Those recognized at the UMMC Medical Alumni and Friends Awards Dinner, are, from left, front row, Hall of Fame honorees Dr. Paul H. Moore Sr., Dr. Helen Barnes and Dr. John D. Bower; back row, from left,  are Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Jeanette Pullen; Dr. Mary Currier, the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award recipient; and Dr. Gayle Watters, who accepted the Hall of Fame Award on behalf of her late mother Dr. Connie McCaa.
Those recognized at the UMMC Medical Alumni and Friends Awards Dinner, are, from left, front row, Hall of Fame honorees Dr. Paul H. Moore Sr., Dr. Helen Barnes and Dr. John D. Bower; back row, from left, are Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Jeanette Pullen; Dr. Mary Currier, the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award recipient; and Dr. Gayle Watters, who accepted the Hall of Fame Award on behalf of her late mother Dr. Connie McCaa.
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‘Stubborn,’ ‘grateful,’ ‘humbled:’ Six medical school alumni lionized

Published on Monday, August 14, 2017

By: Gary Pettus

(Pictured right are those recognized at the UMMC Medical Alumni and Friends Awards Dinner, from left, front row, Hall of Fame honorees Dr. Paul H. Moore Sr., Dr. Helen Barnes and Dr. John D. Bower; back row, from left, Hall of Fame inductee Dr. Jeanette Pullen; Dr. Mary Currier, the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award recipient; and Dr. Gayle Watters, who accepted the Hall of Fame Award on behalf of her late mother Dr. Connie McCaa. Dr. Mary Currier, class of 1983, was saluted Thursday as the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus, during a ceremony that also lauded the life’s work of the five latest inductees into the Medical Alumni Chapter Hall of Fame.)

Currier, the State Health Officer for Mississippi, has defined her tenure by, among other feats, ensuring that the state has upheld immunization rates that are the envy of much of the nation, an accomplishment that was noted during the UMMC Medical Alumni and Friends Awards Dinner in Jackson.

Currier has been lauded as well for maintaining the state’s health-disaster readiness in the face of limited funding.

“Perhaps this is an award for stubbornness,” she said, addressing an estimated 250-300 awards dinner attendees.

“This is also an award for luckiness,” she said, referring to the support of her family and the fact that she has worked for or with six of the seven previous Distinguished Medical Alumnus recipients, including Dr. Ed Hill and Dr. Owen “Bev” Evans, both of whom were present.

Throughout her career at the Mississippi State Department of Health, featuring a stint as State Epidemiologist, Currier has confronted and helped mitigate an anthrax scare, tornado-induced medical emergencies, high infant mortality rates and more.

Dr. Mary Currier is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award.
Currier receives the 2017 Distinguished Medical Alumnus Award.

She launched her career with the agency in the early 1980s, rising to the top position in 2010.

Among her influential mentors was her father, the late Dr. Robert Currier, the first chair of UMMC's Department of Neurology and a 2014 inductee into the UMMC Medical Hall of Fame.

While growing up, she lunched at the UMMC cafeteria with her father, and wrapped Christmas presents for sick children with her mother, Marilyn Currier of Jackson, a retired English teacher.

A former UMMC faculty member, Currier is a previous recipient of the American Medical Association's highest honor for elected officials and government employees: the Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service.

Also the holder of a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, she lists as one of her heroes the 19th century English physician Dr. John Snow, who rooted out the source of London's 1854 cholera epidemic.

Sponsored by the Medical Alumni Chapter and the Office of Alumni Affairs at UMMC, the event also honored these Hall of Fame initiates:

Dr. Helen B. Barnes – An associate professor emeritus, Barnes is a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UMMC and one of Mississippi’s first practicing African American female physicians.

Barnes accepts her Hall of Fame certificate from Dr. Bruce Longest, left, president of the Medical Alumni Chapter and Dr. Charles White, who introduced her at the ceremony.
Barnes accepts her Hall of Fame certificate from Dr. Bruce Longest, left, president of the Medical Alumni Chapter, and Dr. Chester White.

Introduced by Dr. Chester White of Tupelo, who said he keeps a portrait of Barnes in his office to serve as a “moral compass,” Barnes received a standing ovation and cheers after turning in the shortest speech of the night: “I don’t say much, but … thank you. It was a wonderful occasion, but it’s time for me to get this present and head to the house.”

A Jackson native, Barnes was a young girl when she and her mother moved to New York City; she was educated there, as well as at a Pennsylvania boarding school, where her passion for medicine was born during her work in the school’s infirmary.

After her internship in a Brooklyn hospital, she returned to Mississippi to treat underserved patients in the Greenwood area.

Barnes left Mississippi again for New York in 1963, following the assassination of Medgar Evers; she returned five years later to work in Mound Bayou, treating poor and low-income patients. A year later she joined the UMMC faculty, retiring in 2003, but continuing to treat patients at what would become the clinic site for UMMC’s National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health.

Dr. John D. Bower – In September 2016, the Medical Center christened John D. Bower School of Population Health, named for the professor emeritus of medicine and a long-time advocate of quality patient care.

The school, the seventh represented at the Medical Center campus, is only the third of its kind in country, making it as distinctive and original as its namesake, a Virginia native and graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

He was described Thursday by his daughter Anne Travis as a “rebel and a renegade” whose passion for his patients often caused him to go his own way.

Bower accepts his certificate from Longest.
Bower accepts his certificate from Longest.

