Hypertension expert John Flack, MD, named endowed chair of internal medicine
Internationally renowned hypertension expert John M. Flack, MD, MPH, was named the inaugural holder of the Sergio Rabinovich, MD, Endowed Chair of Internal Medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in an investiture ceremony June 3. An endowed chair represents one of the highest achievements in academic medicine, both for the person for whom the chair is named and for the person who holds the chair.
Flack, who joined SIU Medicine in 2015, is an internist who specializes in treating resistant hypertension in minority populations. He is an American Society of Hypertension-certified hypertension specialist and also serves as the president of the American Hypertension Specialist Certification Program. Flack has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and serves on several NIH and American Heart Association scientific peer-review panels.
The ceremony also honored Professor Emeritus Sergio Rabinovich, MD, who served as chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at SIU School of Medicine from 1974-88. He retired as chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in 1996. Rabinovich has served on numerous committees at the state and national level and is a member of the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
Memorial Medical Center contributed $1 million to launch the Sergio Rabinovich, MD, Endowed Chair of Internal Medicine.
Department of Emergency Medicine names Christopher McDowell, MD, endowed chair
Christopher McDowell, MD, MEd, an emergency medicine physician with SIU Medicine and the medical director of the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, is the first recipient of a newly created endowment for emergency medicine. He was honored in a ceremony on April 23 at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation. Memorial Medical Center contributed $1 million to launch the David L. Griffen, MD, PhD, Endowed Chair of Emergency Medicine. Griffen is the founding chair of the Division of Emergency Medicine at SIU, which became a department this spring.
“The endowment recognizes the fulfillment of Dr. Griffen’s great vision for better emergency medical care, for better education and better research in the field of emergency medicine,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine. “It will further train the next generation of emergency physicians, who will serve the people and communities of central and southern Illinois and the United States for decades to come.”
“This endowment honors Dr. Griffen’s diligent work and his formative leadership as he assembled the exceptional faculty members, clinicians and resident physicians who have built a program of excellence at SIU School of Medicine and Memorial Medical Center,” said Ed Curtis, president and CEO of Memorial Health System. “He has transformed the practice of emergency medicine in this community and inspired a new generation of physicians.”
Written by Sarah Kinkade | Photography by Sara Way
In the last 10 years, SIU’s Fertility and IVF Center has become the preferred option for couples dealing with infertility. This spring, the center celebrated 10 years of helping couples start their families. In that time, the center has maintained a reputation for superior quality patient care and a state-of-the-art embryology laboratory.
In 2016, Abbie and Mike Joyner of Sherman, Illinois, had hopes of conceiving a baby to start their family. After years of irregular cycles, one year of trying on their own, and six months of oral medications, cysts developed instead of healthy pregnancies—that’s when the Joyners met with . Ricardo Loret de Mola, MD, medical director of the Fertility & IVF Center and professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Abbie, now 34, went through 49 total shots to overstimulate her system and produce more eggs. Dr. Loret de Mola retrieved 31 eggs from Abbie and began to fertilize them. Throughout the week following the retrieval, the Joyners received phone calls from Jim Kontio, reproductive endocrinology and infertility lab coordinator, to let them know how many eggs had survived and were thriving.
“The goal of any good IVF practice is to have a single, healthy pregnancy,” said Kontio. “It’s an extreme amount of stress on the mother and fetus to go through a multiple pregnancy and birth.”
“We ended up with five successful embryos and had one implanted,” Abbie said. “We were so thrilled to have a successful pregnancy, and on Nov. 25, 2017, we gave birth to our daughter Wren.”
Now, Abbie and Mike are hoping to add another child to the family and are back in the care of the Fertility and IVF Center at SIU Medicine.
“We had the greatest experience with the entire IVF center. The personal relationships we formed there really helped us through the entire process,” Abbie said. “I almost looked forward to going to our appointments because we knew they were going through this process with us, and that they truly cared about our goals to start a family.”
Patient-centered approach to care
The comprehensive, multidisciplinary team approach to patient care provides each patient—mother, father and fetus—with the best possible individualized attention. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has designated the center as a Nursing Center of Excellence, an achievement only a handful of fertility centers in the country can claim, according to Dr. Loret de Mola.
“Instead of two sets of eyes, our patients get 20 sets of eyes looking over every detail, and the collaboration among our team is what makes the difference,” said Dr. Loret de Mola. “We meet daily to discuss the current patients coming in, we get to know our patients, to truly understand what underlying issues may be impacting their fertility problems, and then we are transparent with them if we know we cannot help them.”
The pieces that put us together, our DNA, can play a large role in fertility. Women age 35 or older comprise a large sector of those seeking fertility treatments. Their advancing years not only decrease the chances of getting pregnant, but also increase their chances of chromosomal abnormalities resulting in miscarriage or birth defects. Sometimes younger patients experience miscarriages and seek out genetic testing for answers. They may learn of a family history of certain genetic conditions they could pass on to their children. Genetic screening on the mother, father and/or tissue from miscarriages can sometimes help determine the cause.
