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M2 Shivam Gulhar went blind for two weeks. Then he found his calling.

In February, the Class of 2021's Shivam Gulhar will present findings from his stroke patient research at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In February, the Class of 2021’s Shivam Gulhar will present findings from his stroke patient research at Johns Hopkins Hospital at the Association of Academic Physiatrists annual conference in Puerto Rico.

In high school, the Class of 2021’s Shivam Gulhar dreamed of becoming a computer engineer and changing the world through technology. But plans shifted his junior year when a misdiagnosed cornea ulcer left him blind for two weeks.

Suddenly, Gulhar found another calling, inspired by the care of an ophthalmologist he met at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“He was my first exposure to how a doctor could really help a patient,” Gulhar says. “I was extremely upset — if my scar had been a centimeter down, I would have needed a transplant — but he quickly put me at ease. The care he provided saved me from permanent blindness and made me realize the importance of medicine.”

The Maryland native went on to shadow his ophthalmologist several times before coming to Virginia Commonwealth University as an undergraduate biology major with aspirations for a medical career. In 2017, he was accepted to the VCU School of Medicine.

His decision to study on the MCV Campus was reinforced when he learned he’d been awarded the Sarah Snyder Laughon Medical Scholarship.

The scholarship had been established upon Laughon’s passing, when she bequeathed a generous gift to the School of Medicine for scholarship support to deserving medical students. Her daughter, S. Katherine Laughon Grantz, is a 2000 graduate of the School of Medicine.

“While I worked hard to realize my dreams, I did not entirely understand the price that it would cost me,” Gulhar says. “Now that I have begun medical school, the financial burden is astonishing. But just as I was shown how medicine is the path for me earlier on in my life, I felt that earning a scholarship was nothing short of a sign that I truly deserved to be here and that medicine was my calling.”

Last summer, Gulhar returned to Johns Hopkins for a research rotation in the hospital’s Motion Analysis Lab at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Through the Rehabilitation Research Experience for Medical Students, provided by the Association of Academic Physiatrists, he researched gait patterns of stroke patients and healthy adults with the ultimate goal of finding the best way to teach stroke patients how to improve their walking.

While on a treadmill, patients walked wearing oxygen masks and electrodes attached to nine different leg muscles, sending data to a computer to create a patient model. “Then we can develop a model that mimics stroke patients, giving physical therapists tools to target the most affected muscles during therapy and providing patients with the best treatment possible,” Gulhar says.

In February, he will present the lab’s findings at the Association of Academic Physiatrists annual conference in Puerto Rico.

“With the increasingly competitive nature of the residency match, being able to present his research at a national conference will distinguish Shivam from other applicants regardless of his eventual specialty choice,” says Christopher Woleben, M’97, H’01, associate dean for student affairs.

1838 Scholarship Campaign
The School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign aims to increase the number and size of scholarships to students. Full- and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed and serve as one of the medical school’s best resources for recruiting and rewarding top students. Learn more about how you can help a medical student escape debt.

Originally drawn to ophthalmology, Gulhar says the summer research experience — suggested to him by his sister, a medical student at Howard University who had worked with stroke patients — opened his eyes to other specialties where patient interaction plays a prominent role.

Luckily, thanks to the Sarah Snyder Laughon Scholarship that pays a portion of his tuition and fees, he has the freedom to let his interests (and not his student loans) decide his ultimate path in medicine.

“Debt can cause students to choose fields for monetary reasons,” Gulhar says. “I’m glad I don’t have that constraint. This scholarship allows me to choose what I want to do.”

By Polly Roberts


VCU trauma director Aboutanos leads planning for statewide trauma system

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently reappointed VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., H'00, M.P.H., to the state's EMS Advisory Board. Here, Aboutanos is pictured at the Shining Knight Gala, an annual event honoring first-responders, nurses, doctors and others who save trauma patients' lives.

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently reappointed VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., to the state’s EMS Advisory Board. Here, Aboutanos is pictured at the Shining Knight Gala, an annual event honoring first-responders, nurses, doctors and others who save trauma patients’ lives.

When coordinated trauma care succeeds, it’s like a symphony, says VCU Trauma Center Medical Director Michel Aboutanos, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S.

It takes every member of the care team coming together — perfecting their skills and hitting their notes — to save lives.

“We need everyone working together for that patient who’s facing impossible injuries to survive,” says Aboutanos, a 2000 housestaff alumnus.

A symphony also needs the right conductor. And what Aboutanos has helped create at VCU, he’s been asked to expand to a statewide level.

Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam recently tapped Aboutanos for a second three-year term on the state’s EMS Advisory Board, where he will continue to lead the Trauma System Oversight and Management Committee. The reappointment gives him the chance to oversee implementation of the plan for a statewide trauma system that the committee developed during his first term.

“Our ultimate purpose is to make sure the injured patient receives appropriate care across the commonwealth,” says Aboutanos, who notes that currently protocols for treating injured patients may differ across the state’s five Level 1 trauma centers. “Second, we have not collectively looked at our top trauma problems and how we’re going to tackle them under one coordinated effort.”

A Level 1 trauma center designation recognizes hospitals across the nation that deliver the highest quality care within and beyond hospital walls through teaching and research, as well as injury and violence prevention programs.

“VCU Medical Center was the first trauma center designated in Virginia,” Aboutanos says. “We have 30 years of experience so it’s extremely important that we continue to show that commitment and leadership to the commonwealth.”

Gary Brown, director of the Virginia Department of Health’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, says that’s one of the many reasons Aboutanos is most qualified to chair the committee.

“Dr. Aboutanos was the only clear, objective and logical pathway to navigate the commonwealth’s complex facets and components of trauma care and mold it into an integrated vision and trauma system plan for all Virginians,” says Brown, whose office manages the EMS Advisory Board.

Brown saw the success of VCU’s trauma center when Aboutanos invited him to the Shining Knight Gala. The annual VCU Health event honors all members of the trauma team from emergency medicine first-responders to doctors, nurses and others who save trauma patients’ lives and put them on the road to recovery. The event raises funds for VCU Trauma Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program.

“Trauma care must be structured around the patient’s needs and delivering optimal outcomes along a continuum of care,” Brown says “The Shining Knight Gala represented and demonstrated every aspect and component that defines a comprehensive, coordinated, efficient and effective Level 1 trauma care program.”

Similarly, as chair of the EMS Advisory Board’s Trauma System Oversight and Management Committee, Aboutanos created a task force comprised of all the players and stakeholders who influence a patient’s care from before the point of injury to pre-hospital and hospital care to rehabilitation and reentry into the community.

About the Fletcher Ammons Professorship in Surgery

Endowed professorships and chairs represent the highest academic honor a university can bestow on a faculty member. They aim to help universities recruit and retain the brightest teachers, researchers and clinicians, enriching the academic and clinical environment for students and patients alike.

An endowed professorship or chair also serves as a lasting tribute to the donor who established it. Mary H. Ammons, wife of Col. Fletcher E. Ammons, M’26, established the professorship in surgery that bears his name after her husband’s death in 1978.

Col. Ammons served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, retiring in 1946 with the rank of Colonel. His last duty station was as hospital commander at Langley Air Force Base.

The task force’s seven sub-groups met more than 100 times over three years, first reviewing recommendations from the American College of Surgeons and then determining how to incorporate those recommendations into a statewide trauma system plan.

“We always say it’s not the plan that matters, it’s the planning that matters more,” Aboutanos says. “People who haven’t worked together collectively are now at the same table and learning from one another.”

For Aboutanos, giving the appropriate time and effort to the committee would not be possible without the support of VCU leadership and his Fletcher Emory Ammons Professorship in Surgery.

“This professorship financially supports and protects time on my schedule,” he says. “With it, I can provide this level of service to the commonwealth. It’s what an institution of our caliber should be doing, and I am incredibly thankful that I hold an endowed position. I wish I could have every member of my division in endowed positions so that we could do the work we have to do.”

In October 2018, Gov. Northam approved the proposed trauma system plan. Now the task force will reconvene to begin implementation — including seeking funding from the General Assembly for a sustainable trauma fund that would support the Virginia trauma system plan, including a robust data system to gather trauma data across the state, identify the top causes of mortality and tackle those issues.

Then, the symphony can begin.

By Polly Roberts


Passion pays off: Sanyal to receive premier award in field of liver disease

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., who holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research, with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award, recognized as the premier award in the field of liver disease.

In November 2018, Arun Sanyal, M.D., will accept the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. The award signifies 30 years of research including 17 continuous years of National Institutes of Health funding, the development of therapeutics reducing liver disease across the globe, and countless international leadership roles and awards.

