of cases, in the event that when things got worse we would already be trained to help handle the high volume of testing.”

“Kurt, Clayton and I all agreed that what we were being trained to do was what was needed most,” Marsh says. “This was something we could do to make a difference, so we were all-in.”

At the pandemic's peak, the lab was operating 24 hours a day. Although stretched thin, the students were able to take on some of the additional shifts to keep testing going.

Throughout her training, Marsh has assured family members that the IDPH considers her safety paramount to its operation. The coronavirus samples are always handled within biological safety cabinets to maintain an air barrier between the specimens and the lab technicians. Still, she admits to using extra caution. “I tend to use a lot more bleach. I double-check that I’m wiping down everything and using the high intensity UV light as an extra measure,” she says. “We were either wearing N95 respirators or surgical masks in the lab from the get-go. The World Health Organization and the CDC had been bouncing back and forth about ways to handle it. IDPH decided to use the strictest level of laboratory guidelines, because they’d rather it be overkill than underkill.”

“I told my boyfriend it’s more dangerous for him to get groceries than it is for me to go to work, but I don’t think he believed me.”

Six months shy of having her master’s degree in microbiology, immunology and cell biology, Marsh says one side-effect of her job has been an aversion to social media. “It’s just infuriating seeing so much misinformation being passed along. I want to correct it when I see it, not as a know-it-all, but just to let people know I genuinely care and want to raise awareness about proper precautions.”

“People are angry, but the virus doesn’t care. It’s not political. We don’t go to work thinking that our research is going to infringe on someone’s rights. We’re hoping that a test result doesn’t put someone with a compromised immune system in harm’s way. We want people to be well and our tests to be negative so people can resume their lives.”

The PROS & CONS of


By Andrea Braundmeier-Fleming, PhD


Hand sanitizer is convenient. It can be used anywhere, which makes it more likely to actually get used.

It’s better than not washing your hands at all. Hand sanitizer can stop indirect transmission. In a hospital setting, it helps prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses among patients from hospital personnel. For example, a nurse is sneezed upon by her Patient X. She leaves Patient X’s room and uses hand sanitizer. The nurse then touches Patient Y. The chances of Patient Y getting Patient X’s virus has been reduced. This is also the same for washing hands with soap and water.


Most viruses are spread via direct contact with contagious persons. Hand sanitizers do nothing about the spread of contact droplets in a community setting. So if someone sneezes or coughs directly on you or near you — like what happened to our unfortunate nurse — no amount of hand sanitizer is going to protect you from getting sick.

Hand sanitizers have a high amount of alcohol, typically more than 60%. Alcohol dries the skin. Damaging the outer layers of the skin leads to cracks, sores, etc. Anti-microbial products, such as alcohol, also kill ALL microbes (both protective and harmful). So now the skin barrier is drier, more susceptible to damage and its usual microbe-fighting defenses have been killed.

The most effective way to remove harmful microbes is by friction that sloughs off microbes and dead skin cells. Washing your hands with soap and water for 30 seconds is more effective in reducing transmission of viruses and bacteria. People don’t usually rub their hands together for 30 seconds when using hand sanitizer.


Our body has a number of natural defenses against harmful microbes. The skin is our largest barrier to infection. If you keep your skin healthy and clean, practice good handwashing and stay away from symptomatic people, the use of anti-microbial products is not necessary.

Use hand sanitizer only when you don’t have access to soap and water. And to help with our current crisis, wear a mask.



By Steve Sandstrom

A biochemistry laboratory at SIU School of Medicine is sequencing the genomes of SARS-CoV-2 viruses that cause COVID-19 to determine if distinct variants exist in different Illinois communities and specifically in rural versus metropolitan areas.

“We’re looking for the ‘personality’ of the genome, to see how it’s changing over time,” says Keith Gagnon, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “There are a couple of variants and we need to determine which is the most dangerous. Based on what we learn, we can tell the virus’ point of origin, whether it’s similar to an outbreak in Chicago, or New York or Italy. We can also see if it is mutating, to see if a new version is emerging.”

Gagnon is working in collaboration with the Illinois Department of Public Health to sequence the SARS-CoV-2 virus genome using samples of the virus from Illinois patients who tested positive for COVID-19. The lab will share its information with health officials and deposit it on an international database that already contains more than 20,000 sequences. More are being added each day.

Gagnon says it is becoming apparent how essential the data-sharing is going to be for understanding the pandemic. Vaccine developers will want to target a part of the virus’ code that doesn’t change very often to increase the odds that a vaccine will work for a long time, “that the virus won’t mutate and bypass it. Our data will contribute to the bigger picture to make a better vaccine, better therapeutics.”

The mapping project will inform public policy in Illinois and beyond, he says.

“If a new variant of the virus emerges, we’re going to know quickly. Resources won’t be wasted.”

When the need for genetic testing expertise became apparent this spring, the School of Medicine provided capital to initiate the project in Gagnon’s lab. It was already well-stocked with supplies and more than a dozen students, many of whom were at work on ongoing research studies. The team hopes to map up to 100 genomes a day when in full swing and expects to sequence 1,500-2,000 genomes initially. Staff hours are staggered for safety and to maximize productivity.

Beyond the summer, Gagnon is preparing an R01 grant proposal for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support a longer term, three-year longitudinal study of the virus. “We don’t think this is going away soon,” he says. A longitudinal study will continue to track the virus and also provide feedback for the effectiveness of vaccines, treatments, and health mandates.

The lab would have been busy in 2020 even without an international pandemic. The NIH is presently funding four of the laboratory’s research projects, through R01, R21, R15 and R03 grants. Receiving one of those awards is an accomplishment. To obtain all four at the same time “is pretty unusual,” Gagnon says. “I got lucky.”

At the beginning of the year, Gagnon was awarded an R01 grant to characterize and develop anti-CRISPR nucleic acids. CRISPR is a relatively new genetic editing process that uses an enzyme to modify the DNA of a cell. This approach promises to create a new generation of gene therapies. His lab’s goal is to “build better guardrails” to control the activity and specificity of CRISPR. The group has also created molecules to act as “kill switches,” inhibitors that address side effects for specific therapeutic CRISPR applications.

The more recent trio of grants fund three arms of research to investigate cellular mechanisms and therapeutics for a genetic form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, known as C9FTD/ALS. Gagnon’s lab is also funded to work on C9FTD/ALS through industry partnerships.