“The advanced tools and preimplantation genetic diagnosis we have at SIU allow us to make better choices to transfer a single embryo and have a healthy baby at the end of the process,” Kontio says.
Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) tests embryos for specific genetic differences. “If we know a couple is at high risk to have a child with a chromosome abnormality, we can use PGD to find embryos that have healthy chromosomes and implant those,” SIU genetic counselor Heather Glessner says. “If both members of a couple are carriers of a recessive disease, they have a 25 percent chance of each baby having the condition. Again, we can use PGD to test the embryos and determine which ones are unaffected.”
Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female, one-third to the male and one-third by a combination of issues in both or is unexplained, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. For Abbie and Mike, the cause was related to polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS.
Because of these advancements, the Joyners will know what to expect and what to hope for with this second round of IVF treatment, using one of the four remaining frozen embryos harvested in 2017.
“Wren is the most energetic, fearless child, with bright blue eyes and blond hair,” says Abbie. “I hope these embryos have chilled out some because I’d love the second one to be a more relaxed child.”
Sixty-five physicians and three graduate students at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine received their diplomas Saturday, May 18, during the school’s 45th commencement. Five of the graduates will provide care in the armed forces.
This year’s commencement speaker was Senait Fisseha, MD, JD, director of International Programs at the Susan T. Buffet Foundation, responsible for distributing more than $300 million in annual grants to support reproductive health around the world. Originally from Ethiopia, Fisseha earned her legal and medical degrees at SIU in 1999. She has specialized in women’s reproduction, endocrinology and infertility throughout her career as a provider, philanthropist, advocate for women’s rights and as a mother. Fisseha established the Center for International Reproductive Health Training at the University of Michigan and led fundraising efforts for an emergency obstetrics center in Addis Ababa, a city of 2 million in southern Ethiopia. She also is the recipient of the SIU School of Medicine’s 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her contributions to medicine and distinguished service to humankind.
Dr. Fisseha said, “History reminds us that progress is neither linear nor given.” She believes that troubling trends in U.S. maternal mortality and an erosion of access to reproductive health care gives America’s newest physicians a moral imperative: “Use your voices, your platforms and your privileges whenever you can to help counter the larger societal and political forces that undermine science and basic human rights.”
During the ceremony, Class of 2019 Chair Brian Reinholz, MD, of Waterloo, Illinois, delivered remarks on behalf of the graduates. Dean and Provost Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, awarded diplomas to the medical students, and SIUC Vice Chancellor Meera Komarraju conferred the degrees.
Faculty members and a graduating student also received awards. Martha Hlafka, MD, ’09, an assistant professor and hospitalist physician in internal medicine, received the Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching. Class of 2019 graduate Emily Samson, MD, and Christopher McDowell, MD, an emergency medicine physician and the medical director of the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, received the 2019 Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Awards, presented by the Arnold P. Gold Foundation.
Future physician assistant Katy Coyer, Class of 2020, is an avid nature enthusiast with a passion for learning.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up outside of Oglesby, a small town in north-central Illinois. Starved Rock State Park was my backyard.
What did you want to be as a child?
When I was about 3, I declared to my mom that I wanted to be a pediatrician on the moon.
What were you like as a teen?
To be completely honest, I was a total nerd. I remember a lot of Friday nights spent at home making biology study guides while watching Star Trek.
Where did you attend college?
St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. I earned my BS in biology and a double minor in chemistry and mathematics.
What inspired you to become a PA?
Growing up I was always driven to science and medicine. I sought out opportunities like shadowing that furthered my interest. During a few of these, I came into contact with PAs who were in love with their profession and cared deeply for their patients. It was quite persuasive.
What drew you to SIU’s program?
The PBL (problem-based learning) process was the biggest draw. PBL allows us to become independent learners, identifying both questions and answers. We generate stimulating discussion in our small groups that cultivates critical thinking and a real understanding of the material.
What are your future plans?
My most immediate goal is to absorb and learn as much as possible from my mentors and patients this year so that I can provide great individual care when I’m practicing.
I am also a student representative for the Illinois Academy of Physician Assistants (IAPA). It allows me to attend board meetings and become informed about various issues that affect PAs, such as current legislation and reimbursement. After graduation, I want to stay involved with IAPA to help advance the profession and raise public awareness of what we can offer.
What might we find you doing when you’re not at work?
I will be outside with my husband and puppy. I absolutely love the outdoors and spending time with my family, whether it be running, hiking, camping or simply sitting in my backyard.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I can fall asleep just about anywhere. As a child I fell asleep on the back of a horse multiple times. In college, I amazed my classmates when I slept through a boat ride across a choppy ocean.
