At UMHS, the Season of Giving Lasts 365 Days a Year

Once again, it’s the ‘season of giving.’ Medical students recently hit the cold and snowy streets of Ann Arbor to collect donations during Galen’s Tag Days 2013. Members of the Detroit Red Wings decked our halls to bring smiles to patients’ (and employees’) faces. And people don festive holiday ties, sweaters and socks to bring a little bit of joy into an ordinary day. Each December, I am energized by the spirit of cheer and generosity that is amplified this time of year.

I’ve written before on the topic of giving back as a way to make the world a better place. At UMHS, we don’t have to look beyond our own walls to witness and experience many inspiring examples of people of all ages and abilities giving back in meaningful ways.

Consider musician-composer Paul Skripnik who, at the age of 29, put on a patient gown and prepared to undergo an operation surgery that he hoped would alleviate him of the daily threat of seizures and allow him to do what he loves most – write and play music. For Paul, living with epilepsy meant living with a troublesome burden that left him afraid to walk on the sidewalk, cross the street or drive. He longed for treatment that would give him hope and health, and he found both as a patient in the UMHS Comprehensive Epilepsy Program. After a series of tests and consultations, the epilepsy care team led by Drs. Simon Glynn and Oren Sagher determined a treatment plan for Paul. In September 2011, he underwent a successful brain surgery that eliminated his seizures. This year, Paul celebrated a year and a half of seizure-free living with a concert featuring his original compositions. Additionally, in October, he performed and participated in a lecture as part of U-M’s Investing in Ability Week. Paul has turned his challenging experience into an opportunity to give back by increasing awareness and generating support for others living with epilepsy.

Then, there are wonderful people like Pat and Frank Ducato. Seven years ago, Frank experienced life-saving care at UMHS. In 2009, the couple decided to give back as volunteers in the Comprehensive Cancer Center. One afternoon each week, Pat provides assistance as a greeter at the CCC main lobby courtesy desk, while Frank helps patients and visitors access important cancer information as a volunteer in the Patient Education Resource Center. When interviewed for a story published last fall, Frank recalled giving some coloring books and cancer literature to the children of a mom undergoing breast cancer treatment. He remembered the husband coming up to him during the family’s next visit to thank him and say that after the children read the literature, they treated their mother differently. In Frank’s own words, he conveys the power of giving: “You get so much from being able to help somebody like that.”

And, finally, I was recently reminded of the extraordinary and generous act of a very special fourth-grader named Maya. A few years ago, when annual giving officer Kathy Valley opened one of many holiday cards, she found three one-dollar bills and the following message: “Here is the last of my Christmas money. Please use it to take care of people with cancer, from Maya.”

Generosity comes in all types and sizes. Whether it is $3, three hours of volunteer service, three handmade quilts or three months of participation in a clinical trial, every act of giving contributes to our greater mission to help and heal.

Charles Dickens, author of the classic holiday novella A Christmas Carol, once said “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”

This might be the time of year when society most publicly encourages and displays the spirit of generosity, but here at the University of Michigan Health System, the season of giving lasts 365 days a year. This is a place where generosity and compassion drive the important work we do each and every day, and we couldn’t do what we do as well as we do it without our exceptional faculty, staff, students, volunteers, philanthropists, advocates, friends and supporters.

Enjoy “Never Doubt,” a slideshow that celebrates giving at UMHS, and feel free to share your experiences with generosity in the comments section below.

Thanks for all that you do!

Happy holidays!

Reasons To Be Thankful

This week, many of us will celebrate Thanksgiving and take time to appreciate those things for which we are fortunate and grateful. As a Health System and as a community united by a commitment to improving health and saving lives, we have many reasons to be thankful. I’d like to share just a few of them with you in this post.

Graph 10 years_SmallThis year, we performed our 2000th liver transplant and our 200th transcatheter aortic valve replacement, and we delivered our first set of quintuplets. We celebrated the Department of Radiology’s centennial, as well as Gifts of Arts’ silver anniversary. And because of ongoing continuous improvement initiatives, patient satisfaction is at an all-time high. We are on target to achieve a satisfaction index score of 93 by Fiscal Year 2017, which is the goal defined in our strategic plan. I will be surprised if we haven’t exceeded our target by that time!

Research coming out of our Medical School resulted in a record 133 new inventions and 41 patents, representing one-third of the University’s total output. In addition, we produced significant discoveries across the spectrum of disease and care delivery, including adding disease-specific stem cell lines to the national registry, coordinating a global DNA study that identified new drug targets and a bigger role for triglycerides in heart risk, demonstrating a cellular difference in the body clocks of people with depression, and discovering that commonly used catheters actually double the risk of blood clots in ICU and cancer patients.