As a post-doc, Gagnon was studying the genetic repeat expansion-disorder Huntington’s disease when a new repeat expansion sequence was discovered that caused ALS. It turned out to be the most common form of genetic mutation that causes Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was awarded a Department of Defense grant to study the anomaly, and it helped establish his lab in Carbondale.

After attending an ALS benefit in Chicago, Gagnon says his work became less of an academic exercise and more of a mission.

“You meet these people and you realize how random and devastating the illness is,” he says. “I thought we should do whatever we can to help them. If we can achieve a fraction of what we want to do, it will all be worth it.”

Naked and Unafraid

SIU researchers discover another strength in creature’s features

By Tim Crosby

Sometimes new discoveries come wrapped in, well, not the most attractive packages.

Behold, the aptly named naked mole-rat.

The east African rodent probably won’t win any prizes for its cute quotient, but the way its society is structured within its underground colonies is fascinating and unique among mammals. And its incredibly long life (for a rodent) and practically non-existent cancer rates make it a great model animal for scientists studying aging and disease among humans.

Researchers at SIU School of Medicine recently published a paper on the animal after discovering another interesting difference between it and other creatures having to do with how hard it bites. Not only does the naked mole-rat “punch above its weight” in this area, but the amount of force each animal exerts is linked to its social status within the colony.

The research conducted by Diana Sarko, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy, and her doctoral student, Natalee Hite, found that subordinate animals within the colony have the strongest bite force, which flies in the face of most other mammalian species, where the largest animals bite the hardest.

Small, but mighty

Weighing in at less than 2 ounces, and measuring just 3 to 4 inches long on average, naked mole-rats live in groups inside burrows. Its weird combination of unusual characteristics allow it to flourish in such harsh environments.

Their skin lacks sensitivity to pain and they can live up to 30 years, far beyond the normal lifespan of their cousins in the rodent family. Their outsized incisors are wired for touch, taking up a great portion of their brain’s tactile processing region. Not only do they use the teeth for defense, but also to feel their way through the dark, subterranean labyrinths they call home.

But one of the most unique characteristics are their social hierarchies. Naked mole-rats are eusocial, meaning that, not unlike bees, each colony has a “queen” along with dominant and subordinate members. The animal is the only known mammal to use such a social structure.

In this structure, only the queen and a select group of males reproduce, with the rest of the colony acting as reproductively suppressed “workers,” both male and female, whose job is defending, maintaining and expanding the structure of the burrows, and caring for the pups produced by the reproducing female.

“This is the first study to show a relationship between bite strength and social status in naked mole-rats,” said Sarko, a neuroscientist who is interested in studying sensory systems, including unusual sensory adaptations and the plasticity of sensory systems. “It was a surprise because across a wide range of species that have been studied by other researchers, the general rule is that the bigger you are, the harder you bite.”

Seeing potential, finding surprises

Sarko first began studying the animals as a post-doctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University. She quickly learned that strange combination of traits make naked mole-rats a useful analog for human anatomy.

“The fact that they have a long lifespan, and that they live that long without getting cancer make them a desirable model for aging and cancer studies,” she said. “Their large, specialized incisors make them a great model for studying tactile inputs from the teeth, as well as sensory reorganization following tooth loss. And tooth loss is a critical issue for human health, affecting the diet and self-image of a large percentage of adults in the U.S.”

The researchers’ findings were published in December in the journal Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. Sarko and Hite theorize that the difference in bite force among the animals may be somewhat impacted by their varying roles in the social structure.

“Subordinates take on the role of colony defense, which might require stronger bites, whereas dominant animals have already established their positions within the colony and may be ‘resting on their laurels’ a bit, not needing to further prove themselves,” Sarko said.

By Steve Sandstrom

In the early ‘70s, Dean Richard Moy and recruiting officials had advertised for instructors at a new “medical school without walls.” The opportunity to create something original within the American medical education system appealed to both experienced professionals looking for change and young risk-takers ready to stretch their wings. As the School of Medicine evolved from an inspired idea to a well-respected institution, there were scores of dedicated people hired as the glue to hold the great experiment together. Three of the founding faculty are still here today, teaching students, conducting research and collaborating with administrators and staff to continue the school’s noble missions. They share some memories about the formative times at SIU.

J. Kevin Dorsey, MD, PhD

Dean and Provost Emeritus; Professor, Department of Medical Education and Department of Internal Medicine (Rheumatology). Hired July 1, 1973, as a biochemistry professor

Dr. Dorsey had the unique experience of seeing the medical school develop from different perspectives: researcher, faculty member, learner, clinician, administrator and its third dean, 2001-15. He recently served as interim president for the SIU Systems.

Martha Ellert and Kevin Dorsey review the teaching points of a patient’s CT scan in Carbondale in 1989.

What was it that first interested you in research? All academic jobs at the time were people who were researchers first, and they also taught. Universities were looking for researchers in certain areas of expertise, and you taught graduate students in the subjects where you were familiar.

You said once you’d been teaching here a while, you envied the students. Why? I liked what they were doing more than what I was doing. The classroom work was just so relevant to the study of medicine. It wasn’t two years of ‘sit there while we talk at you, you take tests, you must pass.’ You were seeing patients from the get-go. The students in the 1973 charter class were having clinical experiences. I went with them when they were meeting with a neurologist in Carbondale doing patient rounds and it was just so engaging. I was 30 years old, and I’d been in school a long time, in a lot of different places and this was not like anything I had ever seen. I taught the first two years and enrolled in the third.

That was when the academic curricula took three years. What was that like? I thought it was great. There were no summers off. You did 36 months straight; 12 in Carbondale and 24 in Springfield. What was I going to do in the summer, mow lawns? It was fine by me; you just plowed through. Those early classes skewed a little bit older than the average age of the classes now, too.

Were there times you felt like a pioneer in Carbondale? Oh yeah. I want to pay respect to my colleague and friend Hurley Myers. He was a very innovative teacher and an early adapter of using technology in the classroom. In the ‘70s I recall him using a heart sound simulator so that we could all sit around with stethoscopes to our ears, plugged into this machine as he described what those sounds meant.

I like what I do, that’s why I’m still doing it.

Shortly after I went back to Carbondale in ‘83, the first Apple Macintosh computer came out. He’d seen me teaching and I was using a modified deck of cards to respond to students’ questions as we’d run through the history and physical of a patient case. This was around the time that Howard Barrows’ teaching with problem-based learning was taking off.