“This is the premier award in the field of liver disease and Dr. Sanyal is most deserving,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “His work is the definition of translational medicine. Through his extraordinary commitment to research, teaching and patient care, and to always finding a better way, he has improved the standard of care for liver disease around the world.”

A housestaff alumnus who’s now a professor in the VCU Department of Internal Medicine and education core director in the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Sanyal embodies a passion for liver disease that has taken him to the top of his field. It’s a much different place than he envisioned in 1987, when he came to the MCV Campus as a gastroenterology fellow.

“I had no interest in liver disease and I was actually terrified by it because all the patients were dying when I was in training,” Sanyal says.

Then-chair of VCU’s Division of Gastroenterology Z. Reno Vlahcevic, M.D., who had recruited Sanyal, wasted no time in calling the young trainee into his office. “He knew it troubled me tremendously that what was being taught as the best care possible still resulted in the majority of people dying,” Sanyal says. “I thought that was completely unacceptable. He believed that would prove a strong motivator, so he told me, ‘I think you should do liver disease.’

“And off I went.”

Finding a better way
Today, Sanyal holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research that honors his mentor who died in 2000. “At a personal level, it’s extremely poignant and meaningful. I hope I can do him proud.”

Practically, the professorship gives Sanyal the freedom to get early-stage, unfunded projects off the ground with the goal of doing what Vlahcevic knew he wanted — and needed — to do: find a better way to treat liver disease.

“We have developed new paradigms for drug development that are now being used across all the field of liver disease. None of that would have been possible without having an endowed professorship that protects your time for that kind of research,” Sanyal says. “It allows more time for educating young physicians and for developing new ideas and concepts that have a footprint beyond the university to a national and even international level.”

Sanyal has had a hand in three high-profile advances that have improved liver disease treatment since his training days. First, along with a former radiology colleague, he helped establish the foundation for a procedure known as TIPS that places a stent in the abdomen and has helped lower the mortality rate associated with internal bleeding in cirrhosis patients from 30 percent to 15 percent.

Second, he discovered a link between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance that translated to new treatment and practice guidelines. Finally, Sanyal is in the midst of a study to reverse kidney shutdown in cirrhosis patients that could reduce mortality for this otherwise fatal condition without liver transplantation.

Over the next five years, Sanyal will lead a $14 million national project to find an alternative to using biopsies to test for fatty liver disease. Today, many patients will refuse the invasive procedure, allowing an undiagnosed disease to fester until the only remaining treatment option is a liver transplant.

“By developing simple, non-invasive tools that every physician can use at the bedside, we hope that we will be able to expand access to care for the millions of people who have this condition so we can identify those who need more aggressive attention,” Sanyal says.

“A living textbook”
Sanyal credits his family, teachers, colleagues and patients who have helped him advance the liver disease field.

“Patients are my best teachers,” Sanyal says. “You don’t need a podcast. Every time I walk into a clinic, I’m reading a living textbook.”

It’s a textbook he says he continues to learn from every day.

“The work,” he says, “is never finished.”

By Polly Roberts


Why Planned Giving Matters

Thanks to thoughtful planning, the Class of 1912’s Guy R. Fisher didn’t have to choose between taking care of his family and growing the future of his beloved medical school. A charitable remainder trust allowed him to do both — and do them well.

“Through a charitable remainder trust, a donor irrevocably makes a gift to the trust that’s then used to provide beneficiaries a payment stream for their lifetimes,” says Jane Garnet Brown, director of gift planning at the MCV Foundation. “Upon the death of the last beneficiary, the remainder of the trust goes to the charity of the donor ’s choosing. This type of trust is considered a life income plan where the donor and their spouse or other beneficiaries are paid for life — or for a term of years.” Brown says a variety of benefits make a charitable remainder trust appealing to donors.

Tax deduction: You will qualify for federal income tax deduction.

Learn how a Class of 1912 graduate sent a gift to a fourth-year student … 106 years later.Payments for life: The beneficiaries you name — which can include you or someone you name — will receive annual payments for life, or for the period you designate.

No immediate capital gain tax: If you fund the trust with a long-term appreciated asset (assets you have held for more than one year, like appreciated stock) and the trust sells it, there will be no immediate tax on the capital gain. If you were to sell such an asset yourself, you would owe tax on all the capital gain realized in the sale.

Reduced estate costs: Your estate may enjoy reduced probate costs and estate taxes.

Success of next generation: You will provide generous support to the medical school and its future students.

These trusts are flexible in that they can also be used to turn illiquid assets, such as an underused vacation home, jewelry, art or land, into an income stream, making this type of planned gift an ideal choice for donors who are interested in supplementing their income during retirement.

“It’s a great idea if you or a loved one needs extra income in retirement,” Brown says. “You may also continue making gifts to the trust over time. Any year you need a charitable deduction, you can make a gift to the trust, receive a charitable deduction for a portion of y our gift, and your trust payout will increase as well. In a year where you don’t need the trust payment, you can even gift the payment stream back to the trust or give it directly to the School of Medicine.”

Through a partnership with the SunTrust Foundation and Endowment Specialty Practice, the MCV Foundation offers services to invest and administer life income plans such as the charitable remainder trust for donors. “This is a more cost-effective way to establish a charitable remainder trust,” Brown says. “We will handle the establishment of the trust, the sale of trus t assets, the investment management, tax reporting and beneficiary distributions. Our partnership with SunTrust allows us to make this process quite easy for our donors.”

Would you like to learn more about how to use estate planning to your advantage? If you are already speaking with a representative from the School of Medicine about making a gift, please let them know you’ve seen this article and would like more information. To begin a conversation about a planned gift, please talk to a gift officer you know or call the MCV Foundation’s Jane Garnet Brown at (804) 828-4599. The MCV Foundation houses the medical school’s endowment funds and offers planned giving expertise to our alumni and donors.


Separated by 106 Years

Class of 1912 graduate sends gift to fourth-year medical student

Time capsules span generations, bringing messages and assistance from people who lived long ago. Once buried, the capsules ar e typically out of sight, out of mind, until the pr escribed time for the capsule to be opened.

Guy Rothwell Fisher, M'1912

Guy Rothwell Fisher, M’1912

In a similar fashion, a generous gift was made to the medical school over 60 years ago through the final wishes of Guy Rothwell Fisher, M’1912. Now, more than half a century later, the Class of 2019’s Kenneth Lim has been awarded the inaugural Guy R. Fisher, M.D., Scholarship.

Fisher specialized in ophthalmology and otolaryngology, practicing in New Hope and Staunton, Virginia. From his vocation to his avocations, he was invested in helping others as a business and community leader.

At the time of his death in 1957 at age 67 , he left his estate in trust with instruction to provide monthly support for each of his nieces and nephews . Upon the passing of his last heir in 2014, the remainder of the trust was transferred to the MCV Foundation, per Fisher’s wishes, and used to create an endowed medical student scholarship in his name to be awarded to students based on financial need and academic merit.

“Dr. Guy Fisher graduated from MCV 106 years ago, so it is strange that I feel this personal connection to him, ” Lim says of the unusual circumstances that led to the scholarship’s creation.

The Class of 2019's Kenneth Lim

The Class of 2019’s Kenneth Lim


“He has no idea about the progress MCV has made or how he has influenced my life. My parents have worked tirelessly and have made countless sacrifices to provide opportunities for me. I am fortunate to have them, and now, Dr. Guy Fisher — a man who passed away even before my parents were born — to support me on this path to becoming the first physician in my family.”

Now in his fourth year of medical school, Lim has begun applying to urology residencies. Much like Fisher, he says he is pursuing a surgical subspecialty to have the opportunity to work with patients both in the clinic and the operating room. “I am very grateful to receive this scholarship and to be its first recipient,”

Lim says. “It provides me peace of mind and allows me flexibility when making financial decisions, but more importantly, this scholarship motivates me to continue to work diligently and act righteously to be the best student I can be .”

A leader in his field, Fisher served as president of the Medical Society of Virginia and the Medical Society of the Valley of Virginia as well as of the Virginia Society of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. He was also active in the Shriners and the Kiwanis organizations and the Methodist Church.

Learn how you can make a difference like Dr. Fisher, with planned giving.On Jan. 15, 1957, Fisher was remembered with these words by the Augusta County Medical Society: “He departed this life, leaving behind a rich heritage to those with whom he had come in contact: wide w as the sphere of influence and acquaintance in the field of medicine , masonry, politics, religion and human relations; for he was not unknown to any organization in the many walks of life; for each and all had profited from his wide experience, rhetoric, personality and influence and the common welfare of man. Now, that only memory of this beloved personality remains in the minds of his many friends, they, indeed, will cherish the good fortune of having known Guy Rothwell Fisher, who ever strove to emulate the Great Physician.”

