UA Nursing Student Focuses on Taking Care of the Underserved in Birmingham

For LaDarryl Banks, a nursing student at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Alabama, being a nurse is more than caring for individual patients—it’s about serving the community.

“We need people who are passionate and invested in our communities and making positive changes in health care,” Banks said. “We are making progress, slowly but surely.”

Banks will graduate from UA’s Capstone College of Nursing RN Mobility (RN to BSN) program in May. As an RN and office manager at Cahaba Medical Center’s West End location, a nonprofit healthcare center in Birmingham, he not only provides care to historically underserved populations but also works to improve their community, which he, too, calls home.

Related: Ole Miss pharmacy professor helps the underserved of the Mississippi Delta

One of his biggest areas of impact has been assisting his colleagues in securing grants for school-based health centers and COVID-19 mobile clinics in west Birmingham.

“One of my favorite parts of being a nurse is going beyond providing someone the healthcare resources they need and teaching them how to manage or treat their condition,” Banks said. “By going to our schools and using the mobile clinic, we can reach those who can’t come to us.”

Banks said he decided to pursue a career in nursing because he has always been a natural empath and caregiver.

“I learned compassion as the middle child in my family and also watching my grandmother and her nurses during her time in hospice care,” he said. “Nursing is my calling and my passion—it’s always my goal to not make my work about me, but, rather, the impact that we can all make when we work together.”

Banks began his nursing education at Lawson State Community College, where he received his Associate of Science degree in nursing. After obtaining his registered nursing license in Alabama, he knew he wanted to attend UA’s RN to BSN program, he said.

“I always recommend the UA program to my colleagues. The faculty and staff at CCN understand the challenges we have faced in health care throughout the pandemic and beyond,” he said. “They understand the stress related to our jobs, and they go above and beyond to help students be successful.”

Banks recently received the 2021 Outstanding RN Mobility Student award given by the CCN Epsilon Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International nursing honor society. This award recognizes a student who demonstrates outstanding achievement and ability in scholarship, professional involvement and leadership.

Related: Dr. Sarah Imam of The Citadel teaches the human side of medicine

In addition to working fulltime and being active in the community, Banks adds home health visits on the weekends and plans to pursue advanced nursing education.

“I plan to continue my education and apply to UA’s Master of Science in Nursing degree program with a specialization in the Dual Nurse Practitioner Concentration in Psychiatric Mental Health and Family Nurse Practitioner,” said Banks. “I realize I am just a dent in the universe, but my calling and focus remain to learn more about how to not only treat but manage addictions and diseases continuing to plague our area.”

Banks added, “I am a firm believer in treating a patient’s mind, body and soul for recovery.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Alabama website.

These Mercer University Student Volunteers Have Administered Thousands of COVID-19 Vaccines

By Jennifer Falk

Students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Mercer University are playing a major role in administering COVID-19 vaccines to the Atlanta community.

Over the past three Saturdays, March 6, 13 and 20, students in the physician assistant program in the College of Health Professions have given thousands of vaccinations at a site located at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Being part of the vaccination site was like being part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” said Sara Kaplan, a second-year student in the physician assistant program. “Every shot that goes in an arm is, hopefully, one less person that ends up in the hospital … This disease has really torn the fabric of America, and it’s just really, really powerful to be part of the process that is helping end this pandemic.”

Related: Mercer University partners with Real Impact Center to get girls excited about STEM

As of March 15, Georgia had administered nearly 2.8 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, with about 16% of the population receiving at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker.

Many Mercer students have wanted to help since the beginning of the pandemic but were unable to do so, said Arlene Salmon, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “They were just in a unique position because they were getting all this medical training, but there wasn’t an opportunity because they weren’t fully qualified,” she said.

Then, when the vaccines came out, they were “uniquely positioned” to be able to administer them, said Salmon.

Arlene Salmon, a clinical assistant professor in the Mercer University College of Health Professions Department of Physician Assistant Studies, shows Sara Kaplan, a second-year student, how to prepare a COVID-19 vaccine.

The students already knew how to give intramuscular injections, which is required for the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S., as it was a core lab skill that they learned during their first year in the physician assistant program.

Salmon reached out to Fulton County officials to see if the students could help. In addition to giving shots at the mass vaccination site, plans are in the works for students to go out in mobile units to vaccinate underserved populations.

Related: New Mercer University center could provide millions with access to clean water

“Our program is very service-oriented, and we felt a little bit like a fish out of water when we weren’t able to go out there and help with the pandemic,” said Dr. Jill Mattingly, chair and clinical associate professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “We supported from behind the scenes, but now, with this, the students feel empowered to be part of the effort across the country.”

Students jumped at the chance to help, quickly filling the 20 volunteer slots available each Saturday at the mass vaccination site. They work 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at tables of two set up in the concessions area of Mercedes-Benz stadium.

“It’s just a stream of people coming in, and it’s really like one after another after another,” Kaplan said.

Not only do students give the shots, but they also prepare the vaccine for injection. This involves bringing the main portion of the vaccine from frozen to room temperature, reconstituting it with a diluent and drawing single doses of the vaccine out of the vial, said Tyler Fredlund, a second-year student who helped with the process.

“It just feels really rewarding to be able to know that the vaccine that you’re giving these people is really going to make a big difference,” Fredlund said.

The students have met all sorts of people at the site, from the grandfather eager to see his grandchildren for the first time in a year to the hesitant woman whose daughter made her come.

“I’ve given so many shots, but I’ve never given a shot that made me feel like I was actually, really changing lives,” Kaplan said.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Mercer University website.

Ole Miss Pharmacy Professor Helps the Underserved of the Mississippi Delta

By Patrick Smith

For Meagan Brown, a clinical associate professor of pharmacy practice at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Mississippi, serving the underserved has been the driving force in her career.

Since joining the UM School of Pharmacy faculty in 2011, Brown has been involved in the Mississippi Delta Health Collaborative. The project, funded through a grant from the Mississippi Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, focuses on providing clinical pharmacy services in the Mississippi Delta.

Many residents in the Mississippi Delta face high levels of chronic disease, exacerbated by high poverty and health disparities in the region. Brown and her colleagues sought to improve health outcomes and show that pharmacists can make a difference for patients dealing with cardiometabolic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and dyslipidemia.

Related: University of Mississippi’s Lauren Graham honored as one of the nation’s top veteran students

Meagan Brown

Brown, in particular, conducted her work at a federally qualified health clinic in Yazoo City. The work has made her a better pharmacist and educator, she said.

“Being in the Mississippi Delta, there were a number of socioeconomic barriers that existed,” Brown said. “It really teaches you the balance of what we teach our students in school versus what they’re really able to do when they’re out in the real world. Ideally, we would pick the best therapy for a patient. But if it’s an expensive drug and the patient doesn’t have insurance or even a ride to the pharmacy to pick it up, that presents another set of challenges.”

