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School of Medicine discoveries

January 2014 Archives


M.D. students tutor elementary children in Fulton Hill after-school program, alumnus lends support


About 10 medical students volunteer with an after-school tutoring program for K-12 students from the Fulton Hill neighborhood.

Last year, the Class of 2016’s Arhanti Sadanand was faced with a choice. Part of her responsibilities as a first-year medical student included participating in LINC, or Learners Involved in the Needs of Communities. She knew she wanted working with children to be part of her community service.

She chose to volunteer with the Fulton Outreach Program, where she could tutor school-aged children in the Fulton Hill neighborhood after school. When her first-year LINC commitment came to an end, Arhanti decided to continue volunteering.

“I wanted to remain in touch with the Richmond community,” said Arhanti, who acknowledges it can sometimes be hard to get out from under the books. “I view Fulton as a really great study break. For a couple hours, I can clear my mind of studying and just focus on helping a kid learn about fractions. It’s refreshing.”

Three other M2s were able to commit for a second year, and they’ve joined forces with about half a dozen M1s. Working together, the students are able to supply tutors for two hours a day, four days a week.

Of the 100 school-aged children in the Fulton community, as many as half are regularly involved in the after-school sessions. While most are elementary school aged, students from kindergarten through high school can come for homework help in reading and math. After a first hour of hitting the books, the second is devoted to games and activities.

“Tutoring has made a huge impact on me,” Arhanti said. “I feel that I have made lasting connections with the kids when I hear that they ask about me over the school vacations, and I consider myself lucky that some of them have accepted me as a regular part of their lives.”

Working alongside the medical students are Fulton residents Chavioleytte Crenshaw and Theresa Burrell who are committed to helping care for and mentor the children in the neighborhood. A program coordinator from the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority also assists in running the program.


The first hour of the after school program is devoted to studies and the second is spent in games and activities.

“I think there are often misconceptions about the Fulton neighborhood and generalizations about the kinds of people who live in the projects,” Arhanti said. “After spending time with the kids and exploring the history of the community, I’ve learned a lot about what binds the community together. There are a few amazing women who have invested much of their own time and resources to keep these kinds of enrichment programs alive. Initially, I was surprised by how hard they have pushed to help their own children succeed, and now I am simply in awe of how deeply they care for the entire neighborhood.”

Giving medical students the opportunity to better understand the Richmond community is one of LINC’s goals. The nationally recognized service learning experience serves as a critical link between the school and the community and allows students to experience first-hand the environments in which their patients spend their lives.

“I know that many of us wish we could do more for our community,” Arhanti said. “Realistically, two hours of my time each week isn’t enough to solve big problems, but I find that simply showing up every week, especially for a child who doesn’t necessarily have a stable role model, is undervalued. I’m happy to be part of a medical school community in which others feel the same way.”

The Class of 2004’s Danny Avula, M.D., M.P.H., helped get the project off the ground. He worked with Joan Seldon, family and community services manager with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, to get access to an empty public housing unit in Fulton Avenue to give the tutoring program a home.

Avula, who is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District, continues to support the program. He stays on the lookout for community partnerships and funding opportunities. He and Seldon teamed up again and were able to secure a small stipend for the program’s coordinator from the Office of Attorney General.

“We think the Fulton initiative is a beautiful example of how committed community residents, paired with dedicated MCV students are making a meaningful difference in the lives of kids in the Fulton neighborhood,” said Andrew Thompson, special projects coordinator with the Richmond City Health District. “And all with essentially zero funding.”

Danny T.K. Avula, M.D., M.P.H., is the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District
You can read about the highs and lows Avula experiences as the deputy director of the Richmond City Health District in a guest column published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer: Healthy family model can make the difference.

Photos courtesy of Andrew Thompson, who also helped in compiling this story.


Biostat’s Roy Sabo publishes book for non-statisticians


Roy Sabo, Ph.D.

Roy Sabo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics, has authored the book Statistical Research Methods: A Guide for Non-Statisticians. His co-author is Ed Boone, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Statistics and Operations Research at VCU.