What’s your greatest passion?
That’s a tough one. Probably learning. I am constantly reading articles, asking questions and digging for answers. There is always something new to learn, whether it be about medicine or how to correctly fix the blocked sewer line into your house. Each day I find new ways to expand my horizons.
Answer any question you wish we’d asked.
I wish you’d asked “What’s your favorite constellation?” to which I would have to answer “Orion’s Belt.”
What do you love most about roller derby?
Roller derby for me is very similar to family medicine and SIU; it’s one big happy family no matter where you go. When you are playing another team that you have never met, it’s like you are instant friends. It’s the only sport I have ever seen that when you knock someone down, you also help them right back up. It is an inclusive, body-positive sport, and it’s all about supporting each other in every way possible, on and off the track.
Tell us about your family.
My mom was a young mom. She had my sister at 19 and me at 20. She and my father got married after I was born three months early.
My father is a Native American who was born and raised on a reservation in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is an artist, a painter.
Neither of them graduated high school. My mother obtained her GED and then took some college courses. My father went in the Navy when he was a teenager and served in Vietnam. My mother works in health care as an office manager.
Both of my parents were always helping other people, which is definitely where my sister and I get it from! We grew up volunteering without even knowing that’s what we were doing. We were “working” in nursing homes, homeless shelters, children’s hospitals, you name it. We thought we were just having fun and visiting people. We even “got in trouble” because we were always giving our toys, clothes, books, etc., away to children that had less than us. What neither of us even realized was that we were a family in need as well, we just never knew it because our parents provided us with everything we truly needed, including the most important thing: love. It wasn’t until I was in college and on my own that I realized how little we actually had growing up. Now I am certain that my parents went to bed many nights without food to make sure there was enough for us.
What led you to choose family medicine?
I always thought I would be a pediatrician but the summer after college I did a med-prep type program for six weeks at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and my mentor was an OB, and I fell in love with doing deliveries but not surgery. At that point I didn’t know what I would do. Fast-forward to first year of medical school at SIU and my mentor was a family physician who did maternity care. It was fate! There is nothing I like more than caring for a patient during her pregnancy and then caring for the baby as well.
Tell me more about your role as an advocate for women and access to better health care.
I have always been an advocate for something. In high school, it was the broad topic of discrimination. I was chosen as the school’s ambassador for this and got to travel to conferences across the U.S. to learn how to be a leader and bring it back to my small, all-girl Catholic high school. I was chosen because of an essay I had written about the discrimination and bullying I had faced in grade school due to a severe speech impediment and being in speech therapy through eighth grade.
First year of medical school is when I became an advocate for women’s health. I became involved with Medical Students for Choice and when I found out about how few women in the country had access to full reproductive health care, it became a passion of mine to try to make sure all women had access. It’s about the right to have proper education about one’s own body, proper sex education, proper education about contraception, access to contraception as medically indicated care for various conditions, and so much more. I care about, and for, all patients, but for far too long, women have been treated as lesser patients. The government has tried to have control over our bodies and has tried to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship when it comes to our bodies.
This doesn’t only apply to this aspect of reproductive health care though; we also see huge disparities when it comes to maternity care across the country. This is unacceptable. I feel lucky to work at SIU Center for Family Medicine, where we do not see numbers like this. I don’t know exactly what we do differently other than provide the same exceptional care to all of our patients and have resources in place such as the Nurse-Family Partnership. I do know that as a country we need to do better by all of our women and children.
Are there any similarities between working with women in your practice and working with your Midstate Mayhem teammates?
Going to an all-girls Catholic high school prepared me well for my current job at SIU Center for Family Medicine, where most of the faculty are women. Most of the leadership are women as well! It’s a great place to work and everyone leads by example. I feel the same way about the leadership within my roller derby league and team. It can be difficult at times, like with any team, but I definitely feel due to the nature of roller derby and the inclusivity, we are more in tune with each other and each other’s needs than most types of teams, and just like in my family medicine family we, too, are like one big happy family!
Read Dr. Wells' "My Journey in Reproductive Care Advocacy" at the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians' website.
By Jennifer Addo, MD, MPH
The American Dream includes visions of healthy pregnancies and access to equitable care for mothers. The history and experience of black mothers in the United States continues to challenge the notion that this dream is accessible to all.
Seven hundred women die each year in the United States from pregnancy-related complications. However, the risk of pregnancy-related deaths for black women is 3 to 4 times higher than those of Caucasian women.
This discrepancy is known as a health disparity. According to the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. Health disparities are directly related to historical and current unequal distribution of social, political, economic and environmental resources.
