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Tragedy turns into advocacy

Advocate Patty Skolnik speaks to students in the IPED course.
Advocate Patty Skolnik speaks to students in the IPED course.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon on the Anschutz Medical Campus, students in the Interprofessional Education and Development (IPED) course welcomed some special visitors to their classrooms: patients, acting as advocates, were there to speak about how future health care professionals can empower patients to be health care partners.

More than 700 CU Anschutz students from the Anesthesia Assistant Program, School of Dental MedicineSchool of Medicine, College of Nursing, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical SciencesPhysical Therapy Program, and Physician Assistant Program met with patient advocates including Patty Skolnik, whose mission comes from a personal passion. She believes that better communication might have saved the life of her only child, Michael.

Skolnik’s presence on campus is the fulfillment of a promise she made to her son Michael, a nursing student who loved working in medicine. She vowed that she would work to improve communication between health care professionals and patients.

“I want patients and their families to know their rights and be presented with options,” she said.

Tragedy turns into a mission of advocacy

In 2001, Michael had a seizure while visiting his parents. On the advice of a neurosurgeon, who thought he saw an abnormality on his brain in a CT scan, Michael had emergency surgery at a community hospital in Colorado, not affiliated with the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. No tumor was found, and he never recovered from the operation. Three years after the surgery, he died.

Patty Skolnik, founder of Citizens for Patient Safety.
Patty Skolnik, founder of Citizens for Patient Safety.

After Michael died, his case was reviewed, and although the neurosurgeon’s actions were found to be “within the standard of care,” Skolnik believes that the decision to have surgery was rushed in the hectic hours after his seizure. She believes that Michael and the family were not informed of all their available options, including not having surgery.

From this tragedy, Skolnik’s patient advocacy was born. She has testified at the state capitol, been involved in creating legislation to increase transparency about health care and produced PSAs about patient rights. A large part of Skolnik’s work for Citizens for Patient Safety, the organization she founded in 2005 to improve health literacy and empowerment in patients, is visiting medical campuses around the country.

Advocates at Anschutz

‘I find it empowering to communicate in a team environment that will contribute to providing the best care possible.’ – Tanya Gunter, a student in the College of Nursing

CU Anschutz has made the perspective of patient advocates one of the key components of the curriculum for the IPED course required of students from the anesthesiology assistant, dental, medical, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, and physician assistant programs. The class places students in interprofessional teams to review case studies, discuss shared approaches to healthcare, develop teamwork and collaboration skills and have their work reviewed by interprofessional faculty from the health professions programs on campus and community.

“The course is designed to provide experiential learning about the power of teamwork and collaboration while highlighting key principles around roles and responsibilities, values and ethics, quality and safety,” said Suzanne Brandenburg, MD, professor and facilitator for the class that Skolnik visited. “It prepares our students to become effective health care providers in real health care teams.”

The course, which extends over two semesters, also provides students with a new perspective for their future professions: patients as partners working jointly with their health care providers to co-develop a plan for their health care. The course develops this perspective gradually. “Engaging with patients and seeing them as partners in their care is an attitude that needs to be developed over time,” said Wendy Madigosky, MD, MSPH, director of the IPED course.

Suzanne Brandenburg, MD and facilitator of an IPED class.
Suzanne Brandenburg, MD and facilitator of an IPED class.

The students appreciate the interprofessional experiences that the course offers them. “This course has helped me cultivate respect for the other health professions and how they each work to take care of patients,” said Jessica Smith, a School of Medicine student.

Wendy Madigosky, MD, MSPH and director of the IPED course.
Wendy Madigosky, MD, MSPH and director of the IPED course.


Empowering students to empower patients

On the day of Skolnik’s visit, student teams, consisting of one student from each school or program where possible, discussed the case study they had been assigned. Each student made suggestions about listening to patient concerns and inviting partnership based on the unique perspective of their field.

“As a future nurse, I find it empowering to communicate in a team environment that will contribute to providing the best care possible,” Tanya Gunter, a student in the College of Nursing, said. “Each member of the patient’s health care team needs to be asking the patient how they feel about their health care plan.”

Jason Platt, a student in the Physical Therapy Program in the School of Medicine, agreed. “Every provider needs to be comfortable encouraging patients to speak up,” he said. “If the patient doesn’t understand, they aren’t empowered.”

