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Four sisters with cancer get care

Roberta Aberle and her three sisters share an unfortunate bond: cancer.

Her two oldest sisters passed away from the disease. She and one sister are still fighting the disease. All four sisters were diagnosed in their 40s or 50s, and all have received treatment through UCHealth – Aberle at the University of Colorado Cancer Center on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and her sisters at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.

“Our family is definitely satisfied in the care we’ve received,” said Aberle, 53, who lives in Aurora, where she can easily access treatment at CU Anschutz, “and I’m 100 percent confident in the care I’m getting right in my backyard.”

A former quality and process improvement professional for UCHealth, she now applies her skills as an advocate and resource for people with cancer. She’s spreading the word about the treatment she received from CU physicians, and her own story of cancer, far and wide.

Years of diagnoses

“Sadness took root in our family in 2005,” Aberle said. That was the year the first of her sisters, Brenda, received her cancer diagnosis.

Roberta Alberle
Roberta Alberle, CU Cancer Center patient

Brenda passed away in 2008, and a year later, sister Carol was diagnosed. Both Aberle and her oldest sister Debby got cancer diagnoses in 2012. Debby passed away six months after her diagnosis, but Aberle has survived, outliving her original prognosis by half a decade.

Aberle remembers Leap Day 2012 vividly. That was the day she went in for a quick assessment of a minor pain in her side. Despite her significant risk factors of having multiple first-degree relatives diagnosed with cancer before age 50, she never imagined a life-altering diagnosis.

“I was feeling healthy and energetic and working my dream job,” she said. “Nothing could have been going better at that time.”

She came out with a diagnosis of inoperable primary peritoneal cancer, one of the most rare and lethal forms of cancer, and recommendations to begin arranging for palliative and end-of-life care.

“I was in utter disbelief,” she said. “I had just been thinking how ill everyone in my family is and that I’m not prepared to be the person who outlives my entire family, and now I had cancer, too.”

While the disease has devastated the family, it has also mystified them. All four sisters have had reproductive cancers, but none the exact same type, and each has had a different outcome. Aberle shares the same genetic marker for cancer susceptibility with one of her sisters, but the other two sisters did not have the marker. And on top of everything, in 2015 their father was diagnosed with melanoma and lymphoma.

“Cancer has blown our family to bits,” Aberle said, “but a bit falls to the floor and we pick it up and glue it back on. It’s created a bond that can’t be broken.

A powerful treatment

Despite her family’s devastation and her own grim prognosis, Aberle was determined to fight her cancer. For the next year and a half, she underwent chemotherapy and entered clinical drug trials. Then, she received hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC), a rare cancer treatment that combines chemotherapy and surgery in a single procedure. The CU School of Medicine Department of Surgery is one of very few care providers in the United States that offer HIPEC.

During Aberle’s HIPEC treatment in 2013, CU surgeons opened her abdomen, removed the visible cancer cells and then doused the remaining cells with heated chemotherapy drugs. This procedure is followed by standard intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. Because both HIPEC and IP techniques deliver chemotherapy directly to cancer cells in the abdomen (unlike systemic chemotherapy delivery, which circulates throughout the body), they can destroy microscopic cancer cells and has helped some patients live decades longer.

But it’s not an easy procedure for patients.

“It’s an invasive procedure, and it was a very difficult and painful recovery,” Aberle said. “I had a port inserted into my abdomen and staples up the length of my belly. Now, I have adhesions and scar tissue that still cause pain sometimes.”

Since HIPEC, Aberle’s cancer has returned, but she still believes it was the right treatment for her.

“It bought me additional time and got me farther down the path to the next available treatment,” she said. “I have no doubt in my mind that, if I had not had access to CU surgeons, I would not have survived this long.”

Survival on her own terms

Now five years into her battle with cancer, Aberle is still determined to fight the disease, and she’s grateful that the care providers at CU Anschutz continue to empower her to do that.

