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11
2016

Patient education wins big at first VCU HealthHacks event

M4 Sina Mostaghimi and Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor

Fourth-year medical student Sina Mostaghimi teamed up with Honors College biomedical engineering student Simone Gregor to create VCU’s first medical hackathon. It gave students 24 hours to work in interdisciplinary teams to find solutions to unmet medical needs.

As a biomedical engineering undergraduate at Georgia Tech, Sina Mostaghimi thrived on solving problems.

Today, the fourth-year VCU School of Medicine student from McLean, Virginia, is still solving problems in hopes of helping others thrive.

“My favorite thing at Georgia Tech was senior design,” he says. But, “During my senior design project, it took weeks for me to get feedback from the physicians I was working with.”

There had to be a better way, Mostaghimi thought.

At a dinner party last year, he met senior biomedical engineering student and Honors College member Simone Gregor and shared his idea.

“When Simone told me about hackathons, we decided a venue like that would be perfect for students from various disciplines to come together to help solve unmet medical needs,” he says. “I wanted to create a student environment to foster opportunities for innovation, to provide time for project development and to offer immediate feedback.

For the uninitiated, a “hackathon” is a marathon-like experience bringing computer programmers together to solve problems by creating software projects. In VCU’s case, Mostaghimi and Gregor envisioned an event to include not only computer science and biomedical engineering students from the VCU School of Engineering, but also pre-med and medical students.

HealthHacks 2016

HealthHacks drew more than 140 students who tackled problems pertaining to product design, hospital throughput and patient experience.

“It’s the weirdest team concept, but you get diverse ideas this way,” he says.

Mostaghimi and Gregor assembled a team of volunteers, attracted sponsors and created VCU HealthHacks, which took place over the first weekend in October. More than 140 students from VCU, Canada and even a high school in Richmond collaborated on three areas of focus: product design and improvement, hospital throughput and patient experience. The School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine provided problems for students to solve as well as sending residents and faculty members who served as team mentors.

To close the event, teams had three minutes to present their projects to 10 judges who decided first, second and third place winners.

“It was quite an afternoon. We all sat in the front row of a lecture hall and listened to 30 teams describe their work,” said Nathan J. Lewis, M.D., clerkship director and assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was tough. There were so many great groups and ideas.”

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi

HealthHacks’ winning team Anish Desai and Vivek Pandrangi used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy. This image shows the heart and an abdominal aortic aneurysm in red, located between the kidneys, shown in yellow. Click the image to go to a page where you can view the image in 3D.

The winning team used two-dimensional scans to create three-dimensional images for use in a virtual reality headset to help patients get a better grasp on their own anatomy.

“As medical students, we learn from two-dimensional CT scans all the time,” says team member Anish Desai, a second-year medical student from Richmond, Virginia. “It’s incredibly confusing, difficult and non-intuitive.”

Desai and classmate Vivek Pandrangi, from Los Angeles, are both interested in virtual reality and its application to the patient experience.

“We’d been talking about our shared interest in surgery and finding a better way to educate patients during pre-op,” Pandrangi says.

Via the HealthHacks experience, the team was paired with mentor Daniel Newton, M’12, a fifth-year surgery resident who was impressed with the students’ abilities to take a totally rough idea and turn it into a solution.

“The ability to show a patient his or her anatomy in an understandable way was solved by their technology,” Newton says. “It’s definitely a big step. Anytime patients have a full understanding of their disease or problem and the way it’s going to be fixed, it helps take the fear out of the unknown.”

Judge Nathan Lewis, who is also Mostaghimi’s faculty advisor, sees a future in the winning team’s work. He also hopes there’s a future for VCU HealthHacks.

“If you can take the complex language of medicine and translate it into something tangible, it breaks down a lot of barriers,” he says. “I’m not sure who’s going to take over the HealthHacks reins, but the event illustrates the amount of collaboration between the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Emergency Medicine at VCU Health. We’d all love to continue.”