At the end of the day, Skolnik reminds the students that their discussions are not just hypothetical. As future health care professionals, they could be her doctor, physical therapist or nurse one day. “This generation of students can change the culture of medicine to one of seeing patients as a resource and a partner,” she said.

Advocating for Patients Rights: For more information about Skolnik’s advocacy, please visit the website for her organization, Citizens for Patient Safety.

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Police chief retires, reflects on celebrated career

Doug Abraham, Chief of Police for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
Doug Abraham, retiring Chief of Police for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Two armed-robbery suspects tried to evade police in a crowded parking lot. Doug Abraham rammed the vehicle to immobilize it and one of the suspects jumped out with a gun. Abraham fired on him, missing, and followed him on foot into a department store. The driver continued in the vehicle, pursued by other officers. Abraham was alone, the radio wasn’t working and he couldn’t get backup.

Apprehending the suspect without injury earned Abraham the Distinguished Service Cross for Heroism from the Aurora Police Department in 1980. Now, as retiring Chief of Police for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Abraham is thankful that most police officers will never have to face a life-or-death decision like he has.

An alumnus working in the community

He says that while the role of police officers was once to catch the bad guys and solve crimes, now the trend is toward preventative measures and community relationships. Abraham is recognized among his peers as being particularly gifted in these areas. As an alumnus of the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs (SPA), he cites the master’s program, as well as his early work in the Aurora PD, for preparing him for what would become the emphasis of his career.

While a division chief in Aurora PD, Abraham was in the first cohort of SPA’s master’s program in executive leadership in policing and criminal justice, taking classes with practitioners from all levels of government. Abraham is still friends with half his CU Denver classmates, including Mike Phibbs, current Chief of Police of the Auraria Campus Police Department.

“I became friends with Doug Abraham almost 15 years ago while in graduate school, and he has been a great friend and mentor ever since,” Phibbs said. “I don’t think my transition to campus law enforcement would have been nearly as successful without his help and guidance.”

Relationships make policing successful

At CU Anschutz, Abraham and his 29 full-time law-enforcement officers make many traffic stops, but write few tickets. It’s an approach that’s indicative of Abraham’s take on police work in general. Give out warnings for first offenders, change behavior, develop a relationship with the community, and let folks know the police are also on campus to help them find solutions to their concerns.

“For the young pups coming into a career in police work, don’t ever lose the comfort you have with talking with people,” Abraham said.

After nearly three decades of working with communities in Aurora, including 12 and half years at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, Abraham has learned that city neighborhoods are harder to influence than a university campus. A neighborhood is a small slice of a city’s population, he said, and it’s often characterized by a transient residents who have their own interests and ways of problem solving. On a densely-populated university campus such as CU Anschutz Medical Campus, meanwhile, most of the roughly 55,000 daily visitors are the same and they typically have a vested interest in the success of the campus.

He likens the differences to owning vs. renting a car.

“If you rent a car and it has a shimmy in the front end, you return it to the rental company, get a new one, and go about your business. If the car you own has the same shimmy, you fix it, because that’s the car you have to drive tomorrow and the next day,” Abraham said.

The Aurora PD was one of the first police forces nationally to adopt a policy of community policing, where an officer’s performance was qualitatively rated based on problem-solving skills rather than his or her arrest record. The practice promoted relationship-building in the community, which is exactly what made Abraham such a perfect fit for his leadership position at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “For the young pups coming into a career in police work, don’t ever lose the comfort you have with talking with people,” he said. “Open up opportunities to interact, because that’s when you find out what’s happening on campus. Relationships make policing successful.”

Life in retirement

As for his retirement, Abraham has many plans. He and his wife just bought a country home and are working to remodel it. “I’ve got two grandkids that I would love to spend more time with,” he said. “It’s a tough career on families, and my wife has toughed it out for 42 years. I’ve got three daughters and we’re all doing great, so I’m very fortunate to have a family that is very supportive.

“I’m looking forward to a new normal,” the chief said.

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Donor dinner recognizes the power of giving

“They told me I had less than a year to live, and here I am four years later.”  – Polly Rogers, patient at University of Colorado Cancer Center

It is with the generosity and vision of Joyce Zeff and the Zeff family that Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, is pioneering new treatment options for people like Polly Rogers diagnosed with lung cancer. When Denver philanthropist Joyce Zeff was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2014, she was focused on living her life on her own terms and dancing at her grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah.

