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11
2016

Face time: The Class of 99’s Eduardo Rodriguez returns to campus to discuss his pioneering transplant surgery

In 2005, surgeons in France completed the world’s first partial face transplant on a woman who lost her lips, cheeks, chin and most of her nose after she was mauled by her dog.

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

In August 2015, the Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M.D., D.D.S., the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at NYU Langone, led a team of more than 100 physicians, nurses, technical and support staff to complete the most extensive face transplant to date, and the first in New York State. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Eleven years and many lessons later, face transplantation has moved from possibility to reality, with surgeons refining techniques and transforming the lives of patients once considered beyond hope.

Leading the way is Eduardo D. Rodriguez, M’99, considered one of the world’s leading surgeons in the field.

He returned to VCU’s MCV Campus this summer as the speaker of the annual S. Dawson Theogaraj Lecture. Rodriguez is the Helen L. Kimmel Professor of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery and chair of the Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery at New York University’s School of Medicine.

In August 2015, Rodriguez led a team at the NYU Langone Medical Center that completed the most extensive face transplant ever.

Patrick Hardison, a 41-year old fireman from Mississippi who had received horrific facial injuries received the face of cyclist David Rodebaugh. The operation received extensive media coverage and cemented Rodriguez’s reputation as a pioneer in the field.

He credits his time in VCU’s School of Medicine for a solid foundation in medicine. Rodriguez earned a D.D.S. degree from New York University in 1992, then completed his residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

“There are oral surgery programs that have affiliations with a medical degree, and I had colleagues who recommended that this was something I should do. I applied to all the medical schools in the country that had a relationship with an oral surgery program.” He ended up at VCU, condensing his medical degree into two years. After that, he trained in the plastic surgery program at Johns Hopkins Hospital/University of Maryland Medical Center and completed a fellowship in Taiwan.

“I thought VCU was the best education I ever received,” he said in a telephone interview from New York. “Those were the most enriching educational years of my life. I became a very good student. Living in Richmond, a smaller town, allowed me to focus on education and gave me a very strong foundation to be successful.”

Class of 99’s Eduardo D. Rodriguez, MD, DDS

Eduardo D. Rodriguez, pictured with his face transplant patient Patrick Hardison at NYU Langone on Nov. 12, 2015. PHOTO CREDIT: NYU Langone

Rodriguez first became interested in the possibility of face transplants after hearing a lecture at Johns Hopkins about face transplants in rats. “My mentor at Johns Hopkins, the chief of plastic surgery, told me this is what I should be doing. I had no idea what that really meant, but I was fascinated by it.”

In March, 2012, Rodriguez led a team in what was one of the most extensive facial transplants ever, from hairline to the neck of a Virginia man who had suffered a gunshot wound. The 36-hour operation involved more than 100 health care providers along with meticulous planning and execution.

Rodriguez notes that such transplants include health and mental risks that must be weighed against the benefits. Recipients deal with the psychological battles of living with someone else’s face, as well as life-long reliance and side-effects of immunosuppressant medicines. As with other transplants, the body can reject a new face.

In such a developing field, he notes, there’s not yet a blueprint for success.

“Physicians and patients are on this journey together,” he says. “Once you’re successful and you see the patient doing well and you reflect on what we’ve achieved, and reflect on change in this individual’s life, you can’t help but be amazed by the complexity of the process.”

The Department of Defense and several research institutions, including NYU, have dedicated funding and resources to refining the procedure.

Rodriguez knows that the next decade will include improvements in transplantation and perhaps even some breakthroughs that seemed unimaginable in recent years.

“First, we have to keep working on trying to reduce the toxic effects of the [anti-rejection] medicines,” he says. He believes biomedical engineers will one day be able to create tissues specifically for patients needing transplants.

“It’s not just how many more transplants I can do, it’s how can we continue to improve the quality of face reconstruction and bring in different elements of science to provide these types of procedures safely, as well as improving the quality of these patients’ lives and shape a better future for these individuals.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

12
2016

Guests from a dozen states pack reception celebrating the Kirkpatrick Professorship

Affection and respect for Barry Kirkpatrick, M’66, filled the reception hall on March 12. The evening celebrated the successful completion of a campaign to honor a pediatrician who was as dedicated to the tiniest babies as he was to training medical students and residents.

Longtime faculty member Barry Kirkpatrick, M’66, with seven of the neonatal‐perinatal medicine fellows he’s trained. Dozens of former trainees were on hand to celebrate the creation of a professorship that bears his name.