A student team of volunteers made VCU’s first HealthHacks a reality:

  • Sina Mostaghimi
  • Simone Gregor
  • Mashya Abbassi
  • Michael Pasyk
  • Brandon Kates
  • Stephen Holtz

By Nan Johnson

14
2016

Seven dozen student and physicians on hand for 2016 Cheese & Chat

The lobby of the McGlothlin Medical Education Center was buzzing on a Friday evening in October. Fifty-four M1 and M2 students had come out to meet seasoned physicians in 2016’s Cheese & Chat.

 scroll below for pictures from 2016 Cheese & Chat scroll below for pictures from 2016 Cheese & Chat

A speed networking styled event, the format gave groups of two to four students the chance to speak with up to 30 physicians from a variety of specialties.

“The students enjoyed learning about new specialties that they had previously known very little about,” said the Class of 2019’s Amy Hazzard, vice president of WIMSO.

“It was great to hear from physicians who are passionate about their work and positive about what our careers hold for us in the future. A major takeaway from the event for students was to find a specialty that they are passionate about, no matter how long it may take to get there.”

Physician members from the Richmond Academy of Medicine as well as from VCU Health also shared insights on balancing professional and personal responsibilities.

“I believe students are now more excited about the M3 and M4 clinical years of medical school where we will have the opportunity to learn even more about specialties and clinical medicine in general,” said Hazzard.

Held on Oct. 14 the event was organized by the Women in Medicine Student Organization along with the Medical Student Government and the Academy of Women Surgeons.

Click the images below for expanded views.

Story by Erin Lucero; photography by Kevin Schindler.

05
2016

Lifesaver: Second-year student, Cece Elam, honored for heroic actions

The Class of 2019’s Cecelia “Cece” Elam was relaxing poolside with family and friends when she heard the scream for help. Without hesitating, she jumped to her feet to save a little boy’s life.

“I think people looked to me because I’m a medical student,” Elam said. “But up until that moment, I didn’t know if I had what it took to actually save a life. Now I know I can.”

The Class of 2019’s Cecelia “Cece” Elam The Class of 2019’s Cecelia “Cece” Elam and her sister, Leah, with Coleman Ross and his family.

A second-year student at the VCU School of Medicine, Elam was visiting her sister, Leah, in Centerville, Utah, in July when the two decided to spend the day at the community pool. Little did they know that as they lounged, 3-year-old Coleman Ross had wandered away from his family. In a matter of moments, his lifeless body lay at the bottom of the pool.

As bystanders pulled him out, Elam heard her sister call to her. Together, the two began performing CPR. Leah gave two quick breaths while Cece started chest compressions.

“It didn’t look good,” Elam said. “His face was blue and his eyes were rolled back. I was so scared.”

After two more attempts, Coleman began vomiting. An officer who had arrived at the scene helped clear his airway. Finally, the child let out a loud cry.

“It was the most beautiful sound,” Elam said. “It was very emotional. He’s the same age as two of my nephews, so I felt a lot of determination, compassion and love.”

After a brief hospital stay, Coleman returned home healthy. Doctors estimate he was without oxygen from three to nine minutes.

“It’s unbelievable that there were no complications,” Elam said. “It’s pretty unexplainable.”

In recognition of their lifesaving actions, Elam and her sister received the Citizen Commendation Medal from the Utah Department of Public Safety on Oct. 5, 2016. The medal honors individuals exhibiting unusual courage in protecting or saving human life.

“This is the highest civilian award we give,” said Sgt. Todd Royce of the Utah Department of Public Safety. “It is obviously not given out lightly. Those two sisters saved that little boy’s life, no question about it.”

Elam was both surprised and humbled when she learned she would be receiving the award.

“I never expected it,” she said. “I just did what anyone in that situation would have done.”

Coleman’s mother, Annie Ross, was visiting family in Eastern Europe on the day of the accident. When she returned, she couldn’t wait to meet the Elam sisters.

