IN THIS ISSUE
SMALL SCHOOL, BIG IDEAS
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
RACISM AS A PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT
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
VIRTUAL CEREMONY CELEBRATES CLASS OF 2020
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.
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.
QUARANTINED AT SEA
COVID outbreak turns dream cruise into month-long odyssey
Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU
FATEFUL MEETING LEADS TO GIFT OF HOPE
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.”
RESEARCH ADDS SCIENCE, STRENGTH TO SIU'S COVID RESPONSE
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.
LEADING IN TURBULENT TIMES
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!
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.
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.
THE BOTTOM LINE
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.
BUSY BIOCHEMISTRY LAB IS MAPPING VIRUS
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.
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.
ALUMNI ON THE FRONTLINES
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."
THEN & NOW
SIU'S 50th ANNIVERSARY is a golden opportunity to share some looks back with our readers.