While stage IV lung cancer is oftentimes considered a death sentence, Camidge said, “Whilst we would love to turn lung cancer into a curable disease, the immediate goal is to turn it into a long-term controllable disease.” And that is just what his current research is doing with the help of philanthropic support. Zeff made it to her grandson’s bar mitzvah, before passing away in 2015. Zeff and her family created an endowed chair, currently held by Camidge, so others in the Rocky Mountain region would have access to the world-class care Zeff received.

CU President Bruce Benson and Marcy Benson
CU President Bruce Benson and CU First Lady Marcy Benson speak at the 10th Annual Donor Recognition Dinner.

Every year, the Donor Recognition Dinner honors CU’s dedicated philanthropic community and provides updates for both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. This year, the Daniels Fund, Comcast and Joyce Zeff and the Zeff Family were honored for their outstanding commitment to CU.

2016 Honorees

  • Comcast: Global media and technology company Comcast provides critical resources for students at CU Denver. The company supports learning opportunities in the College of Engineering and Applied Science and the College of Arts & Media, as well as student veterans through the Office of Veteran & Military Student Services.
  • Daniels Fund: Support from the Daniels Fund is central to several programs at both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. From funding for the Addiction Research and Treatment Services program to scholarships at the Business School and much more, the Daniels Fund is helping CU transform lives in the Denver metro area.
  • Joyce Zeff and the Zeff Family: Zeff’s legacy lives on throughout the entire Denver metro area, and her gift to CU is just one example. The named endowed chair in lung cancer research is allowing breakthroughs in the lab to reach patient bedsides quicker than ever before.
CU First Lady Marcy Benson and leaders
Pictured from left at the Donor Recognition Dinner are Andrea Wagner, Vice Chancellor of Advancement, CU Denver; CU First Lady Marcy Benson; Regina Kilkenny, Chief of Staff, Office of the CU Denver Chancellor; and Leanna Clark, Vice Chancellor of University Communications

Videos detailing the generosity of each honoree were presented at the dinner.

Guests enjoyed a musical performance by CU Denver student group, Voz de la Clave, and mingled with other benefactors, faculty and staff. There were also four activities sponsored by students and faculty from each campus. Activities included learning wellness techniques, an interactive art project, a virtual-reality experiment and a Lego project illustrating mechanisms for preventing dental decay.

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell and Nadeen Ibrahim
CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell stands with CU Denver student Nadeen Ibrahim who was recently named 2017 Colorado Student Leader.

Chancellor Dorothy Horrell gave updates for CU Denver, noting its unique place as Colorado’s only public urban research university. She also recognized the hard work of students around campus, touting the campus’ diversity. Of note, student Nadeen Ibrahim attended and was recognized for her outstanding contribution to CU Denver and her many accomplishments as a pre-med student. Horrell said, “Those of you who have generously invested in CU Denver scholarships help students like Nadeen make the most of their education. Scholarships for these hard-working students are investments in their lives and in Colorado’s future.”

Chancellor Don Elliman gave an overview of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and recognized the benefactors making the research, education and clinical care possible. Elliman said, “We’ve attracted some of the best minds in medicine and health from around the globe – more than 300 new faculty last year alone.” Much of this growth is because of the continued support of philanthropy and other private support, which reached a record $203 million in the last fiscal year.

Guest contributor: Devin Lynn, development writer. 

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Most remaining smokers in US have low socioeconomic status

After decades of declining US smoking rates overall, most remaining smokers have low income, no college education, no health insurance or a disability, according to research from the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz.

About 15 percent of US adults – more than 36 million – continue to smoke cigarettes. Half to three-fourths of them have one or more low-socioeconomic disadvantages, and the lowest socioeconomic categories have the highest smoking rates. The study concludes that continuing tobacco use is now concentrated among the least advantaged portion of society.

“It’s unusual to find part of the population experiencing high rates of a health problem and also representing the majority of affected people,” said study author Arnold Levinson, associate professor of community and behavioral health at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. “But with smoking, we have this unusual situation: Americans with lower socioeconomic status today are suffering from epidemic smoking rates, and they make up nearly three-fourths of all our remaining smokers.”