“My survival is 95 percent connected to the care I’m getting from the University of Colorado,” she said. “No one has ever relinquished their hope in me or objected when I say I want to keep going. It is phenomenal to be working with these doctors.”

Two years ago, Aberle took disability leave in order to devote more time and energy to conquering her cancer and to doing the things that are most important to her: spending time with loved ones and sharing her experience to help others.

“I’m not fooling myself that I’m going to live to 103,” she said. “There’s going to be a point when I want to go to palliative care and hospice, but I want to make my sure that we’ve done everything possible first. I know I’m with the right team at the CU Cancer Center, because they share in that philosophy right along with me.”

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Fighting opioid misuse by linking electronic health records, databases

Emergency Department staff
A pilot project at the University of Colorado School of Medicine is linking its electronic medical records to state prescription drug database.

Doctors should be able to rely on new technology to fight opioid misuse, University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM) Assistant Professor Jason Hoppe, DO, believes. But so far, existing systems such as online databases that track prescriptions have not lived up to their promise.

Dr. Hoppe, an emergency room physician and medical toxicologist, wants that to change, and he thinks a pilot project at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus might be a step in the right direction. Hoppe and a team of physicians and software developers have linked the state’s online opioid prescription database, the Colorado Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), and University of Colorado Hospital’s electronic medical records system.

CU Anschutz fights the opioid epidemic

This is the third 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.

The new connection already saves doctors in the Emergency Department time. With a single click, physicians can see if a patient might be at risk for misuse, abuse or diversion of controlled medications, or if a patient might be going from provider to provider trying to get new prescriptions. It also could stop a doctor from prescribing medications that could be lethal when mixed with an opioid. So that single click could save a life or prevent or stop addiction, Hoppe said.

The federally funded project is an example of how CU Anschutz faculty and researchers could have a national impact on the opioid abuse epidemic. The project could lead to better software that helps doctors and hospitals across the country improve patient safety, identify people vulnerable to addiction, and stop prescription medication misuse.

Diagnosing a digital disconnect

Jason Hoppe
School of Medicine professor Jason Hoppe

Software that tracks prescription medications has been available for years. Since 2008, Colorado has had an online statewide database that records whenever a pharmacy dispenses a controlled substance. That includes opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin, as well as other potentially addictive medications, such as stimulants like Adderall and benzodiazepines. Doctors and other health care providers can review a patient’s history before writing a prescription.

Hoppe said such databases could also be effective tools for identifying people who try to persuade multiple doctors to write prescriptions for opioids or addictive medications. Doctors could then refer them to treatment. Databases also can warn doctors if a patient takes a dangerous combination of medications, and in the future software could create risk profiles that could identify a patient susceptible to addiction.

“I think there are positives, and there is evidence that shows they improve patient safety,” Hoppe said. “But there are a lot of barriers to using it.”

Hoppe cited national statistics to support his view. Doctors only check the databases in their states 12 to 20 percent of the time before they write a prescription for a controlled substance.

“We would like to get that number a lot higher,” Hoppe said. He is in a position to help, as the co-chair of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention’s working group focused on improving the database.

The critical element is time. Doctors need to quickly diagnose and treat patients while simultaneously reading and updating electronic medical records (EMR). Switching to a different software program to check the state database takes several steps and distracts both doctors and patients.

“If you’re in a busy primary care clinic or emergency department, and you’re seeing patients for only five minutes, and it takes you five minutes to load the system, you’re unlikely to use it,” Hoppe said. If doctors think a patient needs an opioid painkiller and do not see signs that raise concerns about possible misuse or abuse, they often write prescriptions without checking the state’s database. Then they have to move on to the next patient.

Testing the link

Opioid abuse by the numbers

 

329 people died in Colorado from misusing prescription opioids in 2015

 

224,000 Coloradans misuse prescription drugs each year

 

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

An obvious solution would be to integrate the state database and EMR systems. Hoppe said doing that took about a year. To overcome technical problems, the team worked with Epic, the software company that sells one of the most widely used EMR systems. UCHealth uses Epic’s software and is part of the project.