At UMMC, Bower landed one of the first public health service grants to study dialysis, and, by 1966, the Medical Center opened the state's first dialysis unit at a time when a renal disease was fatal. Still, dialysis was expensive and difficult to obtain, until Bower and a handful of other physicians persuaded Congress in 1972 to extend Medicare coverage for patients with end-stage renal disease.

Bower helped make renal care more accessible to Mississippians in particular when he founded Kidney Care Inc. in order to launch dialysis services within 30 miles of any patient’s home. Over the years, he and his staff opened dialysis facilities in around 20 cities. In 1996, Kidney Care united with other dialysis programs and Vanderbilt University to form a group that would establish the Kidney Care Foundation – renamed the Bower Foundation in 2000 upon Bower’s retirement.

For his work with kidney patients, he received UMMC’s first-ever Vanguard Award in 2006, the year he was also awarded the Hope Award for Outstanding Community Service.

“I’m humbled beyond any imagination,” Bower said during his acceptance speech. “It was impossible for me to do this without help,” he said, referring to nurses and nephrology fellows, among others.

“The No. 1 thing in my life has always been the patients.”

Dr. Connie McCaa – The late physician, who died from complications of heart surgery in April, was the nation’s first woman, and the first Mississippian, to be inducted into the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Hall of Fame. She was the only inductee that year, 2014.

Her award was accepted by her four children: Dr. Gayle Watters, Lois Bradford, Melanie Stewart and Andy McCaa.

“She was in the Hall of Fame for everyone who met her – in their hearts,” said Dr. Debbie Herrington, an ophthalmologist who worked with McCaa and spoke on her behalf.

Family members of Connie McCaa accept the Hall of Fame certificate on her behalf.
McCaa's family members accept her Hall of Fame certificate.

A Best Doctors in America selection for 12 consecutive years, McCaa was known for traveling to Mexico, at her own expense, to perform eye surgery.

A native of West, McCaa received her doctorate in biochemistry in 1963 and her M.D. in 1977, both from UMMC. She completed a residency in ophthalmology at the LSU Eye Center in New Orleans before returning to the Medical Center for much of her career.

She became an associate professor of physiology and biophysics in 1970 and a professor of biochemistry in 1973. For several years, McCaa directed UMMC’s cornea division before leaving for several years to go into private practice in Jackson.

McCaa saw patients at UMMC’s Grants Ferry Clinic until her heart surgery at the renowned Cleveland Clinic. A kidney transplant recipient in 2013, she had returned to teach and work at UMMC in 2014.

Friends and colleagues remember her as a teacher and mentor for numerous residents, and as a selfless advocate for her patients.

“I feel very thankful that Dr. McCaa got to work until the end,” Herrington said, “Giving [patients] their sight back: That was what she lived for.”

Dr. Paul H. Moore Sr. – Years of dedication and service to the University of Mississippi and the School of Medicine distinguish the life and career of this Winston County native.

Referring to the late Dr. Robert Snavely, the first chair of the Department of Medicine, Moore joked, “[he] taught us to never tell a story unless you’re the hero – and I believe that. … ” Moore then proceeded to name and praise members of his family, and to talk about just about everyone but himself.

“You can see my life has been very blessed,” he said.

Moore accepts his certificate from Longest.
Moore accepts his certificate from Longest.

The youngest of 10 children, Moore graduated from what was then the new four-year School of Medicine nearly six decades ago. He completed his medical training with a rotating internship at Chatham Memorial Hospital in Savannah, Georgia, and a radiology residency at the University of Florida in Gainesville before building a family tradition of loyalty and service to his Mississippi alma maters that spans three generations.

A U.S. Army veteran of World War II, Moore also earned a Master of Education degree at Ole Miss. In 1963, he settled in Pascagoula, where he founded the Singing River Radiology 11 years later.

He demonstrated his leadership skills during tenures as president of numerous alumni groups, such as the Ole Miss Alumni Association (past-president), the UM Medical Alumni Chapter (past-president) and the UM Foundation, and as chair of the Alumni Hall of Fame Committee. 

In 1996, he was named to the University of Mississippi Alumni Hall of Fame. In 1997, his abilities were acknowledge by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, who appointed him to a position on the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

Dr. Jeanette Pullen – The magnitude of her importance to the Medical Center and to the practice of pediatrics resonates in the title of a position established at UMMC in 2010: the D. Jeanette Pullen Professor and Chair of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology.

The UMMC chapter of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which recognizes those who embody compassionate patient care, is also named for her.   

She is known for being a gifted teacher, clinician and researcher, said Dr. Owen “Bev” Evans, professor emeritus of pediatrics, as he introduced her. “She has been just as good at bedside as she was at the lectern or in the laboratory.”

Now a professor emeritus who continues to teach, the former chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology, who grew up in Kosciusko, is renowned for her role in the battle against pediatric cancer and her life of service to medical care for children at Batson Children’s Hospital.

A 1961 graduate of the Tulane University School of Medicine, she began practicing as a pediatric oncologist in 1969, when most children with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) did not survive the most common childhood cancer. As a research leader, Pullen helped synchronize the work of children's cancer centers across the country in the quest for ALL treatments.

Her leaderships is partly responsible for reducing this once near-certain cause of death to a treatable disease with a high cure rate.

In 2008, she was a recipient of the Children’s Miracle Achievement Award, presented by the Children’s Miracle Network to caregivers from CMN hospitals in North America.

“I am so appreciative of this award,” Pullen said during her remarks Thursday, adding that the honor was a tribute to the many people “who take care of children with cancer.”