Brown said this work has been invaluable to her students as well. Ole Miss students and residents working alongside her not only get hands-on experience, they also receive preparation for a future in serving patients who may be facing challenging circumstances.

“It has helped them experience and navigate those socioeconomic barriers that patients have,” Brown said.

According to the researchers, significant improvement in the health of patients was observed over the course of the grant. And though the funding ended in 2019, Brown has continued her work in the Delta, working at the clinic two days a week.

Related: Sullivan Award winner Neely Griggs of the University of Mississippi keeps puppy tails wagging for pet rescue organizations

Her work extends to other areas. In 2020, Brown and Justin Sherman, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at UM, received one of the university’s inaugural Achieving Equity Grants. Brown is serving as co-principal investigator with Sherman, exploring health inequities stemming from the use of vaping and other electronic nicotine delivery systems.

She and Sherman will seek, through a series of focus groups, to get thoughts from students about their perceptions of the dangers associated with tobacco products, particularly around vaping.

Brown pointed out that there is a disproportionate health burden on disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups for smoking-related diseases. However, not much literature exists focusing on usage by youth and young adults, particularly for vaping. Her research will seek to remedy that.

Besides her work as a faculty member, Brown also has served as a member of the National Pharmaceutical Association since 2017. She was asked to serve on the organization’s board of directors and previously served as the clinical initiatives chair. As the association’s convention chair, she is planning the group’s national convention set for July in Los Angeles.

Founded in 1947, NPhA is an organization that seeks to elevate the voices of minority pharmacists and bring attention to issues facing underserved communities. Brown said the organization aligned perfectly with her career goals.

“We’re a small but mighty group,” Brown said. “I think, especially this year, NPhA has risen to the top as an organization that really can help folks identify some areas for improvement and serve as a resource in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Lakesha Butler, immediate past president of NPhA, praised Brown’s work for the organization. Butler pointed to Brown’s work as the clinical initiatives chair, where she led the collaborative efforts between NPhA and as the organizations celebrated Civic Health Month by providing members with resources to assist in signing patients up to vote.

Related: University of Mississippi researchers seek new ways to help people who stutter

Brown also took the lead in NPhA’s initiatives on chronic kidney disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“I have known Dr. Brown for close to 10 years as a mentee, colleague and friend,” Butler said. “Her passion for underserved communities, work ethic, leadership, tenacity and overall great personality made her the ideal candidate as I identified individuals to serve on the NPhA board of directors during my presidency.”

“I wanted individuals who would be ready to work hard and be committed to the vision I set forward,” Butler added. “Meagan was all of that and more.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi website.

Nursing Students at Tennessee Wesleyan University Volunteering to Boost Vaccination Efforts

As the coronavirus pandemic continues and demand for vaccinations rises nationwide, Dr. Kellee Vess, an associate professor of nursing at Tennessee Wesleyan University’s Fort Sanders Nursing Department, has never seen a time like this. Recognizing the need and a unique opportunity to help, Dr. Vess, her colleagues and TWU Fort Sanders Nursing students have volunteered in recent weeks to administer COVID-19 vaccines all over the Knoxville, Tenn. area.

According to the National Council of State Board Nursing (NCSBN), high volume in populated areas and nurse shortages in rural areas have created a problem for the COVID-19 vaccine. There simply aren’t enough nurses to administer the vaccine at the rate that is needed. As a result, partnerships with nursing education programs are being encouraged so that nursing students who have been taught the principles of the COVID-19 vaccine can help administer it.

TWU Fort Sanders Nursing, in its ongoing partnership with Covenant Health, answered this call. To this point, the nursing school has provided more than 30 student and faculty volunteers who have given more than 250 hours of service at five different Covenant Health locations. And the numbers keep climbing as Covenant Health, a network of hospitals in Knoxville, continues to utilize TWU volunteers.

Related: How Warren Wilson College stayed COVID-free in the fall 2020 semester

“It was a great experience,” said Dr. Vess of her time volunteering at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. “It was just humbling. And I was so proud to be a nurse. I’m so proud to be a nurse [and] that I could go into the hospital, help give the immunizations to people that are caring for COVID patients day in and day out. It felt like such an honor to be able to help them in that small way.”

The vaccines are largely being administered to Covenant Health’s frontline workers.

Nursing student Michael Dalton administers a COVID-19 vaccination.

“How many people are actually frontline that we don’t think of as frontline?” said Michael Dalton, a senior nursing student at TWU Fort Sanders. “Of course, we think of the ER and ICU. But what about the people that are actually behind the scenes that we’re helping? It was just amazing. I had such a great experience with that. It made me proud that I’m continuing on with this career.”

“We gave 700 vaccines in three hours,” said senior Carol Stiles of one of her shifts at Parkwest Medical Center. “Those 700 people were almost all Covenant Health employees. Everyone seemed to know everyone and were all genuinely happy to see each other. People were saying, ‘Happy Vaccination Day,’ as if it were a celebration. There were smiles all around. I got a sense of pride, unity, and family being around this bunch.”

Members of the TWU Fort Sanders Nursing family have worked as teams in Covenant Health facilities in Roane County, Morristown, Loudon, Oak Ridge, and Fort Sanders Regional in downtown Knoxville. No matter the location, the students and faculty have seen the impact of the vaccines.

“I really felt like the people were hopeful,” added Dr. Vess, when asked about the morale at Fort Sanders. “People were very energized getting their vaccines. Lots of people talked about what the future is going to look like after they get their second vaccine.”

“I have volunteered three times so far and plan to continue as my crazy schedule will allow, because it is the most important and rewarding thing I have done in a long time,” Stiles said. “I am part of history in doing this. I am literally helping to stop this terrible pandemic.”

Related: Entrepreneur honors black-owned businesses threatened by COVID-19 pandemic

Outside of the service opportunity, the experience has also served as an invaluable learning opportunity for the TWU Fort Sanders students. Despite the pandemic, students have been able to remain in clinical settings, providing a chance for hands-on training in an unprecedented situation.

“This is a rare opportunity for students to directly learn about population health, participate in a public health program, gain clinical experience and ultimately save lives,” said Dr. Maryann Alexander of the NCSBN in a letter sent to nursing programs.

“Any opportunity that students have to practice their technical, communication and patient teaching skills is beneficial to forming their identity as a professional nurse,” said TWU Assistant Professor of Nursing Dianna Vermilyea. “It also allows students to network and interact with other nurses and managers at Covenant and to showcase the knowledge and abilities gained through our nursing program.”