“She gave us these heart necklaces to remind us that we kept her son’s heart beating,” Elam said. “When we met, we just hugged. She started crying and I started crying.”

Then Elam met little Coleman.

“I had an image in my mind of a blue-faced boy,” Elam said. “I wanted to see him well. I wanted to see a laughing, happy boy. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.”

The two families will stay in touch through social media and telephone calls.

“I want to watch him grow up,” Elam said. “I feel such a connection to this family.”

Elam, who grew up in Idaho, holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brigham Young University-Idaho. She worked in research and as a certified nursing assistant – where she learned first aid and CPR – for a few years before entering medical school. Her husband is a dental student on VCU’s MCV Campus.

“I always knew I wanted to be a doctor,” said Elam, the youngest of nine children. “It’s in the family.”

Her mother is a registered nurse and her brother an internist. She also has siblings working in speech language pathology, health care administration and occupational therapy.

“I don’t know what my specialty will be, but after this experience I’m thinking pediatrics,” Elam said. “I know I want to help people. I know I want to ease their pain.”

By Janet Showalter

08
2016

Personal Touch: Ph.D. student Amanda Gentry forges one-on-one connections in Australia

Ph.D. student Amanda Gentry

Ph.D. student Amanda Gentry traveled to Australia to study data from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twins Study. While there, she also visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary.

Amanda Gentry flew halfway around the world to collect complex data for her dissertation, but the long journey proved even more important in a very personal way.

“I got to work one-on-one with the most amazing scientists,” she said. “In the age of technology, sometimes the value of face time is not appreciated. I think people forget that science is largely a creative endeavor. You need personal interactions to get the creative juices going.”

Gentry, who this fall starts her fifth year as a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biostatistics, traveled to Australia in June to work with scientists collecting and studying data from the Brisbane Longitudinal Twins Study. Gentry’s work examines current methods for analyzing personality, drug use data, and high-dimensional genomic data.

“I’m developing methods to try and determine what personality and DNA measures are related to marijuana use,” she said. “Can you predict someone’s marijuana use based on the information we have on their personality, their demographics and their genes? That’s pretty cool stuff.”

She spent more than two weeks at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane working alongside world renowned scientists, some of whom have spent their entire careers collecting and researching the data from the twins study.

“Here I was this stranger, and these brilliant scientists welcomed me,” said Gentry, who also attended the Behavior Genetics Association conference while in Brisbane. “To sit across from them and be able to ask questions was very humbling.”

Gentry’s research is funded through a research education grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, led by Michael Neale, Ph.D, at VCU’s Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. At VIPBG, she began collaborating with Nathan Gillespie, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry, who worked alongside Gentry in Brisbane. Both Neale and Gillespie are part of Gentry’s dissertation committee.

“Amanda works very hard and is intellectually curious,” said Neale, a professor of psychiatry and VIPBG’s associate director. “She’s stellar really. I have no doubt she will go on to have a very successful career.”

Ph.D. student Amanda Gentry

“In the age of technology, sometimes the value of face time is not appreciated,” said Ph.D. student Amanda Gentry. “I think people forget that science is largely a creative endeavor.” This photo taken by Gentry shows Brisbane in the evening.

While she is not sure of the exact path she will take, Gentry hopes to return to Australia soon.

“I never thought I’d have the opportunity to travel there,” she said. “If not for people like [Neale and Gillespie], I never would have had this type of opportunity. They have really taken me under their wing, and I am so appreciative.”

While much of her time was devoted to research in the lab, Gentry did make time to experience the countryside. She enjoyed local markets, bookstores and shops. She also visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where she got to hold two koalas, as well as North Stradbroke Island just off the coast.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “Not only did I learn from some of the brightest minds out there, but I got to see so much of this beautiful country.”