One may wonder, in the land of opportunity why can’t black mothers just work a little harder to achieve the dream. Do our black mothers encounter these health disparities because statistically speaking, blacks make less money, have worse health status at baseline, or are less educated than their Caucasian counterparts? This may seem like a reasonable explanation for health disparities. However, when we control for these factors, black mothers still have worse outcomes than Caucasian mothers. Not even healthy athletes like Serena Williams and Allyson Felix; wealthy celebrities like Beyoncé; or doctorate-level-educated women like Shalon Irving are immune to the effects of health disparities. They all had pregnancy complications that led to poor health outcomes.
The larger question is what is preventing young black mothers from obtaining the American Dream. Arline Geronimus, Sc.D, a Harvard-trained, University of Michigan-affiliated research professor, has been studying this topic for decades. She thinks “weathering” is the answer.
When you brace for your worst fears of harm, your body goes into immediate fight-or-flight mode. Your adrenaline and norepinephrine levels go up, as you get primed to start running for your life. Your pupils dilate so you can see to avoid obstacles. Your glucose level rises so your muscles can be energized for the mad dash. Your heart rate increases to pump blood to fuel your organs. Very stressful situations trigger the same reactions in our bodies. However, living in a chronic fight-or-flight state—under stress 24/7—can be very detrimental. Pregnant black women live in this chronic stress state, encountering gender discrimination and institutionalized racism (systematic policies or laws and practices that provide differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society by race) while experiencing the vulnerability of being with child.
The intersectionality between these three overlapping and independent categories makes black mothers a triple target rather than a triple threat. Living in that chronic stress-filled state creates wear and tear on the body. This biological response to a social factor is the condition known as “weathering.” Weathering causes the cells in the body to divide faster in an effort to repair the ongoing damage done to the cells. Each time a cell divides, the caps called telomeres on the end of chromosomes that carry our genetic information are shortened to the point where the cell cannot divide anymore and dies. Dr. Geronimus has conducted research studying telomere length in low-income individuals in various racial groups in Detroit. In the study, she noted that a strong community is protective against the effects of health disparities.
“Pregnant black women live in this chronic stress state, encountering gender discrimination and institutionalized racism while experiencing the vulnerability of being with child.”
When we think of community building, it is hard to imagine how the traditional health care model of one patient and one doctor can build a community. Group prenatal care is one of the many solutions to this problem that the traditional care model does not seem to address. Group prenatal care is a paradigm shift in the prenatal care model. Rather than individualized health care with a physician speaking to one woman, women around the same gestational age meet regularly in groups of 8 to 12 for 90-120 minutes to discuss issues surrounding pregnancy and the post-delivery period. Community and social network-building is the heart of group prenatal care and several studies have noted a reduction in racial health disparities when group prenatal care is utilized.
To help the dream of equitable care become a reality for all Americans, including new black mothers, it starts with recognizing this disparity exists and implementing solutions to dismantle it. Group prenatal care is one of many options. Other solutions include policy reforms like the federal Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant available through the Health Resources & Services Administration. It provides funding for federal and local programs to establish maternal mortality committees to understand the prevalence and cause of maternal deaths, and develop assistance programs to help remove barriers mothers face in accessing the health care system or establishing healthy habits.
Further addressing health providers’ personal biases towards specific people groups will get us leaps and bounds closer to realizing the American Dream for all people. Every mother matters and every baby matters in my race: the human race.
Jennifer Addo, MD, MPH, is a resident in the SIU Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She earned her medical degree at Indiana University School of Medicine and a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The report includes the following findings about maternal deaths:
- From 2008-2016, an average of 73 women died within one year of pregnancy in Illinois.
- In Illinois, non-Hispanic black women are six times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related condition as non-Hispanic white women.
- In Illinois, 72 percent of pregnancy-related deaths and 93 percent of violent pregnancy-associated deaths were deemed preventable by the review committees.
- Obesity contributed to 44 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in Illinois in 2015.
In 2015, 36 pregnancy-related deaths were reported. The underlying causes of death included hemorrhage, infection, hypertension, mental health conditions, pulmonary embolism and cardiomyopathy.
The MMRC committee also explored the factors that contributed to the greatest number of pregnancy-related deaths. Substance use (14 percent) and mental health conditions (19 percent) were contributors to the toll. (National data indicate more pregnant women are using illegal drugs, and as a result, more infants are born with drug withdrawal issues.)
But by far, the most significant factor was obesity.
“The incidence of obesity among pregnant women is much greater than it was five years ago, which means other comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and preeclampsia are also more prevalent,” Dr. Abrams said. Preeclampsia, a complication causing high blood pressure for a pregnant woman, can only be cured by delivering the baby.
Women are becoming pregnant later in life, which also increases the risks.
In Illinois, black women are six times more likely to die from pregnancy related causes than white women.
“Women who are older tend to have more chronic conditions,” Dr. Abrams said. “Also, some women may have hypertension or diabetes, which isn’t diagnosed until they become pregnant. The rate of C-sections is going up as well, leading to more surgical complications.”