Today, he is remembered by Lim, who will carry his legacy forward: “While I cannot thank Dr. Fisher or his family today, I hope my actions and future accomplishments will honor him. I am grateful to receive this assistance and I hope to provide the same help to future medical students.”

By Leetah Stanley



The Class of 88’s Greg Hundley joins Pauley Heart Center as inaugural director

Greg Hundley, M'88 (left), Pauley Heart Center inaugural director, with former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H'74, F'76 (center), and current cardiology chair Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D.

Greg Hundley, M’88 (left), Pauley Heart Center inaugural director, with former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H’74, F’76 (center), and current cardiology chair Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D.

In the early 1980s, a bright-eyed William & Mary undergraduate took the bus from Williamsburg, Va., to Richmond on a whim. He was thinking of becoming a doctor and wanted to get a feel for the MCV Campus. He wandered the floors of Sanger Hall and happened upon the office of then-cardiology professor Hermes A. Kontos, M.D., H’62, PhD’67 (PHIS).

“Hi, I’m Greg Hundley.”

He explained his interest in medicine and asked if he could work for Kontos that summer. Kontos, as he had done for many students before, said he had a perfect project for the aspiring physician.

It marked the start of a years-long mentorship that continued during Hundley’s undergraduate and medical school years as he worked in the lab with Kontos, who would go on to become dean of the medical school and later vice president for health sciences and CEO of VCU Health System.

“It was a blessing because when I started medical school, other students were trying to get into a lab and I was thrilled to already be working with one of the most famous people here,” laughs Hundley, M’88. “It was just happenstance.”

What wasn’t happenstance was his return to his alma mater in July 2018 as the inaugural director of the VCU Pauley Heart Center. Now a longtime leader in the field of cardiovascular imaging, Hundley was the first in the world to use magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that MRI stress testing can identify those at risk of heart attack. He’s also recognized for studying the impact of chemotherapy and radiation therapy on heart health, advancing treatment options for patients in need of cardiovascular and oncology care.

“He is going to do wonderful things for the Pauley Heart Center,” says former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H’74, F’76. “Having his specialized and internationally recognized expertise related to cardiology imaging will significantly improve our research opportunities and recruitment of trainees. It really moves the Pauley Heart Center forward and is going to have an impact for Massey Cancer Center as well. It’s a win-win.”

The two men have known each other for years – “In fact, I tried to recruit him here a couple of times,” Vetrovec says — and share a common mentor in Kontos. Hundley’s appointment became even sweeter when he was named the first holder of the George Vetrovec Chair in September.

“It’s very special to have the chair and then for the first scholar to be a leader like Dr. Hundley, who I know and respect,” Vetrovec says. “There couldn’t be a better match.”

The significance isn’t lost on Hundley, who cites the work of professor emeritus David Richardson, M.D., H’55, as well as Kontos and Vetrovec, as a legacy he will work hard to further in his new role. “Those men are giants in their own right in the field of cardiovascular medicine.”

Hundley’s arrival marks the opening of a new Cardiovascular Imaging Suite made possible by an investment from the Pauley Family Foundation. The cornerstone of the suite is a Magnetom Vida 3 Tesla (3T) MRI system that increases accuracy of diagnosis, reduces image distortion and enhances opportunities to develop personalized treatment plans.

Hundley compares it to high-definition television. “You can appreciate anatomy, where everything is, what the structure is, what the function is. When those processes are broken we can understand the exact cause of the heart not working properly, producing two great outcomes. First, doctors get to clearly see what the problem is, and second, patients also have that clear understanding so both can work together to come up with a solution to prevent cardiovascular complication.”

The 3T MRI takes nine seconds to produce 15, high-def images. It’s a long way from the days when Hundley would wait nine minutes for one image and then stay up all night to code its results.

Exploring the ways patients can benefit from high-def imaging is what inspires Hundley’s research. In the past 20 years, he’s participated in research funded by more than $71 million in National Institutes of Health grants.

As he brings his next-level technology expertise and research to the MCV Campus, Hundley also hopes to hold on to the values instilled in him by mentors like Kontos.

“He really encouraged me to shoot and aim high,” Hundley says. “I want to do for everybody else what he and others who came before have done for me.”

Vetrovec has no doubt Hundley will rise to the challenge.

“I’m sure he’ll do it and then some.”

By Polly Roberts

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Updated: 04/29/2016