The research, published February in the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, used data from a national survey which the University of Colorado directed in 2012.

The continued epidemic can’t be blamed on lack of desire to quit or efforts to quit. According to the report, numerous studies have found no socioeconomic differences in smokers’ desires to quit or attempts to quit. Instead, the disparities persist and have widened because lower socioeconomic smokers who try to quit are less likely to succeed.

“In the last half-century, public health efforts helped cut the smoking rate by more than half, but we probably need to change our strategies for helping smokers quit,” Levinson said. “The methods that worked for the upper half of society don’t seem to be working well for the other half.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US, causing more than 480,000 premature deaths every year, or one of every five deaths.

Levinson said, “Now the nation’s public health system has a dual moral obligation toward smokers of low socioeconomic class. We must eliminate the disparity in smoking rates, and we must provide cessation-supporting services to the new majority of smokers.”

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Graduate programs at University of Colorado earn national accolades

The University of Colorado’s four campuses earned dozens of rankings in just-released lists of graduate programs compiled by U.S. News & World Report, which annually highlights the best in research and teaching across the country.

U.S. News ranks programs in business, education, engineering, law, nursing and medicine. Rankings are based on expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students. The publication aims to provide a tool to students and parents who are comparing college programs at accredited public and private universities in the United States.

Below is a sampling of CU’s rankings from the 2018 edition of Best Graduate Schools (U.S. News Media Group), as made available in advance by U.S. News. Some rankings include ties with other institutions:

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

School of Medicine

  • Top 10: The school ranks third nationally for family medicine, sixth for pediatrics, sixth for rural medicine and eighth for primary care.
  • The school ranks 35th overall for research.

College of Nursing

  • The college’s nursing master’s degree is 26th; doctor of nursing practice, 34th.

Graduate School

  • Top 10: The master’s program for physician assistant ranks fifth.
  • Among master’s/doctorate programs in physical therapy, the program ranks 15th.

Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • The school ranks 22nd nationally for the doctor of pharmacy program.

University of Colorado Denver

  • CU Denver schools and programs that are ranked include health care management (23), School of Public Affairs (34), biological sciences (75), the Business School’s part-time MBA program (84) and the School of Education and Human Development (120).

University of Colorado Boulder

  • No. 1: CU Boulder holds the top ranking nationally for atomic/molecular/optical physics.
  • Top 10: CU Boulder holds a top ranking for ceramics (fifth). It also lands spots for environmental law (sixth), environmental engineering/environmental health engineering (ninth) and aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical engineering (10th).

University of Colorado Colorado Springs

  • At UCCS, the part-time MBA is No. 46. The nursing master’s degree at the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences ranks 52nd; the doctorate of nursing practice, 54th.

The U.S. News data come from statistical surveys sent to administrators at more than 1,970 graduate programs and from reputation surveys sent to more than 16,500 academics and professionals in the disciplines. Surveys were conducted during the fall of 2016 and in early 2017.

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States can lower risk of measles outbreak by strengthening exemption policies

States with weaker non-medical exemption policies for vaccinations can reduce the likelihood of a measles outbreak 140 to 190 percent by strengthening them, a new study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus shows.

Researchers said the magnitude of those outbreaks can also be cut in half by strengthening exemption policies for children.

“In the year 2000 measles was no longer being transmitted in the U.S.,” said the study’s lead author Melanie Whittington, PhD., a health services researcher. “Compare that to 2015 when we had over 150 cases in the first three months. Suddenly measles is an issue again despite having an effective vaccine.”

Jonathan Campbell, associate professor at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Jonathan Campbell, associate professor at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is senior author of the paper.

Whittington and her colleagues, including the study’s senior author Jonathan Campbell, PhD, associate professor of clinical pharmacy at the CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, wanted to find out why.

Using mathematical models, they simulated the magnitude, likelihood and cost of a measles outbreak under different non-medical vaccine exemption policies.

Every state has such policies. Those with “easy” exemption policies typically only require a parent signature on a standardized form. States with “medium” exemption policies require parents to obtain a form from a health department and/or attend an educational session on vaccinations, or write a statement of objection. Finally, states with “difficult” exemption policies require parents to get a standardized form or statement of objection notarized.