These factors can overlap at a time when a woman is at her most vulnerable, Dr. Abrams said. “I look at pregnancy as a stress test. The physiological changes to your body are considerable. Your heart has never pumped this much blood and will be under incredible stress. If there’s any underlying medical problem, pregnancy tends to exacerbate it.”
Pregnancy-related mortality is not equally distributed among all groups of women in Illinois. Black women are six times more likely to die and Hispanic women are twice as likely to die compared to white women who die from a pregnancy-related cause, according to the report. Women in their 40s were about six times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as women in their 20s or 30s. Across the state of Illinois, women who lived in Chicago were the most likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause.
Identifying the impacts on different populations is an important first step in understanding the effects on public health, and how to appropriately target prevention efforts.
Careyana Brenham, MD, a family physician at SIU Medicine, believes better access to care is one of the solutions to address disparities. Dr. Brenham sees patients at the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Springfield, which provides pre- and post-natal care for a population that is underrepresented and underserved.
Not all health care providers accept Medicaid patients, but SIU Center for Family Medicine sees anyone who walks in, regardless of their ability to pay, Dr. Brenham said. “Our physicians, residents and midwives treat everyone equally. We also treat younger mothers, so much of our maternal patient population base is at higher risk.”
While recognizing that access to health care services is a major factor, the IDPH report also states that persistent racial disparities in maternal health outcomes are the result of more than a lack of access.
While health insurance and availability of services can remain major barriers for women, there are many other social and systemic issues that profoundly affect women’s health. Factors such as poverty, quality of education, health literacy, employment, housing, availability of childcare, and neighborhood safety all deeply affect a woman’s ability to thrive and be healthy. These factors are sometimes referred to as the “social determinants” of health and they affect a woman’s ability to seek and receive health care, in addition to affecting her underlying health status.
Medicaid coverage is not a panacea. Although women on Medicaid can receive prenatal care, coverage ends eight weeks after delivery. The IDPH study measured mortality a year past childbirth, and found that women on Medicaid during pregnancy were nearly five times as likely as women with private insurance to die from a pregnancy-related cause.
Policy changes in the MOMMA’s Act and other federal proposals include Medicaid expansion to run a full year from childbirth, a top recommendation from the IDPH report.
SIU providers like Drs. Abrams and Brenham consider the expansion of postpartum Medicaid eligibility a key to reverse the morbidity and mortality trend. It would cover case management and outreach for high-risk new mothers, and any expense would create savings in the long run, as healthier mothers avoid complications that could send them back to the hospital—or worse.
“It’s about mothering the mother.” -Hope Cherry
For a patient with a chronic health condition, removal of Medicaid coverage soon after having a baby can increase mental and physical stressors. Her OB-GYN may have helped bring the expectant mother’s chronic health condition under control during pregnancy, but once the woman loses her insurance, she is likely to go off any medications. She may also forgo contraception, which could lead to another pregnancy following too closely to the last one, another risk factor.
A recommendation made by IDPH and adopted for the MOMMA’s Act is creation and expansion of home-visiting programs to target high-risk mothers, such as doula visits during pregnancy and the postpartum period. SIU Center for Family Medicine has a program to meet this need.
SIU began offering a Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) in 2017 that pairs a first-time, low-income expectant mother with a home-visiting nurse. Donations from the Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln, Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s help fund the program within the SIU Medicine’s new Office of Community Initiatives and Complex Care.
“It’s about mothering the mother,” said Hope Cherry, the NFP team administrator. “A woman can sign up at any time within the first 28 weeks of her pregnancy and receive dedicated assistance until the child’s second birthday. We provide education, make appointments and coordinate scheduling, transportation and counseling.”
The nurse will make home visits every week after the child is born, “like a postpartum doula,” said Cherry. She may help the new mom find work, return to school or move to more permanent housing. The role is built on relationships, with the goal of helping the mother become more independent and self-sustaining.
Sara Friedrich, mother of 1-year-old Jordyn, is a patient within the program who attended classes and breastfeeding consultations.
“This program and specifically the nurse I worked with, Rhonda, has helped me more than I ever dreamed,” she said. “She helped me learn how to be calm in trying situations, and any information I ever needed, she guided me to the right answer or person who knew the answer. I couldn’t have made it through this first year so well without her.”
Regardless of what ultimately emerges as public policy, SIU Medicine has support programs to address maternal mortality risks in the region. In addition to providing quality access to care for all mothers regardless of race, ethnicity or ability to pay, SIU physicians are working with state agencies, regulators and advocates to address the systemic issues that impact maternal health care and create disparities.
Dr. Abrams believes that, while his fellow committee members appreciate their recommendations becoming part of the national maternal health discussion, they understand the pace of policy change at the state or national level.
