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The lure of the track

The Class of 95’s John M. “J.” Salmon IVThe Class of 95’s John M. “J.” Salmon IV says a love of cars drive him and his dad into racing. His father, John M. Salmon III, DDS, is a 1965 graduate of the dental school.

Years ago, John M. “J.” Salmon IV, M’95, and his father John Salmon III, DDS’65, always talked about building a car together. It seemed a natural thing for a father known as “the fix everything guy” and his young son to set their sights on, but they never got around to it when J. was little.

Today, after finally building not one, but two cars with his father, J. Salmon has moved into the driver’s seat. Each year, he races sports cars at the Petit Le Mans in Braselton, Georgia, though he’s quick to point out that he’s not a professional. His job is to warm up the crowd, so to speak.

“It’s like going to see the Blue Angels at the air show in Virginia Beach,” J. Salmon says. “They’ll be lots of airplanes and activities before they appear. That’s what I do as part of the support race team at the Petit Le Mans. It gives people something to watch and serves as a stepping stone for young drivers.”

The Petit Le Mans is an annual sports car endurance race. Now in its 19th year, the event covers 1,000 miles or 10 hours of racing, whichever comes first, and features 41 entries across four classes of the International Motor Sports Association WeatherTech Championship competition.

Salmon’s event, the Mazda Prototype Lites series, gives him the opportunity to drive at speeds topping 140 mph in a world-class environment where he’s happy to finish within one second of the pack.

“I’m very happy if I’m not dead last,” he laughs. 2016 marks his third year of support driving at the Petit Le Mans.

The Class of 95’s John M. “J.” Salmon IV“Racing is so fast. It’s a blend of science and art. A lot of physicians are drawn to that.”

How it all started
About an hour from the Salmons’ homes in Lynchburg, Virginia, is one of the country’s top six road courses, the Virginia International Raceway. So it’s not surprising that their love of cars drove them into racing.

“It just sort of steamrolled,” J. Salmon says. “It took Dad and me about three or four years to finish our first car and while we were doing that, we’d spend time at the track. We’d go to the track like others went golfing. Most people don’t have a facility as nice as VIR so close to them. That helped contribute to my delinquency!”

A VIR racer himself, the elder Salmon tries to keep his speed these days under 125 mph. With a recent knee replacement surgery under his belt, he’s careful not to overdo. A trip back to the track during recuperation helped him gauge his abilities.

“The knee is in good shape, but I wanted to see how it performed at the track,” he says. “The only real pressure I have to use is on the brakes, that’s why I wanted to go see how it worked.”

Problem solving
Working with engines, suspensions and timing belts is a lot like problem solving in the health care field, explains J. Salmon who practices as a pathologist.

“Many times Dad and I would be working on a car trying to make it faster. We’d upgrade things if necessary. And yes, we blew up an engine. But we figured it out. Problem solving stems from medicine. In school, you’d see a problem and decide how to approach it. You come up with your own solutions. Racing is really immersive. It’s complex, challenging and a blend of science and art. A lot of physicians are drawn to that.”

But as drawn as he is to racing at the Petit Le Mans, J. Salmon is equally happy racing here in Virginia.

“I enjoy it more at the local track with friends,” he says. “I get to go home at night and be with my family.”

By Nan Johnson


“Nothing is more addicting than the thrill of discovery” Study abroad invigorates professor, students

Premed student Rosellen Provost

Premed student Rosellen Provost traveled to Italy with four fellow honors students for a three-week course that’s convinced her to pursue a career in medicine.

The little boy looked apprehensive as the male nurse approached to tend to his broken arm.

“You aren’t going to cry in front of all these girls are you?” he asked, smiling reassuringly. With a renewed sense of bravery, the child replied with an emphatic, “No!”

Standing nearby in the Italian emergency room, Rosellen Provost and her premed classmates smiled, too, as they watched a new friendship unfold before them.

“I always thought I might want to go into medicine, but after this experience, I have no doubt,” she said. “This is fueling me.”

Rosellen, a sophomore, was one of five undergraduate students from VCU’s Honors College to travel to Italy for three weeks this summer to explore the importance of research and learn what medical science looks like outside the United States. The trip was led by Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D. H’07, who holds the James C. Roberts, Esquire Professor in Cardiology in the VCU School of Medicine and serves as associate chair for research in the Department of Internal Medicine.

“It was fantastic,” Abbate said. “The kids had the joy of discovering, researching and caring for patients.”

The trip was part of Abbate’s brainchild: Discover Medicine in Italy, which included two three-credit courses, Introduction to Translational Research and Introduction to Medical Semiotics. Abbate, a native of Italy and a UCBM graduate, taught both courses. His wife, Vera Abbate, Ph.D., instructor in the School of World Studies, served as course director, and Salvatore Carbone, instructor of medicine, assisted Abbate with the program and classes.