The researchers, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Immunization Study, found easier non-medical vaccine exemption policies to be associated with a greater risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

The state they modeled was Colorado, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates for measles. Only 87.4 percent of children between the ages of 19-35 months are covered. And 5 percent of kindergartners report an exemption.

“We modeled an environment where the population had low vaccination coverage and then simulated measles outbreaks under different exemption policies,” said Whittington. “We found that a state like Colorado is 140 to 190 percent more likely to experience an outbreak with an easy exemption policy than if it had a medium or difficult non-medical exemption policy.  The outbreak size can also be reduced nearly by half with stronger policies.”

While the researchers focused on measles, strengthening exemption policies could benefit other vaccine-preventable diseases, such as mumps.

“There is a tradeoff here,” said Campbell, who specializes in pharmaceutical outcomes research. “It’s a trade between freedom and risk. Are we willing to give up a small piece of freedom that nudges us toward vaccination in order to halve the risk of a detrimental outbreak of a preventable disease?  I think Colorado should be willing to make that trade.”

The researchers urged the strengthening of non-medical exemption policies as a way to increase vaccination coverage.

“We are not saying you can’t have non-medical exemptions,” Campbell and Whittington said. “But if we strengthen them, we can improve health and reduce the economic impact of a potential outbreak.”

The study was published online this month in Academic Pediatrics.

The co-authors include Allison Kempe, MD, MPH; Amanda Dempsey, MD, PhD and Rachel Herlihy, MD, MPH.

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Vitiligo researcher pushes limits in lab and in life

Richard Spritz on South Georgia island
Richard Spritz, MD, making the Shackleton Traverse, a trek across South Georgia island.

Geneticist Richard Spritz, MD, likes to be on the edge. Spritz, the Director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s (SOM) Human Medical Genetics and Genomics Program, loves the rush he gets from pushing his vintage Porsche 911 around a racetrack. He hikes in the Himalayas, and spent his most recent vacation trekking across a remote island, following the footsteps of famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

A career spent in a laboratory might seem less exciting, but not for Spritz. While he once was an accomplished mountain climber and survived two avalanches while backcountry skiing, he says his passion is not for taking risks—it is for the thrill of doing something new.

“I think that science is an incredibly adventurous thing. You’re always pushing beyond what’s known,” Spritz said. “I’m not an adrenaline junkie. Other people might call me that. I’ve just always been attracted to adventurous things.”

In Spritz’s eyes, there have been few bigger adventures in recent decades than the quest to understand  genetics and use that knowledge to cure diseases. After more than 40 years, he still marvels at how his career unfolded, and how far the science has come.

Fateful decisions

Spritz, 66, is one of the world’s leading vitiligo researchers. For almost two decades, he’s been conducting groundbreaking work understanding the genetics behind the skin pigmentation disorder that causes white patches to appear on the face, body and hair. An estimated 50 million people worldwide have the condition.

Spritz didn’t set out to become a geneticist. Two decisions he made while he was still a self-described “brash young man” shaped the course of his career.

Richard Spritz car
Among Spritz’s hobbies is racing his vintage Porsche 911

Spritz is from Philadelphia, but he felt the mountains’ call at a young age, and he became an accomplished mountain climber in his youth. Successful ascents in the Alps, including the notoriously dangerous north face of the Eiger, earned him the respect of the climbing elite, and in the 1970s he was invited to join an expedition to climb Mount Everest.

Spritz declined because he was in medical school and did not want to disrupt his career. “I absolutely made the right choice,” he said.

“It’s mostly out of my system,” Spritz said. But he’s not through going on adventures, and last fall he hiked across South Georgia, an island near Antarctica. Peter Hillary and Jamling Tengzing Norgay, the sons of the first two men to climb Everest, were on the trek. They were filming a documentary for National Geographic about Shackleton, who had to cross the mountainous island to rescue his stranded crew. In the company of climbing royalty, it was natural to think about Everest, but Spritz saw the risk.

“I’m 66 years old. While I’m not like most 66-year-olds, I know I could get high enough to get into real trouble,” Spritz said. Now, he gets his thrills through amateur auto racing, which he points out is far safer than climbing or extreme skiing. His next trip will be to the Himalayas for another trek.

Spritz made his second career-defining decision “literally one day while walking down the street,” he said. He had planned to become a surgeon and had made arrangements to start down that path, but realized genetic research was a better fit for someone seeking to push scientific boundaries.