The excellence of our Medical School training and students was honored with an incredible gift of $30 million in scholarship support from Rich and Susan Rogel. At the same time, the compassion of our Medical School family was powerfully evident in how you supported one another after Paul DeWolf’s tragic death, and in rebuilding the Student Run Free Clinic after it burned down in February.

Thanks to the voices of many individuals and groups within and outside our community, Michigan Medicaid expansion was passed and 400,000 Michiganders now qualify for health insurance. Additionally, we continue to be prominent in advancing the dialogue around health care reform, the Affordable Care Act, research funding and more.

And, thanks to extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff across the entire Health System, we have been operating at roughly a 3 percent margin for the last 10 months. This is a terrific place to be, given the challenges we’re facing. We want to continue on this trajectory, heading toward a goal of a 5 percent margin by 2017.

I know that each of us is grateful for the opportunity to play a role in creating the future of health care, and I am thankful for our incredible staff, faculty, students, trainees and volunteers. There can be no greater privilege than to work with you in this extraordinary organization.

This week, please remember to take time to say ‘thank you’ to those who help you do what you do, because we never do it alone.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Future I Want To Create by Irosha Nawarathne

Irosha Nawarathne
Irosha Nawarathne
Research Fellow
Department of Medicinal Chemistry
College of Pharmacy

As a kid, I had a very curious mind. I remember how my older cousins teased me by name-calling me ‘Prof’ (professor).  I was fortunate to be born and grow up in Sri Lanka, a country with nature’s sweetest touches and an extraordinarily rich and unique bio-diversity. Despite being a bank officer, my father had a great passion for nature and science. His passion, my mom’s guidance, and my own curiosity inspired me to become a scientist. In grade school, I wanted to be a plant biologist. Then, in college, I realized that while I was not that good at biology, I excelled in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry. Therefore, I decided to pursue my graduate studies in Organic Chemistry, which let me unite my passions for science and nature.

After I graduated from University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, with my BS (honors) degree, specializing in chemistry, I flew across the world to join the Ph.D. program in Michigan State University’s Department of Chemistry. My dissertation research focused on the development of analogues of a major anticancer agent – paclitaxel (Taxol®). Basically, I modified the steps in the natural pathway to obtain more efficacious drug candidates. This process is called biocatalysis. Given my passion for nature, you can imagine how much I appreciated the idea of biocatalysis. The thought of taking lessons from nature to support our ideas was exciting. I was certain about my research approach in my independent career long before graduation.

The future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.

My career is centered on my desire to discover biologically important molecules, particularly the ones that are important in improving human health. To gain more expertise in drug development, I found an opportunity to pursue my postdoctoral work at the University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. My training at the University of Michigan focuses on developing treatments for tuberculosis by taking a medicinal chemistry approach. At U of M, I collaborate with a team of scientists who have experience in both academia and the pharmaceutical industry, and who share the same ultimate goal of improving human health. Our research is very practical and no longer restricted to basic academic research. I immensely enjoy the new perspective of my research and the many opportunities it offers to fill in the gaps of my knowledge in the drug discovery process.

I had multiple opportunities as a graduate student and as a postdoctoral scholar to collaborate with undergraduate, graduate, and high school students. My experiences in research, teaching, and mentoring inspired me to become a faculty member so that I would be in a position to pass on my passion for chemistry, with its connection to nature. I teach mostly organic chemistry and biochemistry, therefore finding the connection to nature is almost effortless. At this point, the future I want to create is one in which I guide future generations in finding their enduring passions and help them being persistent in pursuing their ultimate career goals.

The Future I Want To Create by Denise Asafu-Adjei

Denise Asafu-AdjeiDenise Asafu-Adjei, MPH
University of Michigan Medical School ’14 M.D. Candidate

My experiences witnessing extreme health disparities both in Ghana and the Bronx as a first generation Ghanaian-American provided the impetus to become a physician dedicated to improving healthcare and serving the medical needs of disadvantaged populations.

The future I want to create is one where access to quality healthcare is a viable option for all people.

My goal is to be a leader in academic Urology where I can integrate my interests in public health. I plan to achieve this through clinical practice, health services and policy research, and physician education initiatives abroad.

My MPH training has given me a unique perspective on the healthcare system and has endowed me with the skills to bridge the gap between those who deliver care and those who manage it. As a future clinician and researcher, I look forward to building collaborations between clinicians, policy makers, and other stakeholders that will ultimately result in improved access to healthcare. These collaborations include partnerships with physicians in Ghana and other African countries to create sustainable systems and share best urological management practices.