Gentry, 27, grew up in Richmond and graduated from Bryan College in Tennessee in 2011. She worked as a pharmacy technician for a year before coming to the MCV Campus.

“I was drawn to biostatistics because it’s a combination of two things I love – mathematics and medicine,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor because I can’t stand the sight of blood. I’m much more comfortable dealing with numbers. I can’t wait to see where this all leads.”

By Janet Showalter

17
2016

In focus: medical student Trammell Cox helps thousands see

The Class of 2018’s Trammell Cox

This August the Class of 2018’s Trammell Cox is in Cambodia, where he’s supplied more than 13,000 pairs of glasses over the past six years.

Trammell Cox has a vision: to help others see.

While studying at VCU’s School of Medicine (and serving as president of the Class of 2018), Cox runs a nonprofit that helps provide eyeglasses for countless patients overseas.

The organization, Seeing is Believing, began on a small scale with a few pairs of reading glasses. Six years and more than 13,000 pairs of glasses later, it’s still going strong as Cox returned to southeast Asia in August to continue what he started as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2008.

As he was teaching in Cambodia on his mission trip, he realized that some students weren’t participating. “Often we’d ask people to read but they’d say they couldn’t. For a while we assumed that it was that they never learned to read. But as we probed a little bit, we found out it was because they couldn’t see.”

Cox and colleagues went out and purchased reading glasses for many people. At about $1 a pair, it didn’t seem too daunting. But then he realized how many people needed them.

Trammell Cox, M’18

“The majority of people in Cambodia live day-to-day, using the money they earn throughout the day to buy dinner for the family at night,” says Trammell Cox, M’18. “As a result, many can’t save enough money for a simple pair of prescription glasses.”

On one of his twice-yearly calls home, he described the situation to his younger brother, Parker. When Cox’s family came to see him in Cambodia, they delivered cash and donated eyeglasses that Parker had collected as part of his Eagle Scout project.

For about $100, the brothers conducted vision screenings and provided eyewear to children in an orphanage.

After returning home in 2010, Cox, his wife, Jen, and his brother founded Seeing is Believing. At least once a year, they go back to help some of the world’s poorest people.

“The majority of people in Cambodia live day-to-day, using the money they earn throughout the day to buy dinner for the family at night,” Cox says. “As a result, many can’t save enough money for a simple pair of prescription glasses.”

Poverty is rampant in Cambodia, which still struggles with aftereffects of dictator Pol Pot’s genocide and policies. Cox notes that Pol Pot directed the killing of any intellectuals he deemed a threat to his organization. Eyeglasses became a symbol of intelligence, and those who wore them were targeted by the Khmer Rouge regime.

Fluent in Cambodian, Cox has established a network to support the nonprofit.

“Through our connections, we identify those with the greatest need, and those who can benefit the most. We then work with the Cambodian optometrists to screen them. Rather than undermine the local Cambodian market, we support and encourage economic growth by relying on the optometrists to make the prescription glasses, which we buy from them.

“We can provide those in need with an eye screening and brand new pair of prescription glasses for about $5 a pair.”

Trammell Cox, M’18

“We’re giving glasses and sight,” says Trammell Cox, M’18, “but also vision.”

Cox said his School of Medicine classmates and faculty have been supportive, and many have donated to Seeing is Believing. His enthusiasm and generosity have made an impression, said Assistant Dean for Curriculum Lelia Brinegar, Ed.D. “When I think of Trammell, some of the first words that come to mind are supportive, encouraging and friendly. He is the first person to step forward when a request for volunteers is announced.”

Cox is visiting Cambodia and neighboring Laos in August and will return to VCU’s MCV Campus for his third-year of medical school. He isn’t sure what type of medicine he’ll practice when he graduates; while ophthalmology is a possibility, he’s still considering his options.

But he’ll definitely continue to help others see. “We chose the name Seeing is Believing because it has such a positive connotation. That’s the effect we believe sight can have. We’re giving glasses and sight, but also vision.”