“I was incredibly lucky, because I did that at exactly the right moment in history, at the beginning of recombinant DNA research,” Spritz said. “I was lucky to get in on the ground floor.”

It led to a fruitful career. In the late 1970s, researchers were just discovering how to isolate, identify and sequence human genes. The biggest early discovery Spritz was part of was finding and sequencing a mutation that affects hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood. It was the first time a mutation had been sequenced.

Still making discoveries

“Despite the fact that vitiligo has been known for hundreds of years, there’s never been a drug developed for it,” Spritz said. “That might change in the near future.”

Spritz has not stopped researching—or making discoveries. In October, Spritz and his lab published a paper in Nature Genetics finding 23 genes linked to susceptibility for vitiligo. The lab tested 4,680 people with the condition and 39,586 control cases. The study attracted the attention of pharmaceutical companies, which Spritz said is good news because a medication to treat vitiligo could be a major step forward from the current steroid and ultraviolet light treatments.

“Despite the fact that vitiligo has been known for hundreds of years, there’s never been a drug developed for it,” Spritz said. “That might change in the near future.”

Much more research would be needed before a drug could be developed, and then it would have to go through rounds of safety and efficacy testing. Spritz said enough work has been done that complex relationships between genes “are coming together in a way that kind of makes sense,” which has allowed vitiligo researchers to “leap frog” ahead faster than Spritz expected.

People with other conditions might benefit as well. In the mid-2000s, Spritz established that vitiligo was an autoimmune disease, in which the body attacks its own skin pigmentation cells. Research has shown people susceptible to vitiligo have increased odds of other autoimmune conditions such as Type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Addison’s disease. Vitiligo research could lead to progress understanding those conditions, and vice versa.

That would be the next chapter in an ongoing scientific adventure.

“It’s amazing to me how far we’ve come, how naïve we were and yet how prescient we were at the same time,” Spritz said. “We are asking and answering the kinds of questions we couldn’t have imagined when I was a student. I think that’s incredibly inspirational – and we’ve hardly started.”

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Top-ranked boxer recognized in Golden Gloves Hall of Fame

Donny Giron with his Hall of Fame ring
Donny Giron with his Colorado Golden Gloves Hall of Fame ring.

Donny Giron is a personable guy. He loves chatting with people he meets as a member of the Facilities Management department at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. “I talk to everybody. Shortly after I started at CU Anschutz my supervisor and I were walking through my building and she was surprised at how many people I knew by name,” he said. “I’d rather call someone by name than say, ‘hey bro.’” While his name tag says “Donald,” he insists on going by “Donny – with a Y.”

It’s hard to imagine that Giron once made a living in one of the fiercest professions imaginable – boxing. He competed at the highest levels of the sport for many years, but, thanks to his humility, it takes some prodding to get him to share stories from the ring.

Such as the time he went toe to toe with the five-time world champion Roy Jones Jr. during an attempt at joining the U.S. Olympic boxing team. Or the fact that he was undefeated in Colorado for 16 years. Or the high honor he received just last year: Giron was inducted into the Colorado Golden Gloves Hall of Fame.

Giron was once ranked 20th in the world, but at the time he didn’t consider it a big deal. “There were 19 guys who were better than me,” he said. However, after he hung up the gloves in 2001, Giron’s opinion of his past accomplishments changed. “You know there are a lot of boxers in the world,” he said. “Actually, being 20th is pretty cool.” But his acclaim didn’t begin with his professional career; as an amateur he was ranked third in the nation and 16th in the world.

Work in the community

After his retirement from boxing, Giron took a different approach to the sport. He took up coaching and has been a boxing coach for the last 13 years, most recently at Thornton Boxing Club. Giving back to the community is something that has been built into his daily life. It is the reason he helped start a food bank in Thornton to help support members of his church, Cross Connections.

Religion also plays a special role in Giron’s life. He recently became an ordained pastor, having started down a spiritual path 22 years ago.

Prior to that, drinking and partying landed him in some scrapes in his younger days. “From age 19 to 27, my life was pretty rough,” he said. “If you told me 22 years ago that I would be preaching the word of God now, I would have asked you what you were smoking.”

Mutual respect

When Giron was a teenager, peers would often try to goad him and his two brothers into scuffles. While Giron maintains that as a young man he never started a fight unjustly, he said he’s definitely ended a few. Giron said boxing taught him to fight for everything he wants in life – literally and figuratively – and how to maintain determination.

It’s also taught him how to respect every person regardless of ability or position. And he encounters people from all walks in his duties as a general laborer and pest-control specialist in Facilities Management, where he has worked for nearly a year and a half. “I may have had my success in boxing, but we’re all just people,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t care who you are, what color your skin is, whether you’re rich or poor. Just don’t forget where you’re from and try to take care of your community.”


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CU Anschutz Medical Campus bus shuttle a transit success

The new CU Anschutz Medical Campus Rail Shuttle buses are filling up and proving to be a convenient way for riders of RTD’s just-launched R Line to get from Fitzsimons station to destinations across campus.

First shuttle bus rider CU Anschutz
Bob Kieronski, center, was the first rider to arrive at the R Line’s Fitzsimons station on Feb. 24. He is pictured along with shuttle bus drivers Felix Niyongabo, left, and Joseph Jackson, right.

The R Line opened on Feb. 24, ferrying passengers to campus from across the Denver metro area as well as the airport. The first rider to emerge at the Fitzsimons station, Bob Kieronski, came to campus to enjoy lunch with his wife, Norma Contreras, an interpretation coordinator at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH). That same day, the free campus shuttle buses began running.

Since then, about 100 folks a day – and growing – have hopped aboard the campus shuttle buses. Besides being a convenient way to reach the RTD rail, many people are finding the shuttle buses to be an easy way to get from one side of campus to another, according to David Turnquist, associate vice chancellor of Facilities Management, and Kerrie Bathje, assistant director, Business Services.

‘It’s going well’

“I think it’s going well; the feedback we’ve received has been positive,” Bathje said of the shuttle. “The first week, a lot of people were doing trial runs just to see how it works.”

The shuttle is free and available to all students, employees, patients and visitors to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. CU Anschutz purchased the fleet of four buses, each equipped with Wi-Fi, through a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration. Key partners on the system are UCH, Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC) and the VA Medical Center.

On each three-mile loop around campus (see map below), the buses make five stops at central locations – near the university Education and Research buildings, the VA Medical Center, UCH, CHC and the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. One bus completes the entire route in about 15 minutes, a little longer during peak traffic hours.

Shuttle route at CU Anschutz
This is the three-mile route traveled by the free CU Anschutz Medical Campus shuttle buses.

Two buses run the loop from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. However, during peak weekday hours – 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. – three buses circulate. On weekends, one bus runs every 15 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

University of Colorado A Line connection

The 10.5-mile R Line connects the Nine Mile Station in southeast Aurora with the University of Colorado A Line, which runs from Union Station downtown to Denver International Airport. The R Line also stops at the Colfax station just east of CU Anschutz Medical Campus, but the bus shuttle doesn’t serve that stop.

Campus Shuttle hours

The operating hours of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus Rail Shuttle are:

  • Monday–Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. with seven- to nine-minute frequency to each stop.
  • Saturday–Sunday/University Holidays 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. with 15-minute frequency to each stop.

Turnquist noted that the City of Aurora is in the process of extending a pedestrian walkway from the 21 Fitzsimons Apartments on North Ursula Street to the Fitzsimons station. The path should be completed within a year. “So, people can ride the train and then they can decide if they want to walk, ride a bike or get on the shuttle when they arrive at Fitzsimons station,” he said. In long-range plans, the pedestrian walkway will be converted into a road that will allow the shuttle to travel directly north along Ursula to the Fitzsimons platform.

Reduces congestion, parking hassles

For now, the R Line and the bus shuttle offer important alternative transportation to and from a campus whose roads were never designed to handle the 55,000 people traveling there daily, including patients. The CU Anschutz Medical Campus street grid was originally built for less than 6,000 people daily.

Turnquist said the campus has seen an average of 300 new parking permits issued each of the past five years. That amounts to 1,500 more vehicles needing to park over that span. The campus currently offers 6,000 parking spaces just for university students, faculty and staff; thousands more spaces are devoted to the hospitals on campus.

“You’re talking about an incredible amount of vehicles here,” Turnquist said. “It’s imperative that we offer ways to reduce the congestion and the parking difficulties on campus.”