The initial rollout is small, Hoppe said, with doctors in the SOM’s Emergency Medicine Department and the University of Colorado Hospital being the first users.

“We have to see how it does, how people like it, and if we can make it solvent in terms of cost,” Hoppe said. The U.S. Department of Justice funded the pilot project, and the software will have to show results before receiving more financial support.

Users at CU Anschutz like the system so far, Hoppe said, and it already has made his job easier.

“I use it for 90 percent of patients now that it’s just one click,” he said.

Ultimately, Hoppe would like to see the system or a similar one used nationally, but it won’t happen overnight. He said it could take several years and millions of dollars before every hospital and doctor’s office has quick access to their state’s prescription drug database. Health care providers will need to find money for an expensive upgrade. They also will have to work with many software companies to overcome the challenges of connecting hundreds of systems.

But Hoppe remains optimistic. Doctors need a system that works better, and the severity of the opioid epidemic provides urgency. The software CU Anschutz helped develop and the lessons learned from the pilot program could cut the number of opioid addictions, save lives and help end a crisis.

“There’s a lot of pressure to integrate these systems,” he said. “This gives us a big tool to help.”

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Program strengthens health care collaboration with Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe doctors at CU Anschutz Medical Campus
Physicians Linda Kamuzangaza and Tafadzwa Chipfuva recently spent two weeks in Colorado as part of the new CoZIE program.

Linda Kamuzangaza and Tafadzwa Chipfuva, physicians from Zimbabwe, made the most of their first-ever trip to the United States and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Through a new program launched by the School of Medicine’s (SOM) Department of Medicine, they observed in clinics and went on rounds at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) and Denver Health, sat in on academic lectures and even squeezed in trips to Coors Field and Red Rocks.

“We have the same medical knowledge, but our practice might not be the same because we don’t have the resources you have here,” Kamuzangaza said. The MMeds (equivalent of medical residents) discovered that not everything they saw during two weeks in Colorado – including the computerized patient records system that allows physicians to see real-time, centralized data on each patient – is possible to perform in Zimbabwe. “We’re in a resource-limited place,” Kamuzangaza said. “Some of things we’ve seen here we won’t be able to do back home.”

‘We’d like to come back’

Both of the MMeds are interested in pursuing a specialization in endocrinology, and during their visit they worked closely with endocrinologists from CU (see list at end of story). Overall, Kamuzangaza said, “we learned a lot coming here, and we’d like to come back.”

Aaron Strobel, MD, of CU Anschutz visits Zimbabwe
Aaron Strobel, MD, right, a chief medical resident at University of Colorado Hospital, works with a house officer medical student during Strobel’s visit to Zimbabwe in April.

The feeling is mutual among the CU Anschutz residents and faculty who recently went on hospital rounds and visited clinics in Harare, capital city of the East African country. The Department of Medicine has enjoyed longstanding ties to the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences (UZCHS), and this new program – the Colorado-Zimbabwe International Exchange (CoZIE) – further strengthens the collaboration.

CoZIE launched its first exchange during the past academic year, sending five faculty members and three internal medicine residents from CU Anschutz, while receiving one faculty member and two residents from Zimbabwe. The pool of potential CoZIE participants for this academic year already exceeds the number of available slots, and a Department of Medicine team is evaluating applications.

Thomas Campbell, MD, a CU professor specializing in infectious diseases, has been traveling to Zimbabwe for almost 20 years. He views CoZIE as an important step toward even more robust exchanges of healthcare information between the institutions.

“It’s great to see others getting involved and enthusiastic about it,” he said. “Zimbabwean trainees are getting help with not just HIV treatment, but medical treatments on a much broader scale. Also, it’s gratifying to see that my colleagues in Zimbabwe, who have become friends over the years, are able to continue their education programs, and better their education, with our help.”