“[The Covenant Health employees] had open arms for us nursing students, they were so excited for us to come and help them,” Dalton added. “That alone, just everyone working together, let me know in my heart that this is the path that I need to be on, to have that group effort. And for everyone working together as a team, it touches you inside to let you know that this is what God is wanting you to do.”

“Just being in the hospital setting and practicing a hands-on skill is very beneficial to my education,” Stiles added. “We gave so many vaccines in such a short period of time. I am very comfortable talking with clients and confident in giving IM (intramuscular) injections now. During my time volunteering, I made some connections that will help my future career too. The experience was pretty incredible. Everything about it was positive. I felt truly proud to be part of making a difference.”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Tennessee Wesleyan University website. TWU is a Sullivan Foundation partner school.

UVA Pediatric Team Works to Bring Fresh, Healthy Foods to Families in Need

The question, “What are you going to do in your community?” had been swirling in Dr. Jeffrey Gander’s mind ever since he attended a pediatric conference more than two years ago.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer came to him.

In November, Gander, a pediatric surgeon with University of Virginia Health, spearheaded the launch of a UVA food insecurity project, which partners with Local Food Hub’s Fresh Farmacy to bring regular deliveries of fresh produce to pediatric patients and in-need families.

Related: UVA faculty, alumni lead effort to combat food insecurity during pandemic

“All of us are in a profession to help people and care for people—a healing profession,” Gander said. “We owe it to our patients, as part of our care for them, to make sure that they have nutritious food. That may be even more powerful than some of their medications. Think about this fresh, healthy food as a way to treat their diseases.”

In the following Q&A with Whitelaw Reid of UVA’s Office of University Communications, Gander and Tegan Medico, a pediatric nutritionist at UVA Health, discussed how the program has been going.

Q: Dr. Gander, can you tell us about the “a-ha” moment you had at the conference in which you realized you needed to launch something like this for the community?

Gander: I had attended a conference at the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 and listened to several speakers talk about how physicians can have an impact on your community. One particular speaker was Adam Foss, an advocate for criminal justice reform, who really stood out to me. I was fortunate to attend a symposium led by him about six months later where he challenged everyone to find a problem in your community, find like-minded individuals who are working on it and work together.

I started to learn about the almost 20% incidence of food insecurity in Charlottesville, Va., and in particular how people had little access to fresh healthy food, given that it was so expensive.

At the beginning of COVID, I volunteered to deliver meals to students in an underserved community in Charlottesville through a not-for-profit called Cultivate Charlottesville. It was through them that I learned about a partner not-for-profit called Local Food Hub that was partnering with farmers in Virginia to bring healthy food to people who desperately needed it with their Fresh Farmacy program.

Q: Can you give us a snapshot of what childhood obesity looks like in this country and also here in Charlottesville? How big of a problem is it?

Gander: For childhood obesity, it is estimated to be 18% in the Blue Ridge Health District. I do see a fair number of obese teens in my surgery clinic. In speaking to some of them, they often talk about [how] most of their nutrition is from the school lunches, which are not always healthy.

Medico: Childhood obesity rates in the United States have been rising in a relatively consistent pattern over the past few decades. Most recent data shows that 18.5% of children ages 2 to 19 years met the clinical definition of obesity, which is based on body mass index at the 95th percentile or higher. In Virginia, the overall childhood obesity rate is slightly lower, at 13% for 10- to 17-year-olds as of 2018-19, based on data from the National Survey of Children’s Health.

When you break down this BMI data by family income, there is a clear relationship: the lower the family income, the higher the childhood obesity rate.

Dr. Jeffrey Gander (center), Dr. Amy Wrentmore (left) and pediatric nutritionist Tegan Medico (right) hope to expand the food program to every family throughout the UVA Health medical center who cannot afford fresh, healthy food. (Photo by Kay Taylor)

Q: How does your program work?

Gander: We are identifying families who are food-insecure through our Battle Building Pediatrics Clinic. One of our social workers, Lashanna Hicks, has a list of families that have responded “yes” to a two-question screening tool. We are hoping to expand this questionnaire to every family that has a clinic visit.

After the families are identified, they are asked if they would be willing to receive fresh food delivery to their house every other week. At that point, we contact Local Food Hub, and they work with their farmers and deliver a bag of produce, typically eight different foods.

Related: Wofford College makes free nutrition education resources available across South Carolina

Q: How has the program been going? What have been your takeaways so far? Does it feel gratifying to be helping the community like this?

Gander: So far, so good with the program. We have seven families that we have been delivering to. We initially were going to start in the spring, but when we recognized the urgent need, we started right away.

Medico: It has been remarkably smooth sailing. Charlottesville’s Local Food Hub deserves much credit here. We just gave them names and addresses, and they took care of the rest.

In fact, one of my biggest takeaways from the project thus far has been how easy it was to do something real, particularly by way of partnerships. While it might be somewhat new to UVA Children’s to focus on food insecurity broadly, it’s not new to many local organizations who are already doing this important work. They know that it starts on the ground.

As a single clinician or a single citizen, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a big, complex, societal-level problem like food justice. We can fall into the trap of asking, “How can we solve it all for everyone?” and overlook the validity of starting small, with our own neighbors. While the scope may be small, it is still significant.

Q: What are the long-term goals for the program?

Gander: Long-term, we would love to expand this to every family throughout the medical center who cannot afford fresh, healthy food. We are starting in Charlottesville, but as this program expands, would love to use it in other counties in the area.

Medico: We want the program to expand to reach more families and for the partnership with the Local Food Hub to be sustainable. That will require ongoing funding and probably some justification that a program like this not only is the right thing to do, but also supports the health and well-being of our patients. We hope to demonstrate as much.

We also recognize that the problem of food insecurity is much larger than we are capturing, so we are brainstorming about how to broaden screening efforts and ensure we don’t overburden community partners’ capacity.

Related: Lincoln-Memorial University medical student gives best friend a lifesaving Christmas gift

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Medico: Childhood obesity is a complex problem with overlapping dimensions. There isn’t one single cause. It’s a symptom of environmental and sociocultural shifts in response to changes in food production technology, food supply chains, agricultural policy, transportation, neighborhood design, technology and other factors. We cannot and should not blame children. Instead, we can and should work on creating environments in which they can be the healthiest and happiest versions of themselves.

A piece of this task is access to foods associated with good health outcomes, of course. Another important piece, however, is fostering a lifelong curiosity about food. What I love about this particular program is that children will be exposed to a wide variety of quality items. Each delivery will be a bit of a surprise.

Can food be good for you and fun? I may be biased as a dietitian, but I think definitely think so.

This article has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on the University of Virginia website.