Use the EcoPass

While the campus shuttle is free, riding the light rail is not. Employees may pay on a per-trip basis or sign up for the CU Anschutz RTD EcoPass program, which allows CU Anschutz employees unlimited rides on RTD for $25 per month. See if you are eligible for the program on the CU Anschutz EcoPass website. Students may ride anywhere on the RTD system using their RTD CollegePass.

An app that will enable passengers to track the shuttles’ current location and expected arrival times – including the inter-campus shuttle between CU Anschutz and CU Denver – is in development.

EcoPass advantages

The shuttle buses have a maximum capacity of carrying 216 people an hour. The buses also can accommodate folks with mobility devices.

The RTD EcoPass program is an employer-sponsored pass that provides employees unlimited rides on bus and rail. Turnquist said the EcoPass allows CU Anschutz Medical Campus employees to ride unlimited for $25 a month, compared to the $171 rate a non-EcoPass rider pays for a monthly regional/airport pass.

It all adds up to a less-hassle, less-cost – parking fees are also eliminated – way to get to and from campus.

“We’re hoping the EcoPass will make the RTD/shuttle option even more appealing,” Turnquist said. “You can get on the train, read the paper and then take a few minutes on the campus shuttle to your building on campus.”

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Technology helps connect doctors fighting opioid abuse

Misuse of opioid painkillers such as Vicodin has reached epidemic proportions in rural Colorado

The places hit hardest by the opioid epidemic often have the fewest resources to fight it. Places like rural Colorado, where doctors in small towns are on the front lines and need reinforcements.

CU Anschutz fights the opioid epidemic

This is the fourth in a series of articles that examines how University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus faculty and students are finding ways to solve the opioid epidemic.

That is a problem Liliana Tenney, MPH, an instructor at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) and deputy director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment, knows must be solved.

“There are a lot of primary care physicians in rural areas across the state who are facing significant challenges when it comes to the opioid epidemic,” Tenney said. “It’s the rural providers, the ones that have less time and access to resources, who need the most help.”

Tenney is one of many University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus researchers and faculty working on the epidemic. She believes using online training programs and telemedicine offer effective ways to reach rural doctors and help them fight the epidemic.

Taking opioid education online

Together with colleagues in the ColoradoSPH Center for Health, Work & Environment, Tenney developed one of the first internet-based classes teaching doctors about alternatives to prescribing opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin to manage non-cancer chronic pain patients.

Liliana Tenney MPH
Liliana Tenney MPH

Tenney said the course, “The Opioid Crisis: Guidelines and Tools for Improving Chronic Pain Management,” was designed with rural doctors in mind.

“We decided early on that we wanted to develop an online training so that we could reach providers all across the state who didn’t have access to big conferences or the time to go,” she said.

After a few years of work, she sees signs of success. More than 3,000 doctors have taken the course since it debuted a few years ago. Follow-up surveys showed doctors were using the information in their practice, had begun checking the state’s database of prescription drugs, and had started discussing with patients how to safely use, store and dispose of opioids.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the results and what’s happening in terms of education,” Tenney said.

Telemedicine and treatment

Opioid abuse by the numbers

188 people died in Colorado from misusing opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin in 2016


Colorado ranks 15th in the nation for opioid abuse—down from second in 2011

Tenney is now co-chair of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention’s provider education work group. One of its missions is to find ways to reach and educate all prescribers in rural areas and mountain towns including doctors, dentists and even veterinarians. Now, they are working to use telemedicine to help doctors help their patients overcome addiction.

The consortium is considering expanding an initiative named Project ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes in Colorado). It uses video conferencing to bring together small groups of doctors. Experts discuss best practices or the latest research, and doctors can present tough cases to their peers.

The meetings could replicate in-depth, interdisciplinary case conferences, which are common at medical schools and large hospitals but less common for rural physicians.

“In a lot of these communities, they don’t have these types of resources,” Tenney said.

Despite the challenges, doctors are committed to fighting the epidemic while making sure their patients have the medications they need to be well.

“The medical community knows they need to take action,” Tenney said. “I think we’re making a lot of progress in preventing opioid misuse and abuse. On both the prevention and treatment side, I think there’s still a lot to do.”

Providers interested in learning more about how to prevent opioid misuse can visit to learn more about the Center for Health, Work & Environment’s online training.

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