‘Win-win’ exchange

CU faculty and residents get exposed to a different spectrum of disease and different presentations of diseases in Zimbabwe, and they see how physicians cope in a resource-limited environment, Campbell said. “In doing that, we think they will become better doctors themselves. It’s a win-win for both institutions.”

In Harare, the CU Anschutz contingent lives in an apartment that’s within walking distance of the university-affiliated hospital, where they go on daily rounds, attend academic lectures, visit specialty clinics and teach. Part of the goal is to encourage physicians-in-training in Zimbabwe to become future faculty, thereby increasing the education capacity at the country’s major medical school.

CoZIE

The program is funded by the Department of Medicine in the CU School of Medicine, where Department Chair David A. Schwartz, MD, is a strong supporter. “He thought it was important to support what’s going on in Zimbabwe and give his faculty and trainees this kind of opportunity,” said Suzanne Brandenburg, MD, Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair for Education.

Suzanne Brandenburg, MD, Professor of Medicine and Vice Chair for Education, Department of Medicine, has traveled to Zimbabwe for about six years, working on Campbell’s grant-funded program to improve healthcare education. Brandenburg teaches a curriculum which was developed to enable UZCHS residents to become effective educators, integrate scientific methods into clinical practice and develop leadership skills.

“It’s very meaningful and very energizing to see how talented the faculty and trainees are in Zimbabwe,” Brandenburg said. “They are some of the hardest-working people you’ll meet anywhere, but they’re challenged by political and economic instability on top of everything else in their resource-poor healthcare system. They don’t have the resources to order all the tests, etc. that we have, so they have to be better at clinical reasoning and physical exams – and those are skills all physicians need.”

It will take some time to measure how much the Zimbabwe medical school faculty has expanded during the Department of Medicine effort. “Anecdotally, I think we’ve inspired some trainees to stay on as faculty, but it will be a while before we can measure statistically significant outcomes,” Brandenburg said.

‘Very eye-opening’

Mariah Hoffman, MD, chief medical resident at UCH, has spent over a year in the East African nation of Malawi doing research and working in a hospital setting, but her April trip to Zimbabwe allowed her to experience direct patient care, a new and entirely different experience.

Dr. Mariah Hoffman of CU Anschutz in Zimbabwe
Mariah Hoffman, MD, center, is pictured with two MMed physicians during Hoffman’s visit to Zimbabwe in April, as part of the CoZIE program.

“I’ve always been interested in global health,” said Hoffman, who was joined on the trip by another chief medical resident, Aaron Strobel, MD. “It was very eye-opening. I was able to really think about treatment options and diagnosis in a setting where I don’t have the resources I normally use. We saw firsthand the shortages in pharmaceuticals, basic medical supplies, personnel and infrastructure. Things that seem routinely common here in the U.S. – such as a cardiac cath lab – don’t exist there at all.”

Hoffman noted that while the epidemic of AIDS and HIV has begun to change in Zimbabwe due to more widespread availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART), infectious disease remains a major problem. The Zimbabwe physicians said their country is increasingly seeing cases of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

Hoffman is grateful for the opportunity to explore global healthcare issues in a hands-on way that can’t be replicated in the United States. “Our residency program and Internal Medicine Department is greatly improved by having global health and international opportunities,” she said. “We go there to teach, but also to learn how they work under limitations. We go there to see the diseases we don’t see here.”

Overall, Hoffman said, “we took away more than we gave, which I think is a really important part of this exchange. You do learning and teaching on both sides, and that’s pretty invaluable in my opinion.”

The CU endocrinology faculty, fellows and staff who welcomed the Zimbabwean CoZIE scholars into our clinics, rounds and daily lives during their visit included: Dan Bessesen, Mike McDermott, Cecilia Low Wang, Janice Kerr, Marc Cornier, Maggie Wierman, Micol Rothman, Jenny Morrison, Nikita Pozdeyev, Sarah Mayson, Katja Kiseljak-Vassiliades, Matt Wahl, Michele Glodowski, Ken Tompkins, Bridget Everhart and Kim Vigliotta.