New Research Division at Duke University Merges AI With Medical Science

By Ken Kingery, Duke University

Sullivan Foundation partner school Duke University has created a new research entity that will combine leading-edge artificial intelligence with medical science to better diagnose diseases and improve patient outcomes. The Division of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Pathology will be a joint project between Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and School of Medicine.

Researchers at Duke have been merging AI with health care for the better part of two decades. From making cochlear implants deliver purer sounds to the brain for the deaf to finding hidden trends within reams of patient data, the field spans a diverse range of niches that are now beginning to make real impacts.

Related: Hollins University’s “Tick Lady” works to combat Lyme disease

Among these niches, however, there is one in which Duke researchers have always been at the leading edge—image analysis, with a broad team of researchers teaching computers to analyze images to unearth everything from various forms of cancer to biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease in the retina.

The Division of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Pathology will push the envelope in this field, the university said.

“Machine learning can do a better job than the average person at finding the signal in the noise, and that can translate into better outcomes and more cost-effective care,” said Michael Datto, associate professor of pathology at Duke. “This is one of the most exciting times I’ve seen in pathology, and it’s going to be exciting to see what we can do.”

The new division will support translational research by developing AI technologies for image analysis to enhance the diagnosis, classification, prediction and prognostication of a variety of diseases, as well as train the next generation of pathologists and scientists in the emerging field.

The division is led by Carolyn Glass, assistant professor of pathology, and Laura Barisoni, professor of pathology and medicine, and operates with the partnership of AI Health, directed by Lawrence Carin, professor of electrical and computer engineering and vice president for research at Duke, and Adrian Hernandez, professor of medicine and vice dean for clinical research.

Duke engineers have developed a new type of smart microscope for disease diagnosis. It uses a bowl studded with LED lights of various colors and lighting schemes produced by machine learning.

“Duke has taken the lead at the national level in establishing a division in the Department of Pathology in partnership with AI/Health with the goal of developing and establishing new models and protocols to practice pathology in the 21st century,” said Barisoni, who is also director of renal pathology service at Duke.

AI Health is also a new initiative, launched as a collaboration between the Schools of Engineering and Medicine and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, with units such as the Duke Global Health Institute and the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. AI Health aims to leverage machine learning to improve both individual and population health through education, research and patient-care projects.

“For what everyone has envisioned for AI Health, we see pathology paving the way,” Hernandez said. “AI Health is a catalyst and spark for putting cutting-edge machine learning development and testing into real-world settings. In pathology, we have image-intensive data streams, and COVID-19 has really emphasized the need for the timely processing of patient samples.”

Related: Dr. Sarah Imam of The Citadel teaches students the human side of medicine

Applying machine learning image analysis to pathology processes, however, is easier said than done. Figuring out how to process extremely large image files and train AI algorithms on relatively few examples is part of the focus of Carin’s laboratory, in partnership with Ricardo Henao, assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics as well as electrical and computer engineering.

Current AI algorithms, such as convolutional neural networks (CNN), were originally designed for the analysis of natural images, such as those captured on phones. Adapting such algorithms for the diagnosis of biopsy scans, however, is challenging due to the large size of the scans—typically of tens of gigabytes—and the sparsity of abnormal diagnostic cells they contain. Led by David Dov, a postdoctoral researcher in Carin’s laboratory, Duke engineers are working to overcome these challenges to design AI algorithms for the diagnosis of various conditions, such as different types of cancers and transplant rejection.

“Designing algorithms that make a real impact on clinical practice requires close collaboration between AI researchers and pathologists,” said Dov, who joined Duke after completing his PhD in electrical engineering at The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. “A key challenge in these collaborations is gaining a deep understanding of the gaps in medical practice and then ensuring that clinicians fully understand the capabilities and limitations of AI in bridging these gaps. The new Division of Artificial Intelligence and Computational Pathology plays an important role in facilitating such collaborations.”

Related: Auburn University’s Rural Medicine Program helps provide future doctors throughout Alabama

In a virtual kickoff meeting this fall, the new division’s leadership spoke to the potential it holds to improve patient health outcomes, and several researchers delved into projects they already have underway in the field. For example, Danielle Range, assistant professor of pathology, spoke of efforts to use AI in diagnosing cancer; Roarke Horstmeyer, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, described his efforts to create a “smart microscope” to better diagnose disease; and Glass detailed her work on the use of machine learning in diagnosing transplant rejection.

“In the last couple of years, we have seen an exponential increase in AI pathology interest, from Duke undergraduates to medical students applying for Pathology residency positions,” said Glass. “I think continued development of a solid, integrated curriculum and educational program will be critical to train these future leaders.”

Hollins University’s “Tick Lady” Works to Combat Lyme Disease

Elizabeth Gleim, an assistant professor of biology and environmental studies at Sullivan Foundation partner school Hollins University, is a disease ecologist. But a lot of people simply know her as the “Tick Lady.”

Gleim’s research centers on the study of zoonotic diseases (those that can be directly transmitted between animals and humans) and vector-borne diseases (infections that require transmission through vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes). Ever since she was pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia, Gleim, who is also a Hollins alumna (class of 2006), has investigated tick-borne diseases. It’s an especially relevant topic because Southwest Virginia, home to Hollins University, is also a hotspot for Lyme disease. And Gleim and her team of student researchers want to know why.

Related: Lincoln Memorial University medical student gives best friend a lifesaving Christmas gift

“There are three main areas on which my research questions focus,” she explained. “The first is identifying ways to better control and prevent tick-borne diseases, especially in the human population but also in domestic animals. I also do a lot of work in vector and disease dynamics, which can vary dramatically based on the ecosystem or the region of the country, and even just from year to year. The other piece is trying to better understand anthropogenic drivers, which is how humans are affecting tick-borne disease risk with their actions or behaviors, and then understanding environmental drivers of disease risk, which can include changes in weather, forest management practices, wildlife population changes and other factors.”

this photo shows Dr. Elizabeth Gleim peering into a microscope as part of her research in Lyme disease

Dr. Elizabeth Gleim is shown here at Emory University (Oxford campus) conducting research for her Ph.D. in Forestry. (Photo by Nancy Evelyn)

One of Gleim’s major research projects, which was published in the July 10, 2019, edition of Scientific Reports, examined the impact of a process known as “prescribed fire” on the risk of tick-borne disease. Over the past several decades, the emergence and incidence of tick-borne diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, have risen dramatically. The challenge for scientists and disease ecologists has been to find ways to reduce and control tick populations and mitigate the risk of tick-borne disease, especially in humans. For years, prescribed fire has been used to successfully manage forests, grasslands, wetlands and other types of landscapes.

The first phase of Gleim’s research looked at how fire impacts tick abundance and seasonality. The second phase, which she brought to Hollins, focused on whether fire might also affect the pathogens that circulate in the ticks. It was the first study ever done to examine the effects of prescribed fire on tick-borne pathogens themselves. Gleim spent two years doing field work in Southwest Georgia and Northwest Florida.

Along the way, she said, she “collected a whole lot of ticks—50,000 of them. I then tested almost all of those ticks for all known tick-borne pathogens.” She determined that prescribed fire affects some pathogens but not all of them. Furthermore, fire greatly reduced the density of ticks infected with pathogenic bacteria in an area and showed a 98% reduction of encounter rates with infected ticks.

Related: Auburn University and other Sullivan Foundation partner schools are developing rural pharmacies in the Southeast

“The findings here were exciting and promising and led to some interesting questions that I hope I can explore in the years to come,” Gleim said. “First, would we get the same types of dramatic reductions in ticks that we observed if we did this work in other ecosystems or other regions of the country or even the world? Second, could prescribed fire reduce Lyme disease risk specifically? Where I did this work in Georgia and Florida, Lyme is not endemic (e.g. does not occur). It’s at least possible that [prescribed fire] could affect the pathogen that causes Lyme.”

The dynamics of Lyme disease in the United States have evolved considerably over the past two decades. As recently as 2001, Lyme disease cases were seen primarily on a limited basis in New England and the Midwest. However, just 16 years later, Lyme was common everywhere in the Northeast and had begun to spread to other parts of the country.

“By 2017, the western region of Virginia was at the leading edge of what would probably be considered a Lyme endemic area with a distinct hotspot developing in Southwest Virginia,” Gleim said.

Jory Brinkerhoff, a professor at the University of Richmond, collected black-legged tick nymphs, the life stage particularly associated with Lyme cases in humans, at four sites on an east/west gradient across the state. He found the greatest number of nymphs at his western-most site and the highest level of the Lyme pathogen there, but it was just one site. “We all know in science that you can’t draw any firm conclusions from just one place,” Gleim said. Along with Hollins Professor of Biology Morgan Wilson and then-senior Ciera Morris, she set out to understand black-legged tick dynamics in the region, particularly in Southwest Virginia’s hotspot.

For Morris’ senior honors thesis, the team established 12 sites around the Roanoke Valley area to collect ticks on a monthly basis for an entire year. They collaborated with an Old Dominion University tick ecologist, collecting the critters in the eastern part of the state that same year. “We found a significantly higher number of black-legged tick nymphs and larvae in the Roanoke region versus the Norfolk area,” Gleim said. “What’s notable, though, is that we do not have significantly more adults. It seems to indicate that we don’t necessarily have more black-legged ticks in the western portion of the state.” However, they are more forcefully engaging in a particular kind of behavior.

“It turns out ticks don’t jump or fly. The only way they get on a human or animal host is to physically brush up against them. For a tick to get on a host, they crawl up to the tops of vegetation, grass or low-lying plants, and they wait for something to brush up against it. We call that behavior ‘questing.’”

Gleim cited previous studies that demonstrated ticks in the Northeast area quest much more aggressively than those in the Southeast. “Ticks in the Southeast tend to stay down in the leaf litter and therefore are unlikely to come into contact with humans. Thus, a migration of ticks from the north into Virginia via the Appalachian Mountains is a possibility.”

Leemu Jackson, a recent Hollins University graduate, conducted genetic analysis to verify whether black-legged ticks are migrating into Southwest Virginia from the northeastern U.S.

Using some of the groundwork laid by Morris and current student Shravani Chitineni and in collaboration with Gleim, Brinkerhoff and Hollins Professor of Biology Rebecca Beach, Leemu Jackson performed her senior honors thesis last year doing a genetic analysis to compare Roanoke-area black-legged tick populations to those elsewhere in order to verify whether migration was occurring.

“We did what we call a phylogenetic analysis, which is sort of a fancy way of saying we created a family tree of all the different ticks we were testing from Roanoke as well as the state of Virginia and the entire eastern U.S.,” Gleim said. “That analysis compared the DNA sequences of all these ticks and showed how similar those sequences are and thus how related they are to one another. What we discovered was a really high genetic diversity here in the Roanoke area, more so than what we’re seeing in the eastern part of the state. This does not definitively prove that ticks are migrating into Virginia, but it certainly provides some evidence to support that hypothesis.”

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Another factor that Gleim believes may be contributing to the prevalence of Lyme disease in the Roanoke Valley involves human dynamics. “In a lot of urban or suburbanized areas, people don’t spend a lot of time outside. But that’s simply not the case here. We have an outdoor-centered lifestyle, so there’s a large number of people who are spending a lot of time outdoors in an ideal tick habitat.”

The “Tick Lady” emphasizes there is still much work to be done. She hopes to submit Morris’ senior thesis for publication in the next month or two. “She’ll be first author on that paper, which is really exciting,” Gleim noted.

Hollins student Shravani Chitineni is exploring methods to effectively control Lyme disease risk.

In addition, Gleim said, “Shravani has picked up where Ciera and Leemu have left off—she’s a senior who is doing her thesis with me right now. She’s getting to do what she really loves, biostatistics, and she’s working on a Lyme simulation model with an ecological mathematician at Old Dominion University and myself. We’re examining different control methods that might be used to effectively control Lyme disease risk, particularly in different regions of the country.”

“My hope is that over the next six months or so, we can get published the work that Leemu and Shravani have been doing,” Gleim added. “And down the line, we may begin to examine other tick species and pathogens in addition to further exploring our questing behavior work.”

This article has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on the Hollins University website.

Dr. Sarah Imam of The Citadel Teaches Students the Human Side of Medicine

In today’s age of advanced medicine, high-tech equipment and cutting-edge facilities, healthcare professionals might not always remember that their patients are people, too, with life stories that matter to them and to those who love them. But Capt. Sarah Imam, M.D., a past Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner, hasn’t forgotten. And as a professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel, she doesn’t let her students forget either.

When personal narratives become engulfed in a medical worker’s rapid-fire shuttle from one patient to the next, an important part of the healthcare equation gets lost. Dr. Imam wants to make healthcare more personal. In 2018 she started a study-abroad program in Lithuania to give students an opportunity to gain shadowing experience with healthcare professionals for four weeks. But Dr. Imam required her students to do more than just observe. They had to reflect on what they’d seen and write case studies.

Related: Professors at The Citadel develop courses to help students address UN sustainable development goals

“A student shadowing a neurosurgeon may see a case of a hemorrhage, for example,” she said. “And that student may see a surgical repair. We want them to learn more than that. We want to know what brought the patient to the point of treatment that the student witnesses and what the treatment plan is beyond that point. Students need to understand the whole picture and realize that they’re dealing with a living, breathing person, not just a case. And that requires compassion.”

Due to COVID-19, The Citadel was forced to suspend its Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 study-abroad programming. But prior to the pandemic, students took full advantage of the opportunity to experience a different kind of healthcare system in action. Lithuania, which offers universal healthcare, ranks in the top 20 percent of healthcare systems worldwide. Dr. Imam wanted to expose students to this system, where they could observe its strengths and weaknesses while also learning the importance of empathy in medical care.

According to Dr. Imam, the study-abroad program allowed students greater access to patients than they might get in the U.S., where patient privacy laws restrict access. With admission to healthcare graduate programs becoming increasingly competitive, private companies that offer medical shadowing experience abroad have become commonplace, she noted. “What makes The Citadel program different is that we give them academic credit hours and we give them much more than just a superficial shadowing experience. We teach them to ask questions and to study what they are seeing. They get to know the patient and put a history with the medical case.”

Dr. Sarah Imam

Dr. Imam joined The Citadel faculty in 2015. While pursuing her M.D. at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), she came in second place for the school’s Resident/Fellow Research Award in 2005 and won the Junior Investigators Award from the American Academy of Neurology that same year.

She added the Sullivan Award to her list of accolades in 2019. The award is given to Citadel faculty members and students “in recognition of high thought and noble endeavor.” Examples of her service and compassion can be found in her work at the Lowcountry Food Bank, Random Acts of Kindness, the Special Olympics Buddy Dance, a free medical clinic, and MUSC volunteer programs.

Related: Honors student who fed thousands and rape survivor advocate receive Sullivan Awards at The Citadel

And that’s just scratching the surface of Dr. Imam’s accomplishments. As the pandemic began to worsen last spring, she led an initiative to address a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for South Carolina’s healthcare workers. Teaming up with The Citadel’s James Bezjian, Ph.D., and Daniel Hawkins, Dr. Imam began to manufacture N95 medical masks using 3D printers in The Citadel Makerspace, an innovative lab in the Daniel Library.

Together, the three colleagues have expertise in 3D scanning, 3D printing and medicine. Bezjian is a professor of entrepreneurship and the director of the Innovation Lab in the Baker School of Business. Hawkins is an academic technology librarian who also serves as the faculty advisor for the student Makerspace Club.

“At a time when there were so many people on the front line risking their lives and there was panic about the unknown, it was gratifying to be able to do something to help,” said Dr. Imam.

this is a photo of a 3D printer used by Dr. Sarah Imam to create protective masks for healthcare workers

Dr. Imam and colleagues at The Citadel used 3D printing to create more than 1,000 masks for healthcare workers.

The Citadel team began printing the MUSC-designed masks, which are made out of a firm plastic material, at the end of March and continued through the first week of August. With the help of a couple of cadets and some volunteers, the trio produced 1,000 masks during that four-month period. The parts for each mask took nine hours to print, but the really labor-intensive challenge, according to Imam, was the assembly, which included putting together a filtration cartridge and attaching a rubber tubing seal and a piece of elastic.

Fortunately, a team of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Charleston and the Corps of Cadets pitched in to get the work done. “There was a lot of momentum, and it spread like wildfire,” said Dr. Imam. “We had people volunteering to help us from all over. Even kids were mailing in parts that they manufactured from home on their own 3D printers.”

Before long, the initiative had spread across the state. Coastal Carolina University also agreed to use its 3D printers to create masks, and the entire South Carolina Commission of Higher Education joined the effort, committing all of the state’s public universities to the project.

3D-printed masks

Communities in Charlotte, Chicago and New York also followed The Citadel’s lead and began producing masks for local use.

As faculty administrator for The Citadel Health Careers Society, Dr. Imam also oversaw a project last fall for Soldiers’ Angels, a San Antonio-based nonprofit that provides aid, comfort and resources to active-duty service members and veterans. Students in the society, joined by others from The Citadel, spent a Friday morning in early October volunteering with Soldiers’ Angels and supplied food assistance to low-income veteran families in the Charleston area. About 250 veterans were served, and each received about 70 pounds of food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, grains, frozen chicken, many varieties of frozen meals, canned goods and drinks.

“We simply have the best at The Citadel,” Dr. Imam noted. “Not only did this group of cadets and students volunteer, they did so wholeheartedly and with enthusiasm. They interacted with the veterans, addressed them with courtesy, asked them about their branch and thanked them for their service.”

Related: Cadet leader at The Citadel walks 24 hours straight to learn empathy with Black Americans

In total, 25 cadets, one veteran graduate student and three members of the faculty and staff turned out to help veterans in need. “I had students from across the school, from all majors—not just those that are pursuing a health career—who joined in with [the event],” Imam said. “These students genuinely care about our community and our veterans.”

Dr. Imam cares just as much. She “embodies the richest qualities that define the Sullivan Award,” according to a statement from The Citadel, and “for the spirit of love and helpfulness that she has exhibited.” But she’s happiest in the classroom. “I found my calling in teaching,” she notes on her LinkedIn page, “and I love what I do.”

this photo shows Dr. Sarah Imam of The Citadel receiving the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award

Dr. Sarah Imam receives the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award (photo by Louis Brems – The Citadel
SY 18-19, South Carolina Corps of Cadets Graduation, Corps, Cadets)

Col. Elizabeth Steadman: A Hero in Peace and in War

After serving in Operation Desert Storm, this Clemson School of Nursing pioneer went on to become the highest-ranking female service member in Afghanistan.

Elizabeth “Libby” Steadman, an alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school Clemson University, didn’t set out to break new ground for women, serve her country in two wars or be enshrined in a museum in Washington, D.C. But most people who lead extraordinary lives don’t plan to do so. Making a significant impact often comes naturally.

Steadman grew up in the mid-1950s and ’60s amid peach, corn and cattle farms in Moore, South Carolina, then a rural community just south of Spartanburg and east of Greenville. Her father, Bernard, built houses. Her mother, Mary, was a homemaker and part-time substitute schoolteacher. It was an archetypal childhood for a young American girl before the revival of feminism in the late 1960s when young women in America had limited paths in life. It was a time when most young girls in the Upstate were encouraged to be either teachers or nurses.

Steadman leaned toward nursing from a very young age, an instinct that eventually led her to groundbreaking heights as a health care worker and soldier.

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this is a photo of Col. Elizabeth Steadman in Clemson University's school colors

Col. Elizabeth Steadman proudly wears Clemson orange to this day.

Touched by the Angel Flyers
The journey began when she was a clarinet player for the Dorman High School band and visited Clemson during a “band day,” when high school bands from all over South Carolina were invited to come watch a Clemson Tigers football game. The experience was transformative for her. She decided that day she was going to become a Tiger.

When Clemson added a nursing program to its roster in 1965, she focused her sights on it. In 1966, she joined the second-ever nursing class at Clemson.

“Most of the students were local,” Steadman said. “There was one girl from Connecticut and one from Georgia, but it was primarily local girls, and that was probably the attraction for all of us then.”

It was the first year Clemson had women’s residence halls on campus. She remembers seeing her fellow students in the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps practicing drill and ceremony on Bowman Field as she walked to and from class. Among them were several groups of women.

“I remember specifically seeing groups of women wearing Air Force uniforms,” she recalled. “They were called the Angel Flyers, and they functioned as hostesses for the men’s honorary Air Force society. I thought they were the real thing at the time. They would be out on the parade grounds in their uniforms while we were having class, and I was always kind of envious. I aspired to be like them.”

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At the time, the Vietnam War was making headlines almost every day. Steadman would watch the female cadets in their crisp uniforms marching in neat rows across the grass and feel a sharp desire to serve. But she didn’t want to put her parents through the stress of their only child going to Vietnam, so she resisted enlisting.

“Of course, 20 years later I put them through two wars when they were much older,” she said with a wry laugh. “I think I spent much of my life doing penance for not going to Vietnam.”

Elizabeth Steadman’s 1968 Clemson photo

A Crazy Idea
Steadman earned her associate’s degree in nursing in 1968 and went to work in Spartanburg for three years, then for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) in Charleston, where she spent five years in the intensive care unit while working to earn a bachelor’s degree.

One day a coworker came to her with a crazy idea.

“She said, ‘I think we should join the Air Force Reserve,’” Steadman said. “She had gathered all the information, but it turned out the Air Force would not accept me because of a technicality. They wouldn’t accept someone with a nursing associate’s degree unless the university was accredited, and to be accredited the program had to be at least 2 years old.”

The Clemson nursing program was too young when she graduated, so she couldn’t join the Air Force, but the bug had been put in her ear. One of the nurses she worked with in the MUSC intensive care unit served during the Vietnam War and was still attached to a small Army Reserve hospital unit in Charleston.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you try coming to our unit?’” Steadman said. “I thought, ‘OK, why not?’ I applied and, to my surprise, I got in—so I kind of joined the military on a whim.”

It was 1974. Because she had six years of experience as a nurse at MUSC, she was commissioned as a first lieutenant. The vast majority of U.S. military officers commission at the lesser rank of second lieutenant, so her Army career was extraordinary from the start.

Steadman worked at MUSC and drilled with Army Reserve hospital units in the Charleston area for two years before moving to Birmingham, Alabama, to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in cardiovascular nursing. Three years later, she relocated to Savannah, Georgia, and became part of the 345th Combat Support Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, steadily gaining leadership experience and rising up the ranks.

Col. Steadman treats casualties in a MASH unit in Iraq during Desert Storm.

Off to War
By the time she was sent to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, Steadman was a lieutenant colonel.

“We got to Dummam [Saudi Arabia] a couple of days before the air war started,” Steadman recalled. “I was in charge of emergency and critical care. We sat for 10 days or so at the port waiting for our equipment because it came by boat. While we were waiting there in warehouses, the air war started. I remember our commander saying, ‘Oh don’t worry, they [Scud missiles] can’t reach this far.’”

He was wrong. For the next few weeks, Steadman would listen to the Gulf War taking place right over her head.

“We could hear the Patriot missiles launch and then hear them destroy the Scuds,” Steadman recalled. “One night it happened right over us, and we could hear the shrapnel raining down on the roof of the warehouse.”

Steadman’s unit was assigned as the farthest forward MASH, supporting the 3rd Armored Division as it pushed inland. The ground war ended after just 100 hours, so her MASH unit never had time to fully stand up. Instead, Steadman and her fellow nurses flew in Chinook helicopters to help other MASH units. They operated out of tents in the middle of the desert, helping patients who were mostly Iraqi woman and children injured by stepping on unexploded ordinance.

Related: Auburn and other Sullivan Foundation partner schools are developing rural pharmacies in the Southeast

When she came back to the states, Steadman spent several years teaching the Combat Trauma Nursing Course to military units all over the U.S. In 1995, she became the chief nurse of the 818th Medical Brigade in Atlanta, commanding all Army Reserve medical units in South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.

In 1998, Steadman was accepted to the U.S. Army War College, the highest level of military education and required for general officers. She graduated with 21 other female officers in a class of 225. Afterward, she transferred to Army Civil Affairs which, like the Rangers and Green Berets, is part of Special Operations Command.

this is a photo of Col. Elizabeth Steadman of the Medical Service Corps in Kabul, Afghanistan

Col. Elizabeth Steadman (left) with Lt. Col. Joe Windham of the Medical Service Corps at the gate to their compound in Kabul.

A Country in Chaos
She returned to war less than a year after 9/11 as part of the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade, attached to the 18th Airborne Corps, the first major unit to go into Afghanistan after special operations forces. By that time Steadman had been promoted to colonel, which made her the highest-ranking female service member in Afghanistan.

This time, the mission was to support Afghanistan’s central government by working with the various ministries (health, education, interior etc.). She made it a point not to allow her rank or gender to keep her from doing anything male soldiers did, like unloading trucks or pulling middle-of-the-night guard duty.

Steadman recounted how she would visit hospitals around Kabul with other members of her unit. She remembers how the country was in chaos when they got there, with no light, electricity or water throughout much of the city, making driving the streets hazardous. As a civil affairs element, part of the mission was to support and strengthen the medical infrastructure of the city. They would drive to the hospitals in their Army vehicles, always leaving at least one person at the vehicle to post “car guard” while the others went in.

When Steadman had car guard duty, it always attracted attention.

“I’d take my turn, and the locals would just be in awe seeing a female in uniform. The men and children would encircle me and just inch in closer and closer to get a look,” she said, speaking about how dangerous it was in an almost nonchalant tone. “It wasn’t scary, because it was just so interesting. There were always mortar rounds coming into Kabul, but they had terrible aim, so they’d land in the street mostly.”

Steadman retired from the Army in 2004 and from MUSC in 2012. She worked at MUSC for a total of 33 years in a variety of capacities, the last 15 as a nurse practitioner and instructor in the College of Medicine. Along the way she earned master’s degrees from the University of Alabama in cardiovascular nursing and from the Army War College in strategic studies. She also earned a post-master’s certificate from the University of South Carolina as an acute care practitioner. (Both the University of Alabama and the University of South Carolina are Sullivan Foundation partner schools.)

this photo shows Col. Elizabeth Steadman in a German field hospital in Kabul during the Afghanistan war

Col. Steadman is shown here with a German commander in a German field hospital in Kabul.

A Military Pioneer
Retirement has not stopped Steadman from serving others. She’s spent the last six years volunteering as a primary care provider at a free clinic in Beaufort, which quickly became one of her favorite jobs ever. “I wouldn’t want to get paid for it,” she said.

In 2005, Steadman responded to a request from the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, which was preparing to open a section dedicated to military women during the War on Terror. It is the only major national memorial honoring U.S. servicewomen and now displays Steadman’s uniform and pictures as one of the modern pioneers of women who served their country. She’s characteristically modest about the honor.

“I am just one among many honored at the memorial,” Steadman said, emphasizing she attended the dedication alongside hundreds of service women from all branches of the military. But her unusually high rank attracted attention.

“We had the best opportunity to mingle that day and meet women who served before we were born, including one from World War I. Several World War II and Korea veterans asked to have pictures taken with me since I was a colonel.”

Related: Lincoln Memorial University student gives friend a lifesaving gift for Christmas

Karon Donald, program manager for Clemson University Commissions, including the Commission on Women, said Steadman’s story is inspiring to Clemson women, including herself. Donald said she felt an immediate connection to Steadman and her remarkable journey as her youngest daughter graduated from Clemson’s nursing program in 2016. Donald has family that served in Operation Desert Storm, and her great aunt was an Air Force veteran who served as a nurse overseas during World War II.

“There are so many parallels with my family history that makes her feel like family,” said Donald. “I know first-hand the level of dedication and service Col. Steadman exemplifies. She is truly a remarkable person, and I am in awe of all she has accomplished. I’m honored we are a part of the same Clemson Family.”

Reflecting on her career in nursing, Steadman marveled at how much the profession has changed since she first stepped onto the Clemson campus as a wide-eyed and hopeful nursing student.

“I really do encourage people to go into nursing because there are so many different opportunities in that career field now,” she said. “When I graduated, you could either work in a doctor’s office or in a hospital. Now, if you don’t like bedside nursing—which is all many people equate nursing to—there are so many other things that can be done and so many opportunities for advancement and education.”

Nursing has been described as “both an art and a science, a heart and a mind,” a sentiment encapsulated in Steadman’s extraordinary career, and she says it all began with choosing the right profession. “I don’t think there are too many other careers today that have so many different paths,” she said. “I’m so thankful for all the opportunities nursing has afforded me, and it all started at Clemson.”

This article has been edited and condensed from the original version appearing on the Clemson University website.

LMU Medical Student Gives Best Friend a Lifesaving Christmas Gift

By Summer Martin, Lincoln Memorial University

David Steele will receive the Christmas gift of a lifetime this year: a kidney from his good friend Michael Agostino, a medical student at Sullivan Foundation partner school Lincoln Memorial University (LMU).

Agostino will spend a big part of his Christmas break at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, undergoing surgery to donate a kidney to Steele. The surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, December 29, with an expected hospital discharge of December 31, just in time for the New Year.

Related: Lincoln Memorial University student Victoria Orlando serves the sick and dying in nursing home

Update: The transplant was a success, and both Agostino and Steele were released from Vanderbilt University Medical Center on New Year’s Day, three days after the transplant.

Agostino, who hails from Franklin, Tenn., and Steele, of Thompsons Station, Tenn., met while working at Waffle House when Agostino was in college in 2011. Since then, Agostino has helped his friend through many diabetic complications, including a leg amputation, driving David to many doctor’s appointments, amputation clinic appointments, physical therapy and visiting him in the hospital on multiple occasions.

Steele’s kidney function has been declining for some time, and he was put on the national registry for kidney transplant in 2018. Agostino and Steele were shocked to find out they were a match since their blood types were opposite, O+ and O-.

“For a long time, I assumed we wouldn’t match because of our blood types,” said Agostino, a second-year student at LMU’s DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine (LMU-DCOM). “However, earlier this year I found out about a national organ trading program that allows you to exchange organs with other donors who don’t match their intended recipients. I didn’t know what the odds of matching in that program was, but I figured if there was a chance Dave could get a new kidney, I had to get tested.”

While several markers are tested, the drugs to prevent organ rejection from a kidney transplant have greatly improved so that only an ABO match is necessary.

Agostino and Steele recuperate in the hospital the day after the successful kidney transplant.

After an initial online screening, Agostino was sent a test kit in the mail, which he took to the nearest lab to complete his blood work. Once the results showed they were a match, the hospital called to confirm his interest and sent him for more labs to evaluate his kidney function. After those results came back well, Agostino had to meet with a social worker to review the legalities and have a psychosocial review.

“I had to answer questions to help them determine why I wanted to donate, if I was competent to go through this process, and if I have a good support system,” Agostino said. “Next was the day of testing at Vanderbilt, where I met with doctors, nurses and a nutritionist as well as had a battery of tests, X-rays, contrast CT, ECG, echo and more blood work. Once everything was complete, the transplant committee officially approved me to donate.”

The Great Cat Migration gets underway at Lincoln Memorial University

Agostino was able to plan the procedure to happen over winter break so as not to affect his last year of didactic studies at LMU-DCOM.

“As a student I feel like I better understand how important living donors are to reducing the shortage of organ donations and improving patient outcomes,” said Agostino.

According to the National Kidney Foundation website, there are over 100,000 people currently waiting for a kidney transplant. A kidney transplant on average doubles life expectancy and those who receive a kidney sooner typically have better outcomes. One of the benefits of receiving a kidney from a living donor is that it usually functions immediately because the kidney is out of the body for a very short time.

The decision to donate a kidney can be overwhelming.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t really know what I’m getting into,” Agostino said. “Not only have I never had surgery before, I’ve never even had stitches or been admitted to an emergency room, Agostino said. “What kind of friend would I be if I said I would do anything for him, but I couldn’t step into his shoes for even a moment? Of course, I have some concerns, but they’re nothing compared to what Dave has to deal with every day. I decided I want to be a person who would never give up on a friend and could inspire others to have hope in times that seem hopeless.”

This life-saving surgery means Steele will have many more years to spend with his friend, and he plans to start making memories by taking his friend to a live wrestling show once they are able.

“It means everything to me to know that my best friend cares about me so much that he would do this. It just makes me feel so blessed,” Steele said. “What am I looking forward to after the procedure? Mike has never been to a live wrestling show, and I’m a big wrestling fan. We watch it on TV when he is home on breaks, so I would like for us to go experience that.”

If Agostino could give one word of advice to others thinking of donating their kidney, he said, “The general impression that I’ve gotten from others who have donated is that I’ll never know it’s gone. Since I can’t speak to that yet, I would say, don’t be afraid if you know it’s right for you.”

This story has been edited from the original version appearing on the Lincoln Memorial University website.