In 1973, Kirkpatrick established the first Neonatal ICU at MCV Hospitals. It was also the first in Central Virginia and would grow to become one of the largest on the east coast. He shared his knowledge and skill with generations of future physicians, creating a fellowship training program in neonatal‐perinatal medicine and an innovative community pediatric clerkship for medical students and residents. He ultimately was named vice chairman for education in the Department of Pediatrics.

Those former residents and students en masse supported a campaign to endow the Barry V. Kirkpatrick, M.D., Professorship. The campaign enjoyed the broadest base of support of any in the medical school in recent years, with scores of commitments coming in from 21 states.

About 150 of those Kirkpatrick fans were on hand in March at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate the professorship that will support the teaching mission of the Department of Pediatrics. kirkpatrick-gallerybuttonTogether they recalled the many firsts that Kirkpatrick pioneered: the first 600-gram baby, introducing mechanical ventilation for infants and designing a van to transport newborns from surrounding hospitals to the MCV Campus. In addition, he and surgeon Tom Krummel, H’83, established the east coast’s first ECMO program in 1980 at a time when it had only been offered for infants at UC Irvine, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan. They went on to help other university medical centers get their own programs up and running. These were dramatic advances at a time when the medical field was just beginning to learn how to save the lives of very premature babies.

Dawn Mueller, M’72, F’75, a retired associate professor of pediatrics at VCU, was the first of Kirkpatrick’s seven fellows. She was also the chief champion of the professorship campaign, writing letters and making phone calls to ensure everyone had an opportunity to participate.

At the March reception she noted the Kirkpatrick Professorship now takes its place beside endowed professorships honoring Walter Bundy, M’45, and Edwin Kendig, H’36, two other longtime faculty members in the medical school. Mueller characterized the three physicians as “the pantheon of iconic Richmond pediatricians,” and added, “This trio of professorships extends their legacies and influence for generations to come.”

By Erin Lucero

19
2015

Alumna, husband fund scholarship for medical students

Nader Silver, the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund Scholarship in the School of Medicine.

Rosemarie Greyson-Fleg, M’80, credits the VCU School of Medicine’s three-year program with jump-starting her career as a physician.

“It was great. I was an older student, and the possibility of doing a three-year program was very attractive to me,” said Greyson-Fleg, a diagnostic radiologist in Clarksville, Maryland. “Everything worked out really well. I was very grateful that I was given that chance at VCU.”

The three-year option is no longer offered, but the school’s accelerated degree program gave Greyson-Fleg the chance to rotate into internal medicine early, where she thrived. She ultimately made the decision to specialize in radiology, giving her more time with her family.

To express her gratitude, Greyson-Fleg and her husband, Jerry, established the Dr. Rosemarie T. Greyson-Fleg and Dr. Jerome Fleg Fund in 2013 through generous gifts of stock. The scholarship is part of the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign to help reduce medical student debt.

“My husband and I have supported scholarships at other institutions,” Greyson-Fleg said. “Now it’s my turn to give back to VCU.”

The scholarship – awarded for the first time in April to Nader Silver, a student at the VCU School of Medicine Inova Campus – supports a fourth-year student pursuing a career in the primary care fields of family medicine or pediatrics. Silver, who will start residency training in family medicine this summer, met Greyson-Fleg shortly after receiving the award.

“We had a nice time sharing thoughts about primary care,” Silver said. “Her son is a family medicine physician in New Mexico, and we had many similar interests. I hope to connect with him at some point. I look forward to keeping her posted over the years. I’m very thankful.”

Greyson-Fleg is thankful, too – not only for the education that she received at VCU but also for the university’s careful stewardship of her gifts.

“I know the money is in a good place. The gifts are well-directed,” she said. “The school has done so much for us alumni. We were all given chances to start our careers. Giving back is important to all of us.”

As parents of a primary care physician, Greyson-Fleg and her husband know all too well how important it is help keep student debt load to a minimum.

“Our son, Anthony, is the reason we created the scholarship for those with a love of primary care and pediatrics,” she said. “Those in primary care don’t earn the same kind of money as other specialists. This scholarship is one way we can help.”

Only half of the university’s medical students receive scholarships. The 1838 Campaign helps increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt.

“I am proud of our school’s longstanding investment in students who are headed into primary care careers, especially in light of projections that continue to warn of a future shortage of primary care physicians,” said Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “I am grateful to Rosemarie and Jerry for establishing this scholarship that honors their son Anthony’s commitment to primary care. They understand the importance of providing financial aid to medical students, and their gift will help us attract students to this calling.”

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in Volume 3 of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.

14
2015

Class of 1975’s Bob Centor warns of wrong diagnoses and dangerously good limeade

Scientists from the symposium

Bob Centor, M’75, H’78 (center) was welcomed back to campus by Ed and Rose Marie Shaia. Ed Shaia and his brother Richard established the Harry and Zackia Shaia Lecture in 1965 in honor of their parents who owned the popular Skull and Bones restaurant that served the MCV Campus for so many years. In the 1940s, the couple turned it over to their sons.

For more than two decades, Bob Centor, M’75, H’78, says, the name Shaia meant one thing: “The best limeades in town.” It was his regular order when he’d stop in at the Shaia family’s popular Skull and Bones restaurant on the MCV Campus, first as a medical student and later as a faculty member.

Now dean for the Huntsville Regional Medical Campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Centor was back in town to speak as the guest lecturer at the annual Shaia Lectureship, the latest chapter in his long connection with the Shaia family.

“It was my favorite lunch spot for 22 years,” Centor said of the well-known eatery that closed in the mid-1990s after 74 years of feeding hungry medical students and doctors. After so many years of patronage, he joked, “In my own way I helped contribute to this lectureship.”

Centor took time at the beginning of his lecture to recognize some other notables who contributed to his time on campus, although their help focused more on the academic than the gastronomic. He said that Al Zfass, M’57, Reno Vlahcevic, M.D., Harold “Hal” Fallon, M.D. and Orhan Muren, M.D., were important mentors during his time here and helped shape the course of his career. Centor is a past president of the Society for Medical Decision Making, and currently serves on the Board of Regents of the American College of Physicians.

The Shaia family has supported schools on the MCV Campus through the establishment of a number funds. The annual Harry and Zackia Lecture alternates between the Department of Internal Medicine and the School of Dentistry. In addition, medical students benefit from the Harry and Zackia Shaia Scholarship, the Thomas and Mary Shaia Family Scholarship and the Fred and Rose Shaia Scholarship.

Centor’s presentation, titled “Learning How to Think Like a Physician,” focused on the sometimes problematic ways doctors assimilate and analyze information to make diagnoses. He told the audience of students, faculty and residents about some common mistakes physicians run into when they encounter a patient whose symptoms and test results are difficult to explain.

Centor warned against manipulating diagnoses by choosing to ignore facts that conflict with your understanding of what’s wrong with a patient. Physicians, he cautioned, who often work long hours and see dozens of patients, can sometimes fail to take the time to gather enough information about each individual patient to make sure their diagnoses is correct.

Centor presented anecdotes of patients he has seen throughout his career, and asked the audience to guess their diagnosis. He went on to reveal how an undiscovered or unlooked-for piece of information altered the diagnosis drastically.

By Jack Carmichael

22
2015

Annual brunch gives donors, students a chance to celebrate $1.8 million in scholarships

Ben Lindsey

The Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey was chosen to speak on behalf of his fellow students at the MCV Foundation’s annual scholarship brunch. He told the assembled donors, “Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

Students, alumni, faculty and friends from the MCV Campus recently gathered at the MCV Foundation Scholarship Brunch to celebrate the outstanding financial support given to students across the campus each year.

The event provides an opportunity for students and donors to get to know each other, as scholarship recipients thank donors for their generosity and donors have the pleasure of hearing what a difference their gifts have made. This year’s brunch included 127 donors and 142 students from across the MCV Campus, all of whom had a connection to the over $1.8 million paid out in scholarships and awards this year.

This past year’s numbers are impressive: 325 endowed scholarships, 431 students who receive financial aid and three dozen new scholarships established. But the brunch offers a chance to look beyond the numbers to the real reason for the donors’ generosity: the students. This year’s event featured a speech by fourth-year medical student Ben Lindsey, who holds the Kinloch Nelson Scholarship.

Ben told the audience that his scholarship gave him a sense of tradition, power and confidence that he will continue to carry even after he leaves the MCV Campus. His scholarship is named after Kinloch Nelson, M.D., the beloved Dean of Medicine who is credited with starting the school’s Department of Family Practice and for whom the Nelson Clinic is named.

Ben described looking around the campus and seeing signs of Dr. Nelson’s legacy everywhere, including within himself.

Kinloch Nelson, M’98 and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98

Kinloch Nelson, M’98, and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98, attended the scholarship brunch to meet the Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey who holds a scholarship that memorializes the former Dean of Medicine Kinloch Nelson, M.D. The Class of 1998’s Nelson is a descendant of Dean Nelson.

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

“It is both incredibly humbling and motivating to realize that I maintain the support of this legacy through the Kinloch Nelson scholarship,” he said. “Through legacies like the Nelsons’, the scholarships we receive are far more valuable than their intrinsic monetary worth.”