“We know this could take a while, so we’re already rewriting the code to specify which patients fall into high-risk categories for Illinois hospital referrals. We want these moms to get the attention they deserve as soon as possible.”
Alumni Reunion 2019
Allen Gerberding, MD, ’77, was in private practice from 1980-2011, then joined HSHS Medical Group and is now semi-retired. He is active in church, gardening, hunting, woodworking (with his own sawmill), and enjoying life with wife Nancy, children and grandchildren.
Roland Long, MD, ’78, retired after 38 years practicing medicine in Zanesville, Ohio. The first 30 were in the Emergency Department, then five in Urgent Care, followed by three in the Wound Center.
Michael Chambliss, MD, ’79, has been part of a two-man practice in the Fresno, California, Coroner’s Office since summer of 2003. He plans to retire in 2020.
Edwin Card, MD, ’79, is still practicing surgery in Macomb, 35 years later. He served two terms as medical staff president, was president of the Illinois Surgical Society and program chair twice for the Illinois Chapter of the ACS.
Raul de la Vega, MD, ’79, was awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine on National Doctor’s Day (March 30) at the Annual Meeting of the North Carolina Chapter of the American College of Radiology, conferred by Governor Roy Cooper. Raul received the honor for a record of extraordinary service to the state as an advocate for the rights of medical staff and physicians.
David Riesenberger, MD, ’79, is an emergency medicine physician at Taylorville Memorial Hospital.
Janet Robinson, MD, ’79, retired after 35 years of practicing family medicine in Murphysboro and Carbondale. She served as medical director at Shawnee Health Services from 1985-2017.
David Smith, MD ’79, retired after 35 years as a family physician and as vice president of quality/care management for a large Wisconsin - Illinois health system. He serves as an officer of the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation Board of Trustees.
Gregory Van Winkle, MD, ’79, retired from patient care in 2019, having held many leadership positions at Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin, championing a patient-centered structure for medical staff. He remains active in a part-time administrative role, doing patient safety and quality.
Janet Williams, MD, ’79, is in academic general pediatrics and administrative service as the vice dean for faculty at the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.
John Benitez, MD, ’81, was named to the National Academy of Medicine’s Emergency Preparedness Forum in March 2019. He presented at the National Academy of Sciences Biodefense Summit in Washington, DC, in April. He is engaged to Tina Dunn with a wedding planned for September.
Steven Manson, MD, ’81, will be making his 13th volunteer trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota this spring with his wife, Peg.
Lisa Wichterman, MD, ’81, and her husband, Keith Witchterman, MD, continue to enjoy retirement, travel, seeing their kids and grandkids, and playing golf. Remote Indonesia was their most recent destination; Papua, New Guinea, is next.
Linda Rezab Gibson, MD, ’82, is enjoying retirement, traveling and welcoming a first daughter-in-law to the family.
David Harmon, MD, ’83, joined the staff at Alton Memorial Hospital as a part of the palliative care team.
Bonnie Wirfs, MD ’83, has retired from practicing medicine and is now doing stand-up comedy.
Laura Shea, MD, ’86, is a psychiatry associate professor at SIU School of Medicine. She was re-elected trustee of the Illinois State Medical Society at its 2019 annual meeting and elected to serve as an Illinois delegate to the American Medical Association. She has been an ISMS member for 25 years and is a past president of the Sangamon County Medical Society and the Sangamon County Medical Foundation.
Glenn Mandeville, MD, ’88, volunteered with Mercy Ships onboard the world’s largest private hospital ship, the Africa Mercy in April, providing free surgeries for African patients who do not have other access to surgery.
Sarah Keller, MD, ’89, is associate professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Dale Szpisjak, MD, ’91, retired from the Navy in July after 28 years of active service. He is planning to join a private practice group in Indiana.
Heidi Harris-Bromund, MD, ’94, is residency program director for family medicine and for the combined internal medicine/family medicine residencies at Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis. She spends part of each week in a small private practice working in combination with other family medicine, internal medicine and OB-GYN faculty.
Gary Wright, MD, ’94, and his wife, Susan Wright, DMD, created a medical/dental clinic, AllWright Medical Clinic in Fort Myers, Florida.
Robert Oliver, MD, ’95, was elected trustee at-large of the Illinois State Medical Society during its 2019 annual meeting. Oliver serves on the medical staffs of Palos Community Hospital, Metro South Medical Center and Silver Cross Hospital. He works as a primary care physician with the DuPage Medical Group.