Hurley and I got together with a computer programmer and formed a little company called DxR in the Small Business Incubator on campus and came up with something that I’d describe as a patient on a disk, with heart sounds, pictures, vitals. We’d picked up on some of Howard’s ideas for medical education, and we added technology and the things sold world-wide.

As dean, you had a lengthy and successful run that was second only to Dr. Moy, for longevity. To say I’m second only to Dick Moy, well, there’s only been four of us and Jerry just started in 2016. When I took the job, I told myself that if I’m not in double figures, what am I doing? Cultural impact does not come quickly. You just have to plug away at it. I enjoyed it. I’m not interested in retiring. I like what I do, that’s why I’m still doing it.

Donald Caspary, PhD

Professor of Pharmacology. Hired December 1, 1972

An SIU Distinguished Scholar, Dr. Caspary’s research has focused on age-related hearing loss, central sensory plasticity, tinnitus and sensory pharmacology, anatomy, physiology and neurochemistry. The Academy for Scholarship in Education named him one of the Outstanding Teachers of 2009. The NIH has continuously funded his research for more than 40 years.


What’s your secret to academic longevity? That’s an easy question. If I couldn’t get my grants funded or my papers published, I wouldn’t still be doing this. Science is a fairly competitive game, and if your colleagues allow you to compete and you have wonderful people working with you in the lab, it’s kind of hard to stop.

Do you have a fond memory of a red letter day in the lab? Yes. There have been a couple of times when I’ve seen something that I postulated that no one else has ever seen. And then you repeat it and you see it again and you go, ‘Holy crap, this is really wonderful.’

In this business you also get rewarded when you see people cite your work. That’s always nice. And if it’s something that you wanted to do and you think it’s important, no matter what other people think, you should go ahead and do it. If you think it’s worthwhile, it probably is.

I never make value judgments on whether someone’s research is important or not, because you just don’t know what is going to turn out to be important. If you had told me, ‘I want to investigate submicroscopic particles in tobacco plants because they cause little warts and that’s interesting to me,’ I’d say that’s not interesting. But the first virus ever discovered was the tobacco mosaic virus, by some guy who was curious about it about 120 years ago. So you just never know.

You’ve had NIH funding for more than 40 years. Were champagne corks popping when that national funding award letter came in? No. The year before I got my first NIH grant, I got a Deafness Research Foundation grant, and my emotional response for that little DRF award — it was only fifteen or twenty thousand dollars — meant more to me than when I found out about the NIH grant. Somebody was willing to send me money to do something! I had tears in my eyes.

What’s been your take on the medical and scientific information that’s been provided during the pandemic? I believe in scientific approaches to solving problems as much as I ever did, but I have a greater appreciation for data shown graphically. Rather than read an article about what states are doing or how a vaccine is coming along or what the impact of wearing a mask is, show me the numbers.

The political world is so disparate and so broken now, countries aren’t working together. Some of the mechanisms that were put in place for situations like this have been removed or damaged. It’s truly sad. Meanwhile, I’ve read articles where they’re interviewing the young people working in the labs developing new vaccines, and that’s exciting.

What’s been the most notable change in the research structure that you’ve seen here? We’ve become like other medical schools. From a research point of view we now have to pay for everything. One of the advantages early on was the school provided us a lot of money to do research. It was cheap to do the work in Springfield. One of the reasons I came here was because they offered us money to build a lab. For the first three or four years, if you knew what you were doing and what your lab needed, there was more money around than you could spend.

Things are different now, of course. The school is so much bigger. We’re changing. Shelley Tischkau has taken over as chair [of pharmacology] and we have young energetic faculty in both Springfield basic science departments.

Here’s my prediction: Over the next few years as us geezers disappear, you’re going to have more really good young people come in and there’s going to be better science here than ever. I see a pretty bright future for the research establishment.

Carl Faingold, PhD

Professor of Pharmacology and Distinguished Scholar, Chair of Pharmacology, 1995 - 2019. Hired August 1, 1972

Dr. Faingold has received the school’s Outstanding Scholar Award. His research interests include neuronal networks of the brain and their role in convulsive seizures, anticonvulsant drug actions, hearing mechanisms and alcohol abuse, and he has brought in several million dollars in research funds to the school. He has had the longest tenure of any faculty member at the school.

The Faingold family visits Carl at his SIU medical research laboratory, circa 1977.

Tell me about setting up the Department of Pharmacology. There were three members of what was originally the Division of Pharmacology: Dr. Bud Cline, Dr. Satu Somani and myself. I was the first to arrive in August of 1972, Cline and Somani came in 1973. Dr. Somani was a hard worker, and in fact he ended up having a fatal aneurysm in his office many years later on a Sunday night. The department named an award in his honor, which we give every year to the medical student who most greatly excels in Pharmacology. All of the basic science faculty in Springfield spent those early years also setting up the labs and beginning our research, and many of us moved into the newly built SIU medical instructional facility at 801 in 1976. The department of pharmacology was formed in 1979, and I had the honor and responsibility of being acting chair for nearly two years in the early 1980s, and following the 13 year tenure as chairmanship of Ezio Giacobini, I was elected as the chair in 1995, serving nearly 25 years until last year.

What were the first days of teaching like? They were very hectic because the three of us faculty members developed all the nearly 100 lectures, frequent exams, and detailed objectives for each one. SIU School of Medicine was the first medical school to ever compile and publish detailed objectives for the entire M.D. curriculum.

What is your teaching philosophy? I try to engage the students in active learning about the topic by asking questions. I also cover all the relevant up-to-date science. Each class of students seem to have its own personality, and I try to adjust my teaching style and emphasis to that.

I always stress the important practical aspects of the actions of drugs, especially on the brain, which is the area that I concentrate on in my research. This is very challenging because our knowledge of the brain is rapidly advancing. I get a daily internet feed from the National Library of Medicine to keep up with new research findings on the topics I teach and study. I have always emphasized to the students that drugs can also be dangerous- a concept called pharmacovigilance. In my first session with each new class I introduce this concept and dramatize it by having masked assistants march into the lecture hall carrying a cardboard coffin accompanied by some scary music. Often when I encounter former students who are now practicing MDs they ask if I still do the coffin lecture.

I try to engage the students in active learning about the topic by asking questions.

Do you have a fond memory of a discovery in the lab? My favorite experiences have been when one of my graduate students has brought me some new data that was unexpected and we figured out that we have actually discovered something new. A highlight of my current research is a new idea that we first published in animals in 2006 as a re-purposing of a drug as a potential way to prevent patients with epilepsy from sudden unexpected death (SUDEP) that can occur in these patients. We continued this animal work in earnest starting in 2010, and this idea has finally begun to be tested successfully in patients just in the last year. This is very gratifying and potentially important, since there are no treatments to prevent SUDEP currently available.

2020 Distinguished Alumnus

Erik Constance, MD, ‘88

Erik Constance, MD, has served as Associate Dean of Students Affairs and Admissions for the past 25 years. In that position, he has been a de facto gatekeeper and guidance counselor for many of the 1,750 learners who have gone on to medical practice. He has had an immeasurable influence on the School of Medicine’s student body – and hence, the health of the 66-county service region – for half of our institution’s existence.

A graduate of the Class of 1988, Constance personifies SIU’s missions. The Alumni Society Board of Governors of SIU School of Medicine agreed and selected him as the 2020 Distinguished Alumni for a career of service to his alma mater. A nominator said, “Change is omnipresent in medical education, and Dr. Constance’s steadfast fidelity and advocacy for the students has helped shepherd and maintain a very positive learning climate at SIU.”

A Belleville native, Constance was an undergrad at SIU Edwardsville when he decided to pursue medicine. During his first year at Carbondale, the medical school’s rural, family-like culture set the hook in him. He worked closely with faculty mentor Kevin Dorsey, MD, and Rajagopal Chadaga, MD, in the local VA hospital, forging his early professionalism and a traditionalist approach to clinical medicine.

For residency, he interviewed all over the country but found the ideal match was staying home at SIU. Internal Medicine chairs Sergio Rabinovich, MD, and David Steward, MD, became further resources for training and role modeling, giving Constance his first taste of administration, mentoring and teaching as the department’s chief resident in 1991.

Constance then spent four years on faculty at SIU, building relationships and growing a rural practice in Auburn, until a request from the dean came in 1995. Carl Getto, MD, asked him to chair a search committee for the new Associate Dean of Student Affairs. “I thought about it for a while, then went back to Dean Getto and told him I’d rather apply for it,” he says. He advanced through the national search and was selected. Twenty-five years in, he still relishes the challenges and variety of the job.

Constance says, “When people ask me what I do, I often tell them I’m a teacher.” He most enjoys the daily interactions with students and teaching a course on differential diagnosis for the second-years. And the feeling is mutual. Four classes of graduates have awarded him the Golden Apple Award for excellence as an instructor. Some of his lessons are easy to retain. Alumni who have been through SIU in the last 25 years can probably recite two out of three of Dr. Constance’s Medical School Rules: 1. Be on time. 2. Don’t make excuses. 3. Ask for help.

Asked about his proudest achievements, he recalls an innovation from his earliest years: opening up the student enrollment process to diversity. “In 1996, I held the first diversity training at SIU School of Medicine for the entire student body. It didn’t go over as well as I’d have liked,” he says. So he and Dr. Getto initiated diversity training and used data from the NBME to create a new admissions process that took a more holistic approach, one of the first medical schools in the nation to do so. He also reached an agreement with Dr. Harold Bardo, director of the school’s post-baccalaureate preparatory program, MEDPREP, that SIU would automatically accept anyone who completed its classes in Carbondale.

A student of history, Constance recognizes progress moves in fits and starts. “Dean Kruse, Dean Dorsey and I, we’re all proud of where we are at against our peers – something like the top 2 percent for training underrepresented students – but we all agree that we can do more. There weren’t a lot of allies doing this 25 years ago. I hope I’ve set the table for more improvements because it’s important to have a student body that looks more like the general population.”

Nominate a distinguished alum at: siumed.edu/alumniaffairs/distinguished-alumni-award

LIGHTING THE WAY For 50 years outreach programs have been part of the bedrock of the medical school. SIU students and employees have volunteered in communities where they live and work. SIU learners provide middle and high school students with health education and the information they need to make positive lifestyle choices and consider careers in medicine. We can’t wait to see the future doctors of the communities we serve.

Over the past few months, we have gained a heightened sense of the importance of the support of family and friends in times of crisis, suffering and death. We honor a trio of our colleagues here and extend our sympathy, thoughts and prayers to those close to them.

James Hurley Myers, PhD

Dr. Hurley Myers was one of the founding teachers and scholars of the SIU School of Medicine, spending more than 30 years on the School of Medicine faculty in Carbondale. He received the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award seven times and co-founded the DxR Development Group, a medical education software company.

Dr. Kevin Dorsey worked closely with Dr. Myers, and remembers him well. “As a founding faculty member of SIU SOM, Hurley Myers was one of the risk takers who not only bought into a radical new way of teaching — integrated basic science organ systems, not courses; mastery of specified learning objectives versus ‘guess what’s on the test’ — but did so with enthusiasm and good humor. He set high standards but was there to help medical students understand and acquire the principles of cardiovascular physiology.

Hurley was an early adopter of technology to enhance learning and this led to his founding of the DxR Development Group, a software company that ‘put a patient on a disk’ and allowed student clinical reasoning to be analyzed. In addition to his being recognized multiple times by classes of medical students for his teaching excellence, he was also honored by Apple computer as a Teaching Fellow and recently received the Sino-Phil Asia Peace Award for Medical Education.”

Dr. Myers certainly had the pioneer spirit, as did many of the early faculty members, a spirit that formed the fabric of the SIU School of Medicine that endures today.

John Eric Bleyer, MD, MPH

Dr. Eric Bleyer and his wife, Lorie, graduated from SIU School of Medicine in 1989 and completed the combined internal medicine-pediatrics residency at SIU in 1993. Both Eric and Lorie joined the faculty of SIU School of Medicine and practiced in Auburn. Later, they joined Memorial Physician Services. Dr. Bleyer was a leader in quality improvement and served the School of Medicine and the Springfield community with distinction in a broad array of clinical, academic, administrative and leadership functions. Dr. Bleyer was the personal physician for a good number of SIU employees who are reading this. Many reached out to tell us that he was an excellent physician, caring and talented, who practiced comprehensive, longitudinal primary care, the type of which we need much more.

Jason French, MD

Dr. Jason French and his wife, Brooke, earned their SIU medical degrees in 2004. He completed his residency in Pediatrics in 2007 and served as a pediatric hospitalist and associate program director at SIU SOM. After the completion of Brooke’s residency in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, they and daughter Ella moved to Toronto, Canada, for fellowships at the Hospital for Sick Children at the University of Toronto. They moved to Denver, Colorado, where daughter Claire was born. Jason worked in Pediatric Hospital Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine as a senior instructor for nearly a decade. For more information, visit jasonalanfrench.com.


COVID-19 prompts surge in virtual health care visits

By Sarah Kinkade | Photography by Sara Way

Instead of renting a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, driving two hours and risking exposure to COVID-19, the Hall family from Tuscola, Illinois jumped at the chance to have a telehealth visit with an SIU Medicine surgeon.

Suffering from multiple sclerosis, Vicki Hall often makes the painful trip to see her various doctors in Central Illinois, including the trek to Springfield to see several of her SIU Medicine doctors. In January 2018, she was also diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After radiation treatments, her cancer is now in remission, but she struggles to swallow. To see if she’s a candidate for a procedure to have her esophagus stretched, head and neck surgeon Sandra Ettema, MD, PhD, met with Vicki and her family in a virtual visit.

“Prior to COVID-19, we used telehealth where the patient traveled to their local, often rural, physician’s office and it took a lot of coordination with that clinic for someone to be trained on how to operate the technology, to set everything up for the patient, and then also do basic vitals on the patient for us,” says Dr. Ettema.

When the pandemic began, SIU Medicine clinics turned on a new version of telehealth to reach patients in their homes, in just a few days. Using video chat technology, Dr. Ettema could talk with Vicki and listen to her describe her swallowing concerns. She then could recommend that Vicki go to her local hospital to do a swallow study – that way Vicki didn’t have to travel to Springfield in an uncomfortable car for Dr. Ettema to determine her symptoms and explain that she needed a swallow test. She also didn’t have to travel to Springfield to have the test – she can complete it closer to home. The results are then sent to Dr. Ettema for review.

“SIU Medicine offers such a specialized group of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat) surgeons, some of our patients are willing to travel very far distances to have surgery here,” says Dr. Ettema, who focuses on treating disorders of the larynx and voice. “For me to do a post-operative visit using telehealth, I can check on them without asking them to travel so far so soon after a surgery. I can see what they look like. I can hear how their voice sounds and have them cough. There are so many things I can see and hear via telehealth that lets me know if they are recovering well after surgery.”

For the Hall family in Tuscola, it made their lives easier and they could maintain the same high level of care with a very specialized surgeon.

“With four grown children, we all help take Vicki to appointments and care for her,” says Rex Hall, Vicki’s husband. “With the video chat option, we could also have our daughter come over and join us for the visit to hear everything the surgeon said too.”

“We can actually provide a higher level of care because we can check on someone virtually more often, and they aren’t sitting in the waiting room if I’m running late,” says Dr. Ettema.


cHOP helps employees cope with pandemic's impact

By Susan Thompson Hingle, MD

Just a little more than one year after the creation of SIU’s Center for Human and Organizational Potential (cHOP), the COVID-19 pandemic hit. cHOP’s purpose is “to create an environment in which inclusive partnerships unleash the individual and organizational potential of our people and communities to learn thrive and excel.” This unexpected proof of concept opportunity hit us full on. We know that the main drivers of burnout and unwellness are loss of control and flexibility, poor work-life integration, insufficient social support and community at work, lack of efficiency and resources, overwhelming workload and job demands, and loss of meaning in work. Nearly all of these were upended by the acuity and the depth of the changes required to meet the new realities created by the deadly coronavirus. People’s lives were changed quickly and without much time to prepare, so most of the adjustments needed were happening rapidly. In so many ways, it was the “perfect storm.”

The cHOP team jumped in without hesitation. We began to evaluate how we could support our SIU people and communities through this unprecedented challenge.

The best ways to help included:

  • creating opportunities to connect and to create communities of caring,
  • sharing resources to meet personal and professional needs,
  • establishing partnerships to assist in navigating and managing the new realities,
  • collecting information to assist in rightly targeting interventions and resources, and
  • providing positive perspectives to help each other through this pandemic.

We offered this support through digital mediums like virtual town halls where people could share stories, challenges, best practices and support. The strength of our partnerships made these digital strategies successful.

In partnership with Integrative and Culinary Medicine, Wellness Wednesdays began so that we could assist in equipping our community with new skills to manage their stress, anxiety, and mental health. Collaborations with Human Resources, the Alliance for Women in Medicine & Science, and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, helped broaden the reach and the depth of the resources as the pandemic shed bright lights on the deep racial and socioeconomic inequities in our society.

Recognizing the time limitations of many, two asynchronous online forums were developed on the SIU intranet; one was focused on wellness and called The Village and the other was focused on leadership during COVID. Finally, we began a weekly newsletter called REVAMP: Relationships, Engagement, Vitality, Accomplishments, Meaning and Positive Emotion. We have had multiple contributors to our newsletter who, by sharing their authenticity and vulnerability, have helped our community as we have traveled through COVID.

Unfortunately, this pandemic is far from over, and we have a long road ahead. The cHOP team wants everyone to know that we are here for you, to work with you, and that we are better together. Undoubtedly, we will emerge from this indelibly changed. If we work together, we can make those changes positive ones. We are, after all, #SIUStrong.

The cHOP Team (left to right): Christine Todd, Boyung Suh, Debra Klamen, David Ziebler, John Mellinger, Stacy Sattovia, Leslie Smith, Sookyung Suh, Susan Hingle and Cathy Canham

In celebration of the School of Medicine’s 50th Anniversary, each issue of this year’s Aspects will feature a sampling of our physician graduates. Their careers, like so many of our alumni, represent SIU School of Medicine’s core values of education, patient care, research and community service.

Our graduates practice in a broad range of specialties, following diverse career paths after earning their medical degrees from SIU. They practice medicine in a variety of settings, from private practice offices and community clinics to sophisticated tertiary care centers.

Some have become university professors while others serve as volunteer faculty for health professions schools in their regions. Some have taken up careers in research while many others are applying clinical research findings to the everyday practice of medicine. Some serve their communities through military careers or government service. And many more serve their communities through mission work, volunteering and civic engagement.

SIU School of Medicine graduates have developed their talents in countless ways that enrich the lives of others at the local, national and international levels. We are proud of their service, their accomplishments and their commitment.

Alanna Bree, MD

  • Class of 2000
  • Founding pediatric dermatologist at A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology in Houston, Texas;
  • Founder and Executive Director of A Children’s House for the Soul

I was born in Highland, Illinois, and went to college at Missouri State University. I was Director of Pediatric Dermatology at Saint Louis University, and after moving to Houston, I was an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine practicing at Texas Children’s Hospital.

After reaching a point of complete burnout, I quit my job with the support of my amazing medical school sweetheart and husband, Doug Bree, MD, ’00, and spent two years doing short-term mission work in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Kenya and Tanzania. On the mission field, I realized I wanted to combine my faith with my practice so I could share my true joy with those I serve. Therefore, I returned to Houston to establish A Children’s House for Pediatric Dermatology as a means to support the nonprofit I founded, A Children’s House for the Soul, with the vision of making the world a more understanding, accepting and loving place for those affected by skin conditions and birthmarks.

I am so very grateful that I have found a way to live my passion every day (although, I wish I could also say I have found a way to get rid of emails, electronic medical records and prior authorizations, but no such luck!). Despite these administrative burdens, it is so important to remember what an incredible privilege and honor it is to care for our patients, and this was something that I first witnessed at SIU SOM, watching and learning from many wonderful mentors. I am reminded every day that our words and our actions matter for ourselves and for all of those who cross our paths, both personally and professionally. We have the opportunity to be the light in a dark place for those who are sick and suffering, not just physically but also emotionally, socially and spiritually. When we pour our authentic selves into our work, we are filled with even more.

What truly matters is that I can make a difference in someone’s life when I connect with them and provide them with the care they need; not as someone with a disease but as a person who needs healing. When I care for a child who has been bullied and teased, who is depressed and anxious because they have a visible skin condition, if I can make them see their true worth as the masterpiece they were created to be, then I have done something far greater then providing them with a prescription or a treatment that will give only temporary relief. Instead, I have helped heal their soul, and in my humble opinion, there is no greater achievement.

Stephen R. Goetter, MD, FACP

  • Class of 1976
  • Hospitalist, Decatur Memorial Hospital;
  • Clinical Associate, SIU School of Medicine

I graduated in 1976 and completed my internal medicine residency at SIU SOM affiliated hospitals in Springfield in 1979. After 32 years in private practice, I became a hospitalist at Decatur Memorial Hospital. Currently I serve as program director and working hospitalist for Signature Health Concierge Medicine at Decatur Memorial Hospital (DMH). I’ve taught many learners throughout my career.

My professional positions and accomplishments at DMH include director of Hospitalist Services (2012-16); chair of the Department of Medicine; hospitalist, (2011-16); General Internal Medicine practice, 1979-2011; and president of the medical staff, 1992-94. I was also chair of the Department of Medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur.

I served as governor for the Downstate Illinois Chapter of American College of Physicians- American Society of Internal Medicine (2001), and have been a member of the American College of Physicians (Fellow-1993), the Illinois Society of Internal Medicine (1983-94; president 1992-93), and American Society of Internal Medicine Liability Committee (1988-96; chair 1991-96).

My community activities include chairing the Communities in Partnership Family Investment Project, 1994-present and serving on the Board of Directors at Decatur Memorial Hospital 1990-99 (PHO, 1995-99).

Jyoti Patel, MD, FAAP, FACP

  • Class of 1999
  • Solo private integrative Med-Peds practice

I grew up in southern Illinois, where my father was a solo family practice physician in a rural farming community. It wasn’t unusual for my father to return home with a bushel of tomatoes or corn from a local farmer or for my mother to go in the backyard and prepare vegetables for dinner straight from our garden. Fresh produce, friendly neighbors and a safe community made this small town a great place to grow up in as it fostered a nurturing, safe environment for my early years.

After medical school at SIU SOM and an Internal Medicine and Pediatrics residency in Florida, my husband and I moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona, a little town outside of Phoenix. Following my father’s footsteps, I had the opportunity to make a difference in a small town where people valued family, faith and community. I served the Fountain Hills community as the only pediatrician and the only female internist for the last 13 years. Two years ago, I completed a fellowship at the University of Arizona in Integrative Medicine. The Integrative Medicine program made me realize that as physicians, we have a responsibility to provide real solutions to the chronic disease health crisis in the US. And as educators and health leaders, we need to be willing to work with the community outside the exam room.

As part of my intention, I spearheaded a community garden in town, where we have monthly Farm to Table classes, and we teach residents how to grow and cook healthy meals for their families. Last year, I sold my primary care practice and opened an Integrative Wellness Center in Scottsdale. In my new clinic, we offer health education classes, group activities around nutrition, yoga, meditation, movement, and have a team of a mental health provider, a nutritionist and a physician to empower our patients to seek lasting wellness.

A few years ago, a Girl Scout, who wants to become a pediatrician, asked me, “What do you do for community service?” This question really had me stumbling over my words! She sparked a desire in me to make a difference in the town that I served as a physician. I wanted to meet my mission to teach children and adults that food is medicine, the beauty of being outside in the sun, staying physically active, socializing with others and connecting with each other, like the community I grew up in southern Illinois. So I spearheaded a 2.5-acre community garden in Fountain Hills.

Over the last three years, the garden has blossomed into a beautiful green space with 120 raised, organic garden beds, a food donation program to the local food bank, two beehives, a greenhouse, a kid’s gardening program, a composting program, rain catch barrels and a teaching kitchen. We have more than 400 garden members; local schools, service organizations and retirement homes join us to create a thriving, safe space for the old and young to meet, learn, grow and gather. I was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Chamber of Commerce and Healthcare Provider of the year by the town of Fountain Hills. I was humbled by that little Girl Scout, who taught me the joy of truly living for the service of others. It has further strengthened my resolve to pursue my passion of being a healer and an educator in my community.

Nedra H. Joyner, MD, MBA, FACS, FARS

  • Class of 1982
  • Otolaryngologist, Franciscan Hammond Clinic Family Wellness Center

I was one of those kids that knew early on what I wanted to be: either a doctor or a ballerina. I stayed focused at Boston College, majoring in Biology, but being on the cold East Coast caused me to miss my family and homey feel of the Midwest. I am a Chicago girl at heart, and after college I wanted my journey toward medicine a little closer to home. SIU and the MEDPREP program offered the perfect opportunity to better prepare for medical school. I rejoiced when I received the MEDPREP acceptance letter and thus became part of the SIU legacy.

