Friday, March 22, 2013

Vice Chancellor Notes

Published in VC's Notes on March 22, 2013 (PDF)

If you follow the news like I do, you might be getting a little tired of reading about the University of Mississippi Medical Center. 

It seems that every time I turn around these days we are on the front page of the newspaper or featured in a magazine or on television.

Fortunately, I never tire of hearing about the amazing people who work here and all that you do to make Mississippi a better place.

For example, just a few weeks ago Dr. Hannah Gay, a UMMC pediatrician who specializes in HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, revealed at a major scientific meeting that a patient in her care since birth appears to have been “functionally cured” of an HIV infection contracted from the mother.  In other words, the baby had the virus at birth and now more than two years later it cannot be detected.

It’s not completely clear what caused this to happen, but the fact that Dr. Gay intentionally departed from the standard protocol and gave the baby more aggressive therapy shortly following birth appears to have played a significant role.

This news rocked the international scientific and medical communities and resulted in media coverage worldwide, including by the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the BBC.

Those of you who know Dr. Gay will appreciate that she’s the last person who would care about such celebrity.  But there it is. 

Then a couple of Sunday’s ago I hope you got to read the front page story in the Clarion-Ledger about Dr. Harold Kolodney, who works in our oral oncology program in association with the Cancer Institute.  With great skill and compassion, and the expertise of superb colleagues, Dr. Kolodney painstakingly creates prosthetic facial features – noses, ears, jaws – for people who have been disfigured by cancer or accidents. 

Most recently, the press has carried stories about our first liver transplant at UMMC in more than two decades.  Dr. Christopher Anderson and the stellar team he has assembled would have preferred a less challenging patient as their first case, but that’s not necessarily how these things work.  The 36-year-old mother, suffering from an autoimmune disease that had nearly destroyed her liver, was extremely sick when a donated organ became available. 

“They’ve given me my life back,” she told reporters at a news conference.

That’s a pretty special gift.  And the same could be said by the grateful patients of Dr. Kolodney and, someday maybe, by literally thousands of newborns throughout the world who will potentially be spared lifelong infection by a discovery that can be traced to Dr. Gay. 

These three stories remind me of not only what incredible people we have here but how so much of what we do is in keeping with the unique role of an academic medical center.  Yes, we treat bronchitis and broken bones and high cholesterol.  That’s part of giving our students a broad education and there is honor and dignity in that.  But we also provide the most advanced treatments and conduct research that others can’t do. 

So as far as I’m concerned, they can keep those news stories coming.  They make me proud to be part of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.  And I think in some ways, we’re just getting started.

 



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