Ben also took the opportunity to talk about the strength of the MCV Campus’ alumni network. Before coming to the School of Medicine, Ben worked as a medical scribe in Charlottesville, Va. He noted that “Many of the residents with whom I worked during that job had attended medical school at MCV. They tended to be the most competent residents and they raved about the clinical experience they had received while attending MCV for medical school. Thus, it was my interaction with these MCV alumni and my desire for an unparalleled clinical experience that convinced me to aim for MCV.”

The School of Medicine’s alumni have continued to impress him as he looks beyond graduation this spring. Ben just finished interviewing for residency positions, a process that took him to hospitals and academic medical centers across the country. He was happy to find that everywhere he interviewed there were connections to the MCV Campus and alumni were excited to meet him and help out however they could.

These stories about the impact of scholarships and the importance of active alumni are what make the brunch such a success. Students like Ben show donors the real results of their generosity and how scholarships mean much more than financial aid. The brunch is also meaningful for students, as they get to better understand the legacies that the scholarships represent. As Ben said at the close of his speech to the assembled donors, “You have indescribably enhanced our time as students here at MCV. Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

By Jack Carmichael

19
2015

“An underdog disease finds a champion”

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Florence Neal Cooper-Smith (MS’85) became aware of sickle cell disease in 1942, 34 years after the first known case presented itself in the United States.

Her lifelong dedication to the disease began during a routine childhood trip to the family doctor. During her visits, she often waited in the doctor’s office rather than in the waiting room. Once, she found a book to read and stumbled on a few new words: hematology and sickle cell anemia.

“It hit me. Sickle cell was a disease in colored people, that was the terminology back then,” she remembered. “You were born with it, there was no cure and you died early. That stuck with me.

“When I asked my doctor about it, he explained that the disease affects the shape of red blood cells and you’re born with the anemia, but he didn’t know much more than that. I kept asking people about it. It never left me.”

Advancements have been made in the study and treatment of the disease in the century since it was first identified, but people of many races are still born with it, still die early from it and no cure exists.

Cooper-Smith hopes all of that will change in her lifetime. It’s hard to doubt her when she emphatically proclaims that she’ll raise a million dollars for research before she dies.

She has $725,000 to go.

Her grass-roots efforts — gaining support from churches, fraternal and civic groups, family and friends, for example — raised enough money to endow last May a professorship in the VCU School of Medicine. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country and named in her honor, the milestone professorship supports aggressive research projects designed to discover lifesaving treatments and perhaps a cure.

Recently, a group of her friends organized the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Sickle Cell Research Committee to increase awareness about the disease and to raise money for research.

Cooper-Smith’s devotion to finding a cure includes years of community-based education and legislative work in Virginia as well as national networking through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1969, she led a Richmond-area survey to gauge awareness of the disease. Only 3 in 10 people had heard of it. Two decades later, she pushed a bill through the Virginia legislature mandating statewide newborn screening for the disease.

“We call Florence the ‘mother of sickle cell in Virginia,’ and it’s definitely a term of endearment,” said Wally R. Smith, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the VCU Division of General Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine and inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Trained as a medical technician, Cooper-Smith began her career at the Medical College of Virginia in burn research alongside E.I. Evans, M.D., in the early 1950s. Later, she met hematology professor Robert B. Scott, M.D., and the two collaborated to create the Virginia Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Program, now housed at the Virginia Department of Health.

Even with a national reputation for her efforts, Cooper-Smith remains humble and hopeful.

“It overwhelmed me to hear that the professorship was going to carry my name,” she said. “I didn’t do anything other than move something along. I just want to keep the research going. We’ve got to find better treatment, management and care for the 100,000 people affected in the U.S.”

“In a way, we’re continuing Florence’s original community work through one of our current projects,” Smith said. “We find and bring into care patients with sickle cell disease who have not been seeking care. It’s as if we hand these patients a life raft.”

The life raft is hydroxyurea, an underutilized, under-prescribed anti-sickling medication approved for use in the late 1990s.

When explaining why the drug isn’t more widely used, Smith said, “It’s the curse of sickle cell. There are not enough doctors taking care of adults with the disease. Patients don’t trust the medical establishment and they feel rejected.”

It’s an uphill climb, but thanks to the funding the Cooper-Smith Professorship provides, he said, he and his VCU colleagues can continue that climb.

To learn more about the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship, contact Brian Thomas, interim president of the MCV Foundation, at 804-828-0067 or bsthomas@vcu.edu.

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.