Julie Margenthaler, MD, ’97, (pictured above) and Nathan Free, DC, married last August in Wildwood, Missouri, and had a destination honeymoon with 40 friends in Aruba. Stacy Stratmann, MD, ’97, was a bridesmaid. Julie is director of breast surgical services of the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center at Siteman Cancer Center and professor of surgery and director of the Breast Fellowship Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Frank Peppers, MD, ’97, has been practicing pediatric and adolescent care at Cottage Hospital in Galesburg for almost 20 years; he is currently chief of staff. He has published three children’s books: Unicorn Armadillo, The Water at the Bottom and That’s Not a Fish! Frank and his wife, Melissa, have three children.
Melissa Cox, MD, ’97, attended the Convocation Ceremony at the April 2019 American College of Physicians meeting in Philadelphia. She received a Fellowship at the award ceremony for outstanding medical scholarship and professional achievement. Melissa practices internal medicine/pediatrics at Springfield Clinic.
P. James Abraham, MD, ’99, is a partner and chairman of the board at Springfield Clinic.
Kiran Kareti, MD, ’99, is practicing general cardiology with a special interest in cardiovascular imaging and valvular disease at Community Heart and Vascular Hospital in Indianapolis. He is the director of echocardiography for the Community Health Network.
Brian Powell, MD, ’99, is medical director at Sanger Heart and Vascular Institute Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Esperanza Salinas, MD, ’99, (pictured below) has lived in Beijing, China, for two years with her husband and two children. She is the chair of the psychiatry department at Beijing United Hospital. She has also been working on a self-published children’s book dealing with anxiety, The What If’s.
Keira Kamm, MD, ’01, was recently named one of the top breast surgeons in Los Angeles by Los Angeles Magazine. Keira is practicing general surgery at Kaiser Permanente, West LA Medical Center, Mid City. https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/southern-california/physicians/keira-kamm-6794005
Christopher McDowell, MD, MBA, ’05, (pictured above) received investiture as the inaugural David L. Griffin, MD Endowed Chair of Emergency Medicine at SIU School of Medicine in April.
Shelley Oliver, MD, ’06, is practicing orthopedic surgery at Tebow CURE Hospital, in Davao City, Philippines, through CURE International.
Bradley Dyrstad and Sara Woodward Dyrstad, MDs, ’07, are enjoying life in west Texas, with practices (Sara, radiology breast imaging; Bradley ortho-sports medicine), kids and church community, and staying involved in organized medicine, Texas Medical Association and the Texas Orthopedic Association.
Michael Morris, MD, ’07, has relocated to Talley Eye Institute in Marion with his wife and six children. He practices general ophthalmology.
Marti Hlafka, MD, ’09, is an associate professor of clinical medicine-hospitalist in the Department of Internal Medicine at SIU School of Medicine. She serves as IM clerkship director and Year 3 curriculum director.
Whitney Luke, MD, ’09, is practicing at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where she is vice chair of clinical operations for the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as medical director of the oncology rehabilitation program.
Adam McLaughlin, MD, ’09, is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute Retina Centre of Ottawa. He and his wife Elizabeth Miller, MD, have a 1-year-old daughter, Michelle.
Laura Smith, MD, ’09, joined UICOMP Family Medicine in Peoria in 2017 as full-time faculty and a clinical assistant professor of family medicine. She practiced full-spectrum family medicine with maternity care at a rural critical access hospital 2012-17.
Brian Snyder, MD, ’09, moved from Michigan to Roseville, Calif., to take a job with Kaiser Permanente following his EMS fellowship and EMS boards.
Michael Ruebhausen, MD, ’13, married Marissa Collier on October 13, 2018. He completed his plastic surgery residency at SIU in June and began private practice as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Riverside Medical Group in Kankakee in August.
Tyler Fulks, MD, ’16, married Dana Crosby, MD, on June 24 at a destination wedding in Costa Rica. Tyler is an emergency medicine resident at SIU School of Medicine, where Dana is an assistant professor of otolaryngology.
Ashley Howard, MD, ’16, and her husband, Joseph, welcomed son, Finley, in April. She completed her residency in June and started with SIU Family Medicine in Taylorville in August.
Molly Etling and Dakota Gilbert, MDs, ’18, were married June 7 in St. Charles, Missouri. They are both in the family medicine residency program at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial Hospital.
Laney Martin, MD, ’18, and Jacob Robinson were married May 18 at the Bloomfield Barn in Chrisman. She is a family medicine resident at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Written by Steve Sandstrom | Photography by Sara Way
Senait Fisseha, MD, JD, Class of 1999, was this year’s commencement speaker and SIU School of Medicine Distinguished Alumna for 2019.
In a letter of support for her nomination, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said, “Senait’s footprints are clearly visible in the health sectors of many countries.”
How did Dr. Fisseha garner an endorsement from the world’s top health official? She built a career as an active and effective clinician, teacher, researcher and global health advocate.
At the University of Michigan, she established and directed the Center for International Reproductive Health Training to recruit physicians to serve her native country of Ethiopia. And since 2015, she has been the director of international programs at the Susan T. Buffett Foundation, steering more than $300 million in annual awards to support and transform reproductive health around the world.