I continued full steam ahead to SIU SOM and made some life-long friends as I pondered what kind of doctor to become after graduation. During my third-year surgery rotation, Dr. Konrad (Chief of Otolaryngology) let me take out a tonsil. It must have been a ‘magical tonsil’ because my medical journey turned into a quest. I never thought of being a surgeon until that very moment; I was hooked!

I headed home to Chicago to complete my internship in General Surgery at Michael Reese Hospital. I returned to SIU as a surgery resident in the Otolaryngology program, dreaming of the tonsil I excised that day. Through the rigors of the surgery program I became the first African American in the Surgery residency and the first African American woman to complete the SIU Otolaryngology program.

I became a Fellow in Rhinology and Allergy at the University of Chicago from 1992-93. I stayed at the UC for 14 years as a Clinical Associate Professor and became part of the ENT teaching faculty so I could give new residents in surgery that feeling of ‘magical tonsils’ too. At SIU we learned the values of teaching and service. One way to serve is to work in the community and help as many people as possible. I took the lesson to heart and to Mt. Sinai Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center in an underserved, urban community on the west side of Chicago. It’s where I became Chief of Otolaryngology, teacher and administrator for 21 years. I joined the National Medical Association (NMA) way back when I was a medical student. Throughout my career, I was elected to various national positions, including State of Illinois Chair, Region IV Chair, Vice Chair and Chair of Otolaryngology section. I have been a member of the NMA Board for 16 years and was Chair 2008-09. I earned an MBA at Loyola University in Chicago in 2010. I have been a member of the SIU SOM Alumni Board for the past nine years and was Treasurer 2016-19.

I am most passionate about being a mother. I made a decision early in life to value family over career, and have included family aspects along the way. I have two accomplished adult daughters and two amazing grandchildren. I am also a Life member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the first Black Greek Sorority for women founded in 1908, whose mission is “service to all mankind.” I thank SIU for the opportunity to come home, allow me to be of service to my community, teach others and start my quest through medicine.

Alan Deckard, MD

  • Class of 1989
  • Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, SIU Department of Internal Medicine

I was raised in Havana, Illinois, and attended SIUC prior to SIU SOM. After residency, a service scholarship took me back to Havana, where I practiced adult and pediatric medicine for six years with two Havana natives. I was able to return to Springfield in 1999 to join Koke Mill Medical Associates and had the pleasure of practicing with several of my medical school and residency colleagues. Hospital medicine called me back to SIU in 2005. I’ll soon finish 15 years in the growing hospitalist program. SIU has also afforded me leadership opportunities on the SIU HealthCare Board and as Division Chief of General Internal Medicine.

I’ve been able to appreciate the service mission of the School through prior work with Mason County and Cass County Public Health Departments. Witnessing the wonderful work these agencies accomplish is humbling. It also reinforces the importance of having the medical school in central Illinois as a health care resource for these departments.

The most satisfying part of my career is teaching. Our learners fuel my drive for lifelong learning and inspire me with their enthusiasm. I hope I can positively influence them as my mentors did for me.

Finally, I’m thankful for the opportunities my training at SIU has provided and proud to be a part of a great group of dedicated and talented graduates.


During a spring of unprecedented challenges, we have heard from School of Medicine alumni who have been on the frontlines in areas affected by the pandemic, by social unrest and by weather events. Residents told of altered training during COVID-19, and alumni had clinics closed suddenly and surgeries halted or decreased. An alum was deployed on the MERCY ship docked on the West Coast and then asked to serve on a second ship. We appreciate everyone’s dedication and willingness to share these experiences with us.

Courtenay Diehl, MD, ’05, practices in Batavia, New York. “I have been chair of our OB/GYN department for more than three years now. It has been a pleasure shaping the department into something safe and efficient. My nurses are amazing! COVID hasn’t been terrible in this part of New York. We are going to be one of the first areas of the state to start opening back up. We have restarted elective surgeries and that is going well. Social distancing in the hospital can be a challenge, though.”

Craig Bowron, MD, ’91, lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, but works as a hospitalist at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. It’s a tertiary care center two blocks north of Lake Street, where the more violent, initial protests took place, and 10 blocks north of where George Floyd was killed. Dr. Bowron was assigned to be a COVID rounder that week, and rides his bike to work. “It was strange to spend a week riding through the smoke and debris of a soon-to-be-nationwide protest against racism and police brutality, in order to see my viral pandemic patients. Our hospital was spared any violence but the Lake Street business community is pretty banged up, and the hospitalist group I work with has raised nearly $100,000 to help these small businesses rebuild.” He shared more in a recent piece in KevinMD.com.

Maria Kaefer, MD, ’99, practices family medicine at Hennepin Faculty Associates and is medical director at the Family Tree Clinic in Minneapolis. The community clinic was destroyed during the riots. Their goal is to rebuild as a 100% trauma informed clinic.

Denise Werner, MD, ’96, responded after tornadoes struck Nashville and Cookeville, Tennessee. “We come together in crisis. The first case of coronavirus followed the day after the tornadoes. We live south and many of my co-workers live in Nashville and have lost houses and cars.”

Alexandra Barger, MD, ’18, is in an internal medicine residency in New Orleans. In late March, she said, “Everything has been more or less turned upside down in my program. Internal medicine is bearing the weight of all the extra patients being admitted to wards and MICUs, and we work at three hospitals so we are stretched very thin right now. We’re recruiting residents from other programs to work as our interns and recently graduated fellows to work as attending physicians. We’re adding multiple COVID-specific wards teams and additional MICU teams at every hospital. ... There’s talk of opening up the New Orleans Convention Center as a temporary hospital.”

Carolyn Sparks, MD, ’00, writes: “My clinic is in the neighborhood of Lake and Hiawatha in Minneapolis where the 3rd precinct fire station was destroyed by fire, along with the Target and a Cub Foods, a community clinic and many other buildings. The first few days were terrible. The constant sound of sirens was unsettling, and the firefighters were completely overwhelmed by the number of fires set. Our clinic has been safe but shut down, and many of my patients live in the neighborhood, so it’s been hard on them. We’ve had helicopters circling overhead and the smoke from the fires has been clearly visible. The community has been turning out in force to help clean up and to provide necessary food, diapers, and supplies to people who now have no way to get them. I went to a White Coats for Black Lives protest at the capital, which was great. Hundreds of providers were there, it was very peaceful and everyone did a good job of wearing masks and socially distancing! Minnesota overall has an excellent quality of life, but there are huge disparities in educational achievement, health including maternal and neonatal deaths, home ownership, etc. I do hope we can get some social change out of this.”