By Lisa Crutchfield

Donate cash or eyewear:
visit http://www.seeingisbelieving.vision/donations/
for details.

12
2016

Leaving his mark: Former tattoo artist takes non-traditional route to Ph.D.

Ed Glass was working as a tattoo artist in a small strip-mall shop when he had a clear vision of his future.

“I suddenly realized that when I’m 85, I didn’t want to look back and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t do anything.’ “I wanted to leave a lasting positive mark.”

With a bachelor’s degree in computer science from VCU already in hand, Glass set his sights on a Ph.D. in biostatistics because of his love for computers and science. His first obstacle in achieving his goal became quite obvious as the application process began.

Ed Glass, PhD candidate

“Don’t ever handicap yourself by being afraid,” says Ed Glass, who should be awarded his Ph.D. in August.

“I’m not your typical Ph.D. candidate – far from it!” Glass said. “I imagine most professors were rightfully suspicious of this guy who just walked out of a tattoo shop and showed up saying, ‘Hey, this math stuff looks interesting.’ I was totally intimidated. But I’m not shy.”

There was also the matter of Glass’ age. When he applied to the MCV Campus, he was in his mid-40s. That’s more in line with the age of a professor, not a student. But after reviewing strong recommendation letters and a passionate cover letter, the biostatistics program welcomed Glass with open arms.

“Ed is definitely a role model to others,” said Russell M. Boyle, M.A., assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics. “People look at him and say, ‘he’s put in all this hard work, I can too.’ Ed is a wonderful contribution to the culture here.”

Still, Glass had no idea what to expect his first day of class in 2011.

“I’m not sure my classmates knew what to make of me,” he said. “I was surrounded by 20-somethings. But you know what? I never felt out of place. They made me feel right at home.”

That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. After the first two semesters, Glass and his classmates had to pass a qualifying exam that included both theory and applications. They took a comprehensive exam and completed their dissertation proposal in the following years.

Glass will defend his dissertation, which examines the variability of coefficient estimates when applying linear regression to biological data, at the end of July. He should be awarded his Ph.D. in August.

“It’s certainly been a challenge,” said Glass, now 51. “At this age, the brain starts to slow down. I have pulled all-nighters on more than one occasion. There’s definitely more recovery time, that’s for sure.”

After graduation, Glass hopes to work in research for a few years before teaching at the college level.

“I want to pass the baton to the next generation,” he said.

Glass grew up in Hampton and planned to work in the family surveying business. Being severely allergic to poison oak, however, did not bode well for his career as a surveyor. He then tried his hand at several jobs, including painting T-shirts at the mall.

In 1995, he attended the Richmond Tattoo Festival and found what he thought was his calling.

“I saw there the most beautiful artwork I had ever seen,” said Glass, who has about 10 tattoos. His favorite is the “feet of clay” lettering on his toes.

He got his tattoo license and began practicing in Richmond, but after a few years enrolled at VCU to study psychology. To meet core requirements, he had to take remedial algebra.

“I figured I was dumb at math,” he said. “But as I began to understand it, I really liked the stuff.”

He changed majors to computer science just as the industry was exploding. But by the time he graduated in 2001, the economy had weakened. He dusted off his portfolio and went back to tattooing.

Ten years later, he wanted more.

“Biostatistics is a marriage of my love for computers and science,” Glass said. “The work is so important. People who work in research and conduct clinical trials will one day find a cure for cancer and Alzheimer’s. These people are heroes, but rarely do you hear about them. Instead, we devote a full section of the newspaper to sports or entertainment. There’s something wrong with that.”

Glass hopes that as a teacher he can be a role model to others, sharing his passion for science and instilling a work ethic that knows no limits.

“I knew getting my Ph.D. wouldn’t be easy,” he said. “But nothing worthwhile is. If there’s something you want to do, don’t hesitate. Don’t ever handicap yourself by being afraid.”

By Janet Showalter