Sabo explained that the idea for writing the book grew out of the need for an acceptable textbook for the courses BIOS 543 and STAT 543 that enroll graduate students and academic professionals in non-statistical fields. Sabo and Boone aim to help students learn, use and communicate results from many commonly used statistical methods.

“There has been a struggle for years to find a book that fits our needs,” said Sabo. “The market is saturated with texts that explain the concepts we cover, yet they invariably speak from a statistical perspective, which is not useful for the students.”

In response, Sabo and Boone wrote a series of lecture notes that they felt spoke in a language the students could understand, helping them to use data to make informed judgments and develop a process of critical thinking for statistical analysis that underlies all scientific research. While the authors didn’t over-simplify the material, they set out to not make it unnecessarily challenging. Their lecture notes have now been polished, published and made available to a wider audience.

In addition to graduate students in non-statistics disciplines, the text could also be a resource for advanced undergraduate researchers and research faculty in the health sciences. The text describes the entire data analysis process from hypothesis generation to writing a manuscript to communicate the results, including real-world examples and sample write-ups for the methods and results sections of scholarly papers.


Tales of a hat: headgear proves a conversation starter

Dean Strauss

Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D.

Professional responsibilities call Dean of Medicine Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., to all corners of the globe. And on those plane rides and train trips to conferences, advisory boards or gatherings of medical school alumni, he proudly wears his ballcap that proclaims: MCV since 1838. His estimates his hat has racked up enough miles to qualify for frequent flyer status.

Often when he’s waiting to board, he notices people eyeing his headgear. More often than not, those sideways glances lead to conversations.

“When I arrived on the MCV Campus in 2005, I knew I was joining a medical school with a proud tradition. And I’ve loved hearing the stories about what makes us great. This hat has opened doors to those conversations.”

He’s met alumni, former faculty and friends of the school who were emboldened to introduce themselves to learn more about the hat.

On a recent flight through Dulles, he had one of those experiences. He spotted someone staring at the hat.

Leaning over, the man asked: “Does that stand for the Medical College of Virginia?”

The fellow traveler was John Crouch, M.D., who had a story about his own MCV connection. In 1969, he was serving in Vietnam, first as a U.S. Army flight surgeon and later as a combat aviation flight surgeon, earning the Air Medal and Bronze Star.

Crouch relayed the story of how – while he was half a world away – he got a note from his older sister, Nancy O’Bannon, who was writing to let him know she was showing signs of renal failure. She was facing dialysis and her doctors were talking about the possibility of a kidney transplant.

Crouch didn’t know much about the relatively new surgery. So he turned to a surgeon stationed at the nearby Surgical Evacuation Hospital for advice. The two had trained together at Washington University in St. Louis when Crouch was an intern and his colleague was a resident.

“I remembered he was a sharp guy, and he was just a Jeep ride away.” His colleague was, in fact, knowledgeable about the pioneering work being done in the transplant field and told Crouch “There are two places your sister ought to go: to Starzl in Colorado or to Hume at MCV.”

Crouch passed the advice on to his sister who lived in Tennessee. Geography helped make her decision, along with the number of successful transplants MCV had done since its first living-related donor kidney transplant was performed eight years prior in August 1962.

Testing determined her sister to be her best match, and Hume’s transplant team operated on Nancy on May 26, 1971, just two years before his untimely death on May 19, 1973.

The recommendation served her well. At her death in 2011 at age 71, she was one of the program’s five recipients who lived 40 years or more after transplant.

Along the way, she underwent a second kidney transplant in 1983 led by H.M. Lee, M.D., who had also been involved with her first transplant surgery. This time the transplant team decided that her younger brother was the best match despite being a former polio patient, which had caused them to pass him over a dozen years previously. This donor kidney provided 18 years of healthy function.

When the second donor kidney started to fail in 2002, a new diagnosis of Hepatitis C meant Nancy was no longer a good candidate for a transplant. For the last eight years of her life, she underwent weekly dialysis treatment.

But the 40 years she gained after her initial transplant were filled with the things she loved best, says Crouch.

“When she first knew she needed a transplant, she told me ‘We’re just praying I can live long enough to see my children grow up’,” Crouch recalls. “She saw that and more. She saw grandchildren grow up and great-grandchildren born. She got her wish in spades.”

In those four decades, she continued to enjoy overseas travel – she visited 43 countries in her lifetime. A dedicated missionary, she also was active in the life of Lee University, where her husband was a professor. In 2002, the institution honored the two of them with the naming of the Robert H. and Nancy O’Bannon Residence Hall.

“My sister was always a great fighter,” says Crouch. “She loved to live life, loved to travel and especially loved showing young people the can’t-miss sights of different cities.”

Crouch, who is immediate past president of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, is a family medicine physician by training. He chose the then-fledgling specialty after returning from Vietnam. As soon as he completed residency training, he was recruited onto the faculty and has worked in medical education ever since.

Now based a in Tulsa, Okla., Crouch does a good deal of traveling himself as executive director of In His Image, a faith-based family medicine residency program that prepares trainees to practice medicine in a wide variety of settings, focusing on medically underserved populations in the United States and overseas.

Read more about the history of the Hume-Lee Transplant Center.


VMI alumni join forces for VCU medical students


Third-year medical student Quinn C. Wicks was one of the first students to benefit from the School of Medicine/VMI partnership.

The Virginia Military Institute experience is one that stays with alumni for a lifetime.

“It’s a tight community,” said Warren W. Koontz Jr., M.D., professor emeritus in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Division of Urology and a 1953 VMI alumnus.

That tight community extends beyond VMI’s Lexington, Va., home.

For VMI students hoping to study medicine that spirit of community has helped pave the way for an experience on the MCV Campus.

In 2008, Koontz and fellow VMI alumnus David S. Wilkinson, M.D., Ph.D., professor and former chair in the VCU Department of Pathology, worked to include VMI in the School of Medicine’s Preferred Applicant Track, which allows students enrolled at select undergraduate colleges and universities to apply to medical school at the end of their sophomore year. If accepted, those students are guaranteed admission, provided they stay on track for grade and service requirements. As many as 15 VCU undergraduates are accepted annually into the program including up to two students from VMI.

Once the preferred track was in place, Koontz made a lead gift in 2009 to establish the VMI Scholarship Fund, gaining support from other VMI alumni, including Bruce C. Gottwald Sr., a member of the VMI Board of Visitors and a longtime supporter of the MCV Foundation and VCU’s School of Engineering.

“VMI is a shared experience,” Gottwald said. “It’s four years of close association with your fellow cadets. That builds a certain amount of pride that stays with you. You work your way to graduation by a good bit of extra hard work and responsibility. That’s got to be a plus for medical students.”

Quinn C. Wicks, a third-year medical student, was one of the first VMI undergraduates admitted to the School of Medicine via the Preferred Applicant Track. He also is one of the first recipients of the VMI Scholarship.

“I’m very fortunate for the blessings that I’ve received from Dr. Koontz and Mr. Gottwald,” Wicks said.

Gottwald’s generosity has touched Wicks’ life more than once. At VMI, he was awarded the F.D. Gottwald Scholarship, established by Gottwald and his brother, Floyd, in honor of their late father.

Fundraising for the VMI Scholarship at VCU, which is awarded based on need or merit, now stands at more than $200,000, said Wilkinson, whose long-term goal is for the scholarship to cover full tuition for every VMI student admitted to the School of Medicine.

“Scholarships are vital in making medical education affordable,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Our Preferred Applicant Track with VMI has brought us some outstanding and disciplined medical students. But these VMI alumni have taken it a step further. I admire the remarkable loyalty they have shown to their alma mater and to their fellow graduates by creating a scholarship that gives a helping hand to VMI cadets who dream of studying at our School of Medicine.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the 2014 winter issue of the Power of Personal Philanthropy.

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Updated: 04/29/2016