Health-care innovator Joyce Caracci squeezes most from life, careers

Health-care innovator Joyce Caracci squeezes most from life, careers

Joyce Caracci spent much of her career watching people who were near death or trying to avoid it. 

If her work in hospitals and hospice left her with no illusions about dying, it also inspired in her a joy of living. 

At 82, the self-described "entrepreneurial nurse," inventor, philanthropist, travel buff and racquetball player is still punching up her resume. 

"She enjoys as much life in one day as some folks get to enjoy in a month," said Steve Pickett, a volunteer coordinator for a Jackson girls' shelter named in her honor. 

Over the course of her life, she witnessed history as a nurse who assisted with a trailblazing transplant, and later made history herself as a visionary in the field of home health care. 

In the highlight reel of her career, nothing makes her prouder than those two accomplishments. They are powerful validations of her choice of professions. 

"I was born that way," she said, explaining why she became a nurse. 

"I always wanted to be a nurse. I guess it was a dream I thought I'd never have because we were poor." 

In rural Neshoba County, Joyce Pope grew up in a home that wasn't wired for electricity until she was 16. She and her sharecropping family raised almost everything they ate. 

"We didn't think we were poor," Caracci said. "We just didn't have any money."

Since there was no money for nursing school, she financed her dream with earnings from her back-to-back shift work as a waitress at a drive-in and a bus depot.

In the 1950s, she trained as an R.N. at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson and the Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing in Vicksburg, and then took time out to have a baby before a six-month stint at what is now Baptist Medical Center. That's where she met fellow nurse Ruby Winters, a pioneer in her own right. 

"She became my right hand," Caracci said. "I don't know what I would have done without her." 

For that racially segregated era, they enjoyed a rare friendship.

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CSI: UMMC - Toxicologists ID'ing over-spiced drug compounds

As the state struggles to get a grip on residents sickened by synthetic drugs often called "spice," officials at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are doing more than treating some of these patients - they're helping identify the chemicals that are causing the overdoses. 

After roughly 200 spice-related emergency room visits across the state - with many patients seen at UMMC - university toxicologists have been working with law enforcement agencies to analyze the composition of the spice in hopes to determine what is making the users sick and potentially where the drugs could have been made. 

This is being done by looking at bloodwork and urine samples of patients from around the state, said Dr. Patrick Kyle, director of Clinical Chemistry and Toxicology at UMMC. The lab also has some spice products that were confiscated from patients  treated at UMMC's emergency department over the last few weeks.

Mass spectrometry,  the gold standard in drug detection and analysis, said Kyle, is being conducted at UMMC labs. "We're on call 24/7, weekends, holidays," he said of the toxicology department's willingness to work with local, state and federal authorities to test compounds.

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CSI: UMMC - Toxicologists ID'ing over-spiced drug compounds

No falling down on the job: Patient care team garners safety award

No falling down on the job: Patient care team garners safety award

When a patient hits his buzzer on University Hospital's 5 North, a staff member dedicated to answering calls for help bustles to his bedside. 

It's just one facet of a program instituted in September 2014 by 5 North nurse manager Cissy Bailey as she collected data for a project requirement in her quest to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree. Her mission: Gather information on when patients fall the most and why, and come up with a solution. 

"When I checked the data that I was collecting, I saw that a very high percentage of patient falls happen between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., with a peak time of 4 a.m.," Bailey said. "I thought, why is this?" 

Bailey instituted a program in which her nursing team increased the "rounding," or nurse visits to patient rooms. And, she went a step further, pulling one person from that shift and dedicating them to immediately responding to patients who call for assistance. 

"When a patient falls, immediate assistance is needed," Bailey said. "When the call light rings, the assistant pulled from staffing doesn't wait to be notified. They immediately respond to that patient's need. Otherwise, the person might not wait for help, get up without assistance, and fall."

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Study finds gene affecting thinking skills

An international team of researchers, including investigators from the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), has identified a gene that underlies healthy information processing — a first step on a complicated road to understand cognitive aging and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.

The study, published Tuesday (April 14, 2015) in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is the largest genetics study to date to link a specific genetic mutation and information processing speed.

"It is well known that genetic variation plays an important role in explaining individual differences in thinking skills such as memory and information processing speed," said Dr. Tom Mosley, director of the Memory Impairment Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center at UMMC and senior scientist on the study.

"However, the genes that underlie thinking skills remain largely unknown. Our team has identified a genetic mutation that may help unravel this puzzle."

The effort was conducted through the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) consortium, in which researchers from around the world work together to search for genetic causes of disease in the general aging population.

Previous studies in families and in twins have shown genetics play an important role in cognitive functioning, but finding the specific genes or genetic regions has proved difficult, requiring a combination of large sample sizes and detailed genetic measurements.

But in this case, researchers analyzed data from more than 30,000 people who were 45 or older, bringing together genetic and cognitive functioning data from participants in several studies in 12 different countries. 

In addition, they examined genetic variations across 2.5 million sites along each individual's DNA, looking for associations between genetic variants and performance on several different tests of cognitive function. 

Of the different cognitive skills examined, the strongest genetic association was related to performance on a test of information processing speed. The most associated variants were located in the CADM2 gene, also known as Syncam2.

"It seems like, through this genetic analysis, we have identified a genetic variant which partly explains the differences in information processing speed between people," said Dr. Carla Ibrahim-Verbaas, a resident in neurology at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and lead author on the study. "It confirms the likely role of CADM2 in between-cell communication, and therefore cognitive performance. It is of interest that the gene has also been suggested in other studies to be involved in autism and personality traits."

She cautions that the results remain to be replicated by additional studies. 

Researchers said a protein product from CADM2 is involved in the short-term and long-term chemically mediated communication between brain cells and is specifically abundant in the frontal and cingulate cortex, which are areas of the brain known to be involved in processing speed as well as in the developing brain.

"We are finding that for complex traits, like cognitive function, not a single gene, but several genes or genetic regions come into play, with each making a relatively small contribution," Mosley said. "We now have the technology to measure across the entire genome in a much more fine-grained manner compared to a few years ago, in this case 2.5 million sites, and are able to combine that genetic mapping with large sample sizes. The collaboration of leading scientists from around the world, who have agreed to pool their data and analytic resources, is significantly enhancing our ability to identify genes related to complex brain functions and disease."

The core CHARGE cohorts include five population-based studies, including the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, AGES-Reykjavik Study, Framingham Heart Study, Cardiovascular Health Study, and the Rotterdam study. Funding for the cohorts was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Mosley said the study complements two other recent discoveries by the CHARGE team that identified genetic variants associated with both memory performance and general cognitive functioning in older adults.

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Study finds gene affecting thinking skills

Top medical educators garner Evers Awards; graduate student earns Kuckein fellowship

Top medical educators garner Evers Awards; graduate student earns Kuckein fellowship

The Carl G. Evers Society honored the School of Medicine's best teachers, administrators and departments, while the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society selected a project by a UMMC graduate student for its highly sought student research fellowship.   

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Grants, awards from Jan.-March surpass $4M

University of Mississippi Medical Center researchers garnered 52 grants - including 30 new, 20 renewal (one competing renewal), one supplemental and one transfer - from January-March totaling $4,599,667.

The following faculty obtained the largest new awards during the first quarter of 2015 (note: award amounts are calculated as annual figures):

 

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Grants, awards from Jan.-March surpass $4M
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