Kyle Morgenstern, MD, ’17, wrote in early June: “Things have been quite challenging here in the Twin Cities but we are making it through. I am rotating at the Minneapolis VA, which was largely spared of any conflict. My fiancée and I live several miles from downtown and South Minneapolis, where most of the riots and destruction occurred. Nonetheless, we have felt the heartbreak and powerful response to the death of Mr. Floyd."

"This weekend, hundreds of health care professionals knelt on the State Capitol lawn in recognition of racial injustice as a health care crisis. It was a powerful message of solidarity by the Twin Cities healthcare community against racial injustices. SIU trained me well to recognize the biases in healthcare and within myself, and gave me the knowledge and power to confront those biases in an effort to provide the best care possible to ALL people, regardless of their race, gender, wealth, religion or lifestyle."



Jeffery Belden, MD, ’76, fully retired in January from University of Missouri Healthcare after retiring from Family Medicine practice in 2016 to focus on EHR usability.

Allen Gerberding, MD, ’77, “Officially retired at the end of October 2019 after 39.5 years in practice. Immensely enjoying retired life with gardening, saw milling and woodworking. Wishing everyone God’s blessings and good health.”


Gregory Poland, MD, ’80, Mary Lowell Leary professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, as well as the director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, has been interviewed frequently during the pandemic and discusses COVID-19: https://mayocl.in/39ycYhP.

John Crouch, MD, ’80, is director of cardiac transplantation and MCS service line; director of Cardiac Surgery at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee.

Elisa Bell'S booK , Are you Culturally Competent?

Elisa Bell, MD ’89, had a 2nd edition of her book published, Are you Culturally Competent? Clinicians Discuss the Relevance of Cultural Competency in Their Practices.


Pradip Patel, MD, ’92, maintains clinical professor/volunteer status with the University of Louisville SOM pediatrics following 25 years in academic practice, but has now joined Anthem, Inc. as a medical director for Kentucky Medicaid.

Class of ’95- Allan Parungao, MD, Nilesh Goswami, MD, Arpita Patel-Mehta, MD, Michael Sheedy, MD, Michelle Sims, MD, and Diane Shirley, MD,

Class of ’95- Allan Parungao, MD, Nilesh Goswami, MD, Arpita Patel-Mehta, MD, Michael Sheedy, MD, Michelle Sims, MD, and Diane Shirley, MD, held a virtual cocktail hour to connect during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

Shari Quick, MD, ’96, Along with clinical partners, opened up Sunflower Aesthetics, a full service medical spa in the fall of 2019.

Renee Stein, MD, ’96, is OB/GYN at Mercy Clinic in St. Louis and says, “If anyone is ever in the St. Louis area, please reach out. I sure would love to catch up with classmates!”

Sameer Mehta, MD, ’99, was featured in an interview about Covid-19 symptoms on Denver’s CBS local news.

Esperanza Salinas'S children’s book, The What Ifs and Cofi (A what if story).

Esperanza Salinas, MD, ’99, wrote a children’s book to help young people deal with anxiety in this time of pandemic, The What Ifs and Cofi (A what if story).


Lisa Nijm

Lisa Nijm, MD, ’04, was selected as the chief executive officer of Women in Ophthalmology (WIO). Nijm is currently serving as past-president and interim CEO of WIO. Her official term as CEO began on April 1, 2020.

Nadia Rao Day, MD, ’04, was featured as one of 595 Top Doctors of 2020 in Phoenix magazine’s March edition. 

Thomas Butler, MD, ’06, was promoted to assistant program director of general surgery residency at Crozer-Keystone Health System in Chester, Pa.

Raymond Pryor, III, MD, ’06, was recognized with other diplomates and associates who have been working hard on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis by the American Board of Wound Management, in a new feature called ABWM Heroes. Dr. Pryor works in Hampshire, Ill.

Hulbert Do, MD, ’07, moved to Monterey, Ca., in November 2019 and works at Montage Health-Non-Invasive Cardiology in Monterey.

Mickey Chabak, MD, ’08, and his family moved to Springfield in May 2020, where he will begin his civilian career with Clinical Radiologists after finishing his US Army service.

Rachel Durham

Rachel Durham, MD, ’09, received the Alton Memorial Hospital 2019 Emerging Leader Award.


Matthew Abell, MD, ’12, and spouse, Christine, welcomed their first baby in February 2020 and moved into their new home in Chatham, Illinois.

Kevin Simon, MD, ‘15, a clinical fellow in psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital, was featured in: https://bit.ly/3hBFmCo and https://n.pr/3f5ENiD.

Lacey Wood, MD, ’16, won the Outstanding Michigan State University Resident Teaching Award from the medical student Classes of 2018 and 2020; was nominated for the Gwendolyn Hoffman Outstanding Resident Award in Leadership in 2018 and won the award in 2019; was awarded the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Junior Fellow Vice Chair of Michigan during her first year of training and then Chair for the remaining three years; and has been Wellness Chief for last two years of training.

Brian Reinholz, MD, ’19, got engaged in April amid the coronavirus pandemic. Wedding planning is in the works!

Alumni Wellness Program

The SIU SOM Alumni Society Board of Governors developed a Wellness Committee whose purpose is to provide ways to assist our alumni across the globe, residents, fellows, and even students with a support system from their alma mater. Excessive workloads, negative workplace culture, poor work/life balance and perceived lack of autonomy in one’s work can all contribute to a feeling of isolation.

Areas of focus will utilize alumni involvement.

  • Serving as a resource for SIU SOM alumni/residents/students in your community, a discipline, a specific area;
  • Hosting get-togethers in your communities (or virtually) with fellow SIU SOM alumni;
  • Hosting a Student/Alumni dinner (or virtually) in Springfield or Carbondale as a great way to start a mentorship with the students.

► For more information or to volunteer: siumed.edu/alumniaffairs/physician-wellness

SIU SOM Alumni attended the first virtual social hour on June 26. They were able to sit back, relax, enjoy their favorite beverage and listen to music provided by renowned singer-songwriter Tom Irwin.

Look for more virtual event announcements soon.


SIU'S 50th ANNIVERSARY is a golden opportunity to share some looks back with our readers.