I chose to attend the University of Michigan Medical School because it had everything I was looking for: a collaborative environment where students could help drive the course of their education; a longstanding commitment to diversity; and global health opportunities. Besides the excellent national reputation Michigan earned for medical education and research, I found that students were actively involved in the community here, which was important to me. The students that I met during my interviews and 2nd look weekend really solidified my decision to attend this medical school, with students whose goals resonated with mine. I have found wonderful lifelong friends and mentors here and am excited for what the future holds for my classmates and me.



The Future I Want To Create by Lauren O’Connell

Lauren O'ConnellLauren O’Connell, MD, FAAP
Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Fellow, Division of Child Behavioral Health
Pediatrics Health Services Research Fellow, Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit
Division of General Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases

In the future I’m working to create, physicians will join other community stakeholders in intentionally supporting parents in the hard work of, well, parenting.  Effective parents who are resilient and well-supported by their community have children who are happier and healthier, and who grow up to be more effective workers and parents.  Talk about a positive feedback cycle!

I currently work toward this future on two fronts.  Clinically, I’m training to be a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician (DBP).  As a DBP, I have many roles: I diagnose children with autism, ADHD, and behavioral problems; I help manage the developmental and behavioral challenges of children with genetic disorders or who started life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU); and I advocate for my patients with their schools, daycares and foster care agencies. But the best part of my job is helping parents and caregivers identify strategies and skills to increase the quality of life for their child and families.  When I can help a family problem-solve around a real-world, daily issue, then I know I have had a lasting positive impact on my patient.

Someday, I hope children benefit from community-wide support for the work of parenting.

In addition to my clinical work, I am training as a fellow in Health Services Research through the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit in the Division of General Pediatrics.  My research focuses on how the system of health care can promote effective parenting skills in order to optimize child health outcomes. One example is helping parents manage the behaviors surrounding the management of a chronic disease like type I diabetes.

I love that at the University of Michigan I can pursue this training simultaneously.  I can serve individual families, getting to know them personally and connecting them with the unique resources that will help them thrive.  And I can research how policy decisions made on the clinic, community and state levels impact parenting and child health outcomes.  Then, I can take my grounding in clinical reality and the knowledge generated from my research and combine them to develop effective interventions.  I could only do this in a robustly cross-disciplinary environment.  At University of Michigan, I easily connect with professionals across medicine, public health, communications, social work, psychology and law.  These relationships stretch me to develop projects I could not conceive of in only one department.

All of my work – the clinical encounters, the research, the networking – has a goal.

Because my training as a pediatrician and as a researcher has depth, breadth, and interconnectedness, I can do more than dream about this future.  I can build it.

The Future I Want To Create by Kyriel Pineault

Kyriel PineaultKyriel Pineault, Ph.D. Candidate
Graduate Student Research Assistant & Graduate Student Instructor
Cell and Developmental Biology
U-M Medical School

I am a second year Cell and Developmental Biology graduate student in Deneen Wellik’s laboratory. The Wellik lab studies the role of Hox genes in the developing embryo using the mouse as a model organism. Currently in the lab, there are trainees working on the development of the lung, pancreas and limb, as well as one student studying fracture repair. I’m looking at the role of Hox11 in patterning the muscle, bone and tendon in the developing limb. In mice, when the muscles, bones, and tendons are not patterned correctly, this portion of the limb does not develop. We have shown that Hox11 function in the connective tissue is essential for proper limb development. In comparison to the muscle and bone, relatively little is known about the development of the tendon and other connective tissue elements of the limb. As such, there are limited reagents and tools to study this tissue in detail. This is rather detrimental to the musculoskeletal community, as it has become increasingly apparent that the connective tissue is critical for proper patterning of the muscle and bone in the developing limb. In my graduate thesis work I hope to be able to contribute to the knowledge of tendon and connective tissue biology in the context of Hox genes and development.

As a competitive ballroom dancer and athlete, I am particularly interested in understanding the details of musculoskeletal development. The complexity of integrating the development of the muscle, bone, and tendon into a functional unit such as the limb is incredible.

Unfortunately, I am also aware of the difficulties in treating musculoskeletal injuries, specifically injuries to the tendons and ligaments. Tendon healing after injury is rather poor and the therapeutics that currently exist are inadequate.  I hope that through my work I can contribute a greater understanding of the mechanisms of connective tissue development and the role of the connective tissue in patterning the limb. In the long term, this work will aid in the development of better therapeutics to treat injuries of the musculoskeletal system.

I am not yet sure where I want to take my scientific career, but I do know that I would like to continue contributing to research that impacts human health. To that end, I have become interested in the concept of translational research. I am really excited about the idea of collaborations between wet lab scientists and clinicians working together to better understand all aspects of a disease or injury, and there are many such opportunities at Michigan. Scientists and clinicians can think very differently and they both bring a different set of skills to the table when attacking a medical problem. I believe that these types of collaborations will be the key to developing revolutionary therapies and cures.