The students were paired with five Italian medical students and shadowed physicians. They took day trips to hospitals in Rome and observed molecular biology experiments.

Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D. H’07

A native of Fondi, Italy, Cardiology’s Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., returned this summer to lead Discover Medicine in Italy. The course invigorated Abbate along with the Italian and VCU students he was teaching.

They also spent time in the lab and had to come up with their own concepts for future research projects. Rosellen’s project focused on a clinical trial for a vaccine that stops heroine from being synthesized and going to the brain, thus making a drug user immune to a physical high. Others explored new devices and dementia treatments.

Abbate was impressed with all the students’ work, and said, “their excitement for discovery was contagious.”

Even Abbate got recharged. His own love for research got its start when he was a medical student in Italy. As the years passed and administrative duties grew, he could feel the burn out coming. He wasn’t sure he wanted to encourage young students into the field. Then he read the book, “The Vanishing Physician Scientist,” and found a new perspective.

“As busy as we can be, I think sometimes we forget how beautiful research work is,” Abbate said. “This trip gave me time to reflect and to really appreciate what we do. Spending time with the students and sharing with them my passion, seeing their eyes light up, reinvigorated me. Nothing is more addicting than the thrill of discovery.”

Abbate got the idea to organize the study abroad opportunity after the University of Rome invited him on campus as a visiting professor last year. He said he would only accept if he could get something out of it that would be of value to VCU students.

He contacted the Honors College because he wanted to reach out to premed students. Those interested attended an orientation, filled out an application and secured their passports. The college pitched in with the finances, offering each student $2,500 toward the cost of the trip.

“To get a global perspective on healthcare is an enriching experience,” said Jacqueline Smith-Mason, Ph.D., associate dean of the Honors College. “Study abroad can be life-changing.”

During their time in Italy, students got a taste of what universal health care is like. They saw how medicine – from procedures to patient interaction – differ abroad. They also visited Fondi, where Abbate grew up, Pompeii and Sperlonga.

“What a beautiful country,” Rosellen said. “But what I loved most was the theme of service there. They live to serve other people. That’s exactly what I want to do.”

By Janet Showalter


Father Figure: Neurosurgery alumni pay homage to Harry Young

Harold F. Young, M.D.

This year, the usually low-key Resident Research Day Conference in Neurosurgery turned into a three day celebration of Harry Young, M.D. It drew more than 200 people, some of whom traveled across country to honor him.

Mike Chen, M.D., H’06, PhD’07 (ANAT), can’t recall a time when he worked harder or with more intensity than as a neurosurgery resident under Harold F. Young, M.D.

“The training was brutal,” he said. “As a resident at that time, you could work 120 hours a week. But there was no resentment. Dr. Young was preparing you to be the best under the most adverse circumstances. He was the most influential teacher of my life.”

Chen, who completed his residency in 2007 and now serves as associate professor at City of Hope in California, returned to Richmond in June. He traveled more than 2,000 miles to honor Young during the Resident Research Day Conference.

“I wasn’t going to miss it,” Chen said. “I owe him my career. He has the deepest passion for the profession, especially teaching it. He treated everyone with respect. He treated everyone like family.”

Usually a small, one-day event in which residents present their papers, organizers expanded it into three days this year to honor Young, who last year stepped down after 30 years as chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery. He remains on faculty as professor of neurosurgery.

“It can be hard to motivate people to come back for an event, but we had an amazing response,” said R. Scott Graham, M’92, H’98, director of the residency program. He has worked with Young since 1992. “He’s a father figure to so many of us. He instilled that sense of responsibility in everything you do.”

Harold F. Young, M.D.

Last year, Young stepped down after 30 years as chairman of the department. He remains on faculty as professor of neurosurgery.

About 225 people traveled from near and far to pay homage to their mentor. In year’s past, the conference has drawn about 50.

The alumni were eager to share stories and make a special presentation in Young’s honor. On day three of the conference, Young gave his presentation on preparing trainees for independent practice.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever see his like again,” said John Ward, M.D., neurosurgery professor. “He was able to create a bond with patients that was enviable.”

Ward was one of Young’s first residents, arriving on campus in 1970.

“He was always there to help, and over the years, that held,” he said. “He trained residents to be excellent clinicians, and he demanded that we treat everyone with dignity.”

After completing his residency in 1977, Ward worked alongside Young until 1990, then opened a private practice in South Carolina. He returned two years later.

“I looked at other hospitals, but felt this was the place to be,” he said. “Harry was here.”

By Janet Showalter

Harold F. Young, M.D., who began his career at VCU in 1972 and served as department chairman from 1985-2015, is famous for his Youngisms:

  • “Treat patients, not images.”
  • “Don’t cut the steak and butter to live a few more days.”
  • “I never go on vacation because people get sick on vacation.”
  • “Any organ you can transplant is basically worthless.”
  • “It is just a patch job. We can’t give you a new spine.”