Dr. Fisseha’s strides have been purposeful from a very young age. As a girl in Ethiopia, she witnessed a lot of human suffering, especially that of women and girls. Within the patriarchal society, she saw how a woman’s worth was defined by her ability to bear children. “Failure sometimes meant verbal abuse, physical violence and being thrown out of the house,” she said. “Women were blamed, stigmatized, shamed and mistreated for infertility.”
"Leadership is about bringing others along with you."
She wanted things to be different and longed for a better future for herself and other women. With the full support of her parents, she headed to the United States at the age of 18 to pursue her interest in medicine and justice. Her higher learning path took her through Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois, and biology research at Magdalen College at Oxford University in the UK. In 1994 she returned to the Midwest and enrolled in SIU School of Medicine’s dual degree program for medicine and law. Here she earned her juris doctorate and her medical doctorate in 1999.
Reflecting on her education at SIU School of Medicine 20 years later, Dr. Fisseha vividly recalled the school’s immersive environment. “It was exciting. Learning was intense and done in small groups. Unlike the traditional curriculum where you spent the first two years in the classroom, we started clinical exposure in the first year so there was this great sense of already feeling like a doctor from day one.”
She also noted the valuable role played by mentors. Professor Ted LeBlang, who was then-department chair of medical humanities and director of the MD/JD program, “had an unparalleled resolve and commitment to see his students succeed,” she said. “He told me I was going to use what I learned at SIU to change the world. I couldn’t have landed on a better mentor.”
The late pharmacology professor Satu Somani, PhD, also affected her development in a remarkable way, Dr. Fisseha said. “He was my mentor, confidant, advisor and a father figure who provided me a home-away-from-home.” In the fourth year of medical school, Dr. Somani helped fundraise and coordinate a “life-changing” trip to India for Dr. Fisseha and some classmates from the problem-based-learning curriculum.
She took these mentoring lessons to heart and tries to model the behavior in her work. “Leadership is about bringing others along with you,” she said. “Mentorship and professional development, especially for young women in the medical field, is critical. Leaders have to consider where they can offer opportunities to those younger or less experienced, and how they can build the next generation right behind them.”
After SIU, Dr. Fisseha completed her OB-GYN residency at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor and a post-doc in basic science research training. She completed a three-year fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility in 2006 and then joined the obstetrics and gynecology faculty at University of Michigan. She was promoted to director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility in 2011, and in 2015, to professor.
As a native of Ethiopia, Dr. Fisseha never forgot the health and well-being of her country. She worked tirelessly on a local, national and international level to bring awareness and resources to help women and families in Africa.
She co-chaired the Maternal and Child Health Committee for ENAHPA, a Detroit-based nonprofit that fundraised and built an emergency obstetrics center in Addis Ababa, a city of 2 million in Ethiopia. She then began a partnership between the University of Michigan and the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health to create a residency program that brought new OB-GYN specialists to the region. The Center for International Reproductive Health Training has since expanded to 10 medical schools in Ethiopia.
Now as international programs director at the Susan T. Buffett Foundation, the mother of four manages a hectic travel schedule, networking with partners in the highest levels of government, mentoring young students and working to advance global reproductive health in areas with some of the highest burden of maternal mortality.
And she remains a chief advisor and strategist to Dr. Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization. He noted she performs all her roles with meticulousness and modesty, making the “difficult balance look so easy.”
At SIU School of Medicine’s 2019 commencement, Dr. Fisseha told the new physicians to enjoy the success they have achieved, but challenged them to move beyond the status quo and champion equity in health care.
“You cannot change what you cannot see, so it’s important to notice your patients in the context of their lives. Notice that disparities are driven by the broader racial driver of the social determinants of health,” she said. “Every one of you has an opportunity to make a difference. You have power. Our credibility as health care providers in society gives us the moral imperative to use our voices, our platform and our privileges when we can to help in the face of larger societal and political forces that undermine science and basic human rights.”
Dr. Fisseha stands as a courageous example of how using that platform can lead to a global shift in health care and improve the lives of others.
Alumni Society Update
Board of Governors welcomes Drs. Raben, Schmelzel
Two new board members have been named to the Alumni Society Board of Governors at SIU School of Medicine. Stephen Raben, MD, a family physician and a member of the Class of 1990, and Mark Schmelzel, MD, a retired vascular and general surgeon and a member of the Class of 1979, were appointed to three-year terms this spring.
Raben is board certified in family medicine, geriatrics, hospice and palliative medicine and is medical director of Family Hospice in Belleville. He is president of Rural Family Medicine Associates and practices in Mascoutah and Freeburg. Schmelzel practiced for 33 years in two locations, Belleville and Sterling. They join 18 fellow alumni on the board.