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Center for Surgical Innovation expands services and trainings

Dr. Samy Youssef of the CU School of Medicine
Samy Youssef, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery in the CU School of Medicine, (center) demonstrates a minimally invasive brain surgery procedure for two visiting neurosurgeons using live imaging technology in the Center for Surgical Innovation.

Efficiency in health care is a subject that gets a lot of attention these days. A combination of efficiency and positive outcomes sums up the astonishing amount of activity that takes place at the Center for Surgical Innovation (CSI) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Considering that CSI offered 263 training sessions to surgeons from around the world in fiscal 2016 – up 65 percent from 2015 – it’s safe to say that the facility’s innovations and education programs are rapidly improving health care across the globe.

CSI typically offers four to five trainings a week. It’s not unusual for surgical courses on skull base tumors to take place one day, aortic aneurysms the next and hernia repair the next. Partitions are often set up so different trainings – a spinal surgery here, a heart procedure there – can take place simultaneously. Surgical techniques on every quadrant of the body are taught in the facility by world-class experts from the CU School of Medicine (SOM) using state-of-the-art equipment.

‘Our mission is to educate’

“We try to be a one-stop shop for everyone who trains here. We handle logistics on everything from lodging and transportation to the specimen and equipment needs of each training,” said Sarah Massena, CSI executive director. “We just try to make it streamlined and easy for the trainees who come here, so they can go back home and enhance patient safety.

“Our main mission is to educate,” she said, “We want to enhance patient safety in the operating room.”

Surgical training at the CSI at CU Anschutz
Hundreds of surgical training sessions, such as this one, take place each year at the Center for Surgical Innovation at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

CSI, which operates 24/7 and is the only surgical training center at an academic institution in this region, moved to a new space inside Bioscience 1 in the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority (FRA) in early 2015 and has seen a dramatic increase in trainings since. Last year, 3,400 surgeons attended trainings in the 5,000-square-foot facility.

The high-volume facility, which launched in 2005, was previously located in a 1,700-square-foot space in the anatomy lab on the fifth floor of the Education 1 building.

“One of the major advantages of this facility is that it’s a custom build-out,” said Peter Mouser, CSI lab manager. “These suites were an empty shell, and we worked with our architects and building-design people to have the surgical training suite be built out the way it should be.”

Attractive to medical device industry

A challenge, however, is that the CSI loses the rent discount that came with being physically located on an academic medical campus. Being across the street – the FRA is located on the north side of Montview Boulevard – means that CSI’s rent increased. “We had to move here because, for our needs, it was the only space available,” Massena said. “We’re still right next door to an academic medical campus, so our trainees can drive in, park for free and come straight into our lab.” For physicians already on campus, including residents at the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH), CSI is an easy walk to and from the hospital.

The facility is multidisciplinary, so it has five founding surgical departments in the SOM that help fund its operations. The departments, representing 15 surgical divisions, are Surgery, Orthopedics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Otolaryngology and Neurology. The many “outside” trainings offered by CSI – 70 percent of the courses are for surgeons from outside the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, compared to 30 percent for residents at the campus –  help subsidize the departmental-member trainings.

Surgical training at CSI at CU Anschutz
Medical residents from the University of Colorado Hospital Emergency Department receive surgical training on a cadaver at a recent CSI educational program.

CSI is attractive to industry representatives seeking to test medical technology. Medtronic, an international medical device company, collaborates with Omid Jazaeri, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, on its latest stent technology. Da Vinci Surgery regularly brings in its magnified, 3D high-definition vision technology for trainings. The state-of-the-art robotics system allows surgeons to operate with enhanced vision and precision. The system also allows a surgeon at another location, such as on the East Coast, to operate a remote console and perform procedures in CSI’s surgical suite.

CSI is expanding into bioengineering research and development as well as nursing programs and unique trainings that educate surgeons on how to perform procedures in low-resource environments without high-tech surgical tools.

‘Impressed by this facility’

Each spring, Samy Youssef, MD, PhD, professor of neurosurgery in the CU SOM, has trained over 60 surgeons from around the globe at a three-day cadaveric dissection-training course in skull base/endoscopic surgical techniques. The invitational course is in high demand and currently filled through the 2020 session.

“The surgeons we have coming from Germany, Japan and elsewhere are impressed when they see this facility,” Youssef said. “For example, it’s very convenient to have the lecture room next door to the surgical room where the senior residents get hands-on practice.”

In addition, CU’s Department of Neurosurgery offers a Skull Base Surgery year-long fellowship/resident program that uses the CSI Microsurgery Laboratory to give young neurosurgeons exposure to complex cranial cases and minimally invasive skull base approaches.

Besides the cadavers on the operating tables and the surgeons in scrubs surrounding them, the striking elements of CSI are the innovative pieces of equipment, flat-screen monitors all around, and the booms that house the equipment. Less obvious are ceiling cameras that can zoom in on proctor stations and livestream procedures across the globe. Procedures are also regularly recorded.

Robust AV technology

Trainees can watch a live feed of a surgery taking place at UCH and simultaneously practice the techniques on specimens at CSI. “The audio-visual (AV) technology is very robust in this facility,” Mouser said. “It really provides for an enhanced educational experience for our surgical trainees.”

The facility is so busy that it is already bursting at the seams to store its surgical equipment. Staffing is another area that had to be increased to deal with demand. CSI recently hired two lab support technicians to help stagger the hours of the small staff – the facility now has five employees, including Medical Director Thomas Robinson, MD – around the late-day, early-morning and weekend training sessions that best suit surgeons’ busy schedules.

The staff at CSI constantly has dialogues with surgeons about the latest techniques and equipment on which they’d like to have training. “Also,” Massena said, “we engage in a lot of continuing medical education for surgeons to learn the latest surgical techniques.

“What I always say is, ‘Wouldn’t you rather that your surgeon practices techniques in a lab than on your mother, father, brother or sister in the OR?’” she said.

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Alice Deanda celebrates 50th anniversary with CU

Alice Deanda, program assistant in the Department of Pathology, began working at University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) in 1966 and was honored for her years of work with the University of Colorado on Feb. 4.

“When I started working we used typewriters, carbon paper and mimeograph machines to make copies,” Deanda said. Sometimes she would have to walk the paperwork to another department, which was one of her favorite parts of the job. While her workplace has gone through drastic changes with the introduction of technology such as the computer and UCH’s 2007 move from Ninth Avenue to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, her personal life also changed when she took over as her mother’s primary caregiver.

Alice Deanda and Gary Brown of CU Anschutz

Alice Deanda with Gary Brown, a colleague in the Department of Pathology. Photos courtesy of Lisa Litzenberger.

Deanda retired from her position in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Infectious Diseases in 2000 but continued to work part time after that. She began working in the Department of Pathology in the CU School of Medicine in 2008.

“I’ve always liked working at the university. I’ve never thought about going to work anyplace else,” she said. “As long as I can walk into work, I’m coming in. And I’m 75.” She also enjoys the 20-mile drive to work and has never found it difficult.

Praise from colleagues

Deanda’s coworkers all have overwhelmingly positive things to say about her.

“Alice is remarkable for her reliability, expertise and professionalism,” said Ann Thor, MD, chair of the Department of Pathology. “She is a joy to work with. We have enjoyed knowing her large family as well.”

Deanda’s supervisor, Matt Bilby, assistant administrator for the Department of Pathology, first met Alice when he began as a student worker in the Office of Grants and Contracts in 1990 and was later responsible for connecting Deanda to the Department of Pathology.

Alice Deanda at CU Anschutz

Alice Deanda is joined by colleagues for her 50th anniversary celebration at CU Anschutz.

“When I first started here as a student worker it was a very close-knit community,” Bilby said. “In the time she has worked for pathology and me, that same sense of community has always continued.”

“I like to brag that I’ve been around for 16 years in the Department of Pathology, but it doesn’t even come close to touching the amount of time Alice has worked for (the university),” Bilby said.

Deanda found that it was difficult to get a promotion early in her career within a single department. “I kind of kept moving with the increase — let’s put it that way. If I could get an increase, I moved. Or, if I couldn’t get one, I moved.”

In the last 50 years, Deanda has worked with many people and has seen coworkers come and go. She has been with the Department of Pathology longer than any other single department and is quick to make impressions on co-workers new to the workplace.

“I’ve only known Alice for the last couple of months, but she’s a very warm and welcoming person,” said Rose Segawa, accounting manager. “I really enjoy working with her. We got along right away.”

Adapts to many changes

Deanda takes care of her mother, who is 93 years old and has dementia. Her sister, Josie Ponce, acts as a caregiver during the two days Deanda works at CU Anschutz. Other family members often fill in when necessary or to provide a break.

“In 2011 I moved my mother in with me because she wasn’t eating and couldn’t take care of herself anymore. She didn’t have dementia at the time,” Deanda said.

Shortly after the move, her mother broke both hips. “From then on,” Deanda said, “her mind started to go, where she doesn’t remember who people are, but physically she is very healthy.”

“The thing that I really appreciate, especially with this department, is that they are flexible in letting me work when I can. If my sister can’t come to the house to take care of my mother, I can’t come to work,” Deanda said.

Deanda’s time spent at work are “the only 16 hours of her life that she isn’t taking care of her mother,” Segawa said. “I commend her to be able to adapt to all the changes CU has gone through.”

Deanda said she is a “real Colorado native” and wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. When she isn’t working, she enjoys cooking from scratch and spending time with her family, particularly on special occasions like Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. She also enjoys shoveling her own walkway when it snows.

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Donors celebrated for their passion and generosity

Donor generosity that touches every corner of Colorado and extends across the globe – from behavioral health services to new education programs in the South Denver area, from assistance to persons with disabilities to accelerated research on women’s health – took center stage at the Donor Recognition Dinner.

A crowd of 400 attended the ninth annual event, a celebration of the passionate people behind philanthropic gifts to CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, in the Seawall Ballroom in the Denver Performing Arts Complex on Feb. 11.

Bensons at CU Donor Dinner

CU President Bruce Benson and CU First Lady Marcy Benson welcome the crowd to the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Anschutz Donor Recognition Dinner (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Students in spotlight

Taking the spotlight before dinner were examples of innovative student projects, and programmatic research and service. Physical Therapy students showed how they work with children to strengthen muscles; Bioengineering students demonstrated 3D printer technology that advances health care; Mechanical Engineering students presented their HyperLynx concept for high-speed travel; and the National Center for Media Forensics in the College of Arts & Media showcased technologies that have practical applications in everyday life.

Linigers at CU Denver Donor Dinner

Gail and Dave Liniger received special recognition at the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Denver Donor Recognition Dinner (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The CU Denver Chamber Music Ensemble performed during the cocktail hour, followed by Lark, CU Denver’s all-women a cappella group. The award-winning group jazzed up the evening with rousing vocals and precision choreography.

CU President Bruce Benson and his wife, CU First Lady Marcy Benson, welcomed the huge gathering and thanked the university’s donors for their vital contributions. “Besides being our friends, all of you exemplify the powerful partnership that exists between donors and the University of Colorado,” Marcy Benson said. “Together, we make our community, state and country better places. We couldn’t do everything we do without you.”

This year’s honorees

Compelling video stories highlighted the special contributions of each donor recognized:

  • Real estate revolutionaries Gail and Dave Liniger, who made the largest real estate contribution in CU’s history, the Liniger Building at CU South Denver. The building, conveniently located where one-third of metro Denver’s population lives, offers courses in engineering, public health, nursