It's no surprise that Pitt Med Alumni live and work in all corners of the world. Many make new homes and careers across the United States, while still maintaining a strong Panther spirit and connection to Pittsburgh and the School of Medicine. Such was the case with a chance encounter between Freddie Fu, MED'77 and Chuck Siegel, MED'67 when both happened to be in the same place at the same time! Recognizing a Pitt Panther t-shirt in Hilton Head, NC, Dr. Fu and Dr. Siegel quickly bonded over attending Pitt Med and learned that they had even more in common. With mirror images of education, Dr. Fu came from Dartmouth to study at Pitt and Dr. Seigel went from Pitt to continue his work at Dartmouth. The MAA loves to hear about very special meetings such as this, which helps to strengthen the power of Pitt Med Alumni networks nationwide.
Alumni Roundup: Winter 2017/18
Some of the following is reprinted from the Winter 2017/18 issue of the School of Medicine’s flagship publication, Pitt Med magazine. Click here for more.
Click here to read Archived Alumni Updates.
When Lee Shapiro (Internal Medicine Resident ’80, Rheumatology Fellow ’82) came to Pittsburgh for residency, the first patient he saw had scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that hardens skin and connective tissues. Shapiro ultimately centered his practice on helping people like that first patient. Now, in Albany, N.Y., he directs the Steffens Scleroderma Center, which conducts clinical trials for scleroderma and Degos disease, a similar but little-known vascular condition that is often fatal. The center is now cosponsoring a bench research project in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute to learn more about Degos disease and underlying pathways. “Not many talk about these diseases. I think that needs to change,” he says. “That’s one of our main goals here.”
Karen Boretsky’s (MD ’84) daughter reached into the trash and pulled out a flier for Operation Smile, a charity for children with facial deformities. Boretsky had dismissed the flier when she saw it in the mail, but her daughter challenged her to take action. Soon, she was in China helping patients to manage pain. Boretsky, then a Pitt Med faculty member and now assistant professor of anesthesiology at Harvard, was thankful for her daughter’s prod. Boretsky has since taken residents on similar missions to Guatemala, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Bhutan through Surgicorps International. They learn the basic necessities of anesthesia, like how a ventilator may run mechanically rather than electronically. “There’s a lot of information to be gained by holding a breathing bag and feeling it,” she says. Stateside, Boretsky guides trainees through pediatric regional anesthesia at Boston Children’s Hospital.
During his early days at Pitt Med, David Peace (MD ’80, Internal Medicine Resident ’83) was inspired by his mentor Thomas Gill (now professor emeritus) to look beyond conventional cancer therapies to immunotherapy, the targeting of malignant tumors with one’s own immune system. Peace, professor of medicine and training program director at the University of Illinois, now focuses on CAR T-cell therapy, a method that enlists engineered human T-cells to seek and destroy malignant tumors. The first CAR T-cell therapy was approved in August for use in a select pediatric population; other uses are under review. Peace says, “I’ve watched my lightbulb moment from back in my early days go forward to clinical development and successful achievement. We have a long way to go, but the door is now open.”
When we talked to William Petit Jr. (MD ’82) three years ago, he shared news of the Petit Family Foundation, created in memory of his wife, Jennifer, and children, Michaela and Hayley, who were murdered during a home invasion in 2007. The foundation has awarded approximately $2.5 million in grant support for shelters and other programs for those affected by violence in Connecticut. As the foundation marked its 10th anniversary this fall, Petit added a new title to his accomplishments: legislator. He was elected in 2016 to the Connecticut House of Representatives. “I thought it was time to try and create change,” says Petit. He follows several of his family members into government service.
Join the MAA in congratulating Darryl Floyd, MED’94 and Tracey Floyd, NURS’ 91 on receiving the 2017 ROC Spirit Award. The "ROC" Spirit award recognizes an individual for his or her outstanding enthusiasm, loyalty, pride, and spirit in support of the University of Pittsburgh. The Spirit Award is named in honor of ROC, the University's beloved Panther Mascot who demonstrates these qualities and characteristics while representing the University each and every day of the year.
After Jeffrey Quinlan (MD ’92) graduated from Pitt Med, he joined the navy as part of the Health Professions Scholarship Program. He has since been deployed three times in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Stationed at the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Md., Quinlan holds the rank of captain and serves as chair of family medicine. He recently received a $1.1 million grant to develop interventions to reduce unwanted pregnancies and STIs in service members. He also serves on the editorial board of the Advanced Life Support in Obstetrics program, an effort to train maternity care providers in the United States and 55 other countries to effectively manage obstetric emergencies.
From her second-year neuroscience class at Pitt Med, Anahita Deboo’s (MD ’97) fascination with the intricacies of the nervous system only grew. She pursued a neurology residency at the University of Pennsylvania and further specialized in clinical neurophysiology and neuromuscular medicine. Then she joined the faculty at Drexel University, where she directed the clinical neurophysiology fellowship program. Recently, she moved to Temple University as associate professor of clinical neurology. Deboo is involved in clinical trials for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) treatments and codirects Temple’s MDA/ALS Center of Hope clinic. Among the center’s many ongoing projects are tissue collection, phase III clinical trials, cognitive behavioral studies, and brain-computer interface studies designed to help ALS patients communicate. “Right now is a very exciting time for ALS because of all the new therapeutics that are on the horizon,” she says.
The brain is like a battery, says Jed Hartings (PhD ’00), associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Cincinnati. As a founding member of the Co-Operative Studies on Brain Injury Depolarizations (COSBID) research consortium, Hartings studies how that battery loses its charge after a traumatic brain injury. “We’re discovering how the brain dies,” he says. Doctors in the field have nicknamed this spreading loss of charge a “brain tsunami.” In March, COSBID held an international conference on brain tsunamis in Berlin, where scientists from Asia, Europe, and the Americas presented their latest research. Hartings studies the brain tsunami mechanism with Pitt’s own David Okonkwo, clinical director at the Brain Trauma Research Center.
While working in the OR during a mission to Tanzania, neurosurgeon Christopher Bonfield (MD ’07, Neurological Surgery Residency ’14) realized that the electric drill normally used to remove portions of the skull was not working. “We had to use hand tools and other techniques to get the bone off. Working on that mission abroad taught me different ways of looking at problems ... and it also showed me the disease process at a much more advanced stage,” says Bonfield, assistant professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt. His research focuses on spinal deformities and craniofacial surgery outcomes and encompasses often-overlooked aspects of spinal problems like pregnancy, social well-being, and psychological issues associated with scoliosis.
—Rachel Mennies, Rajiv Reddy, and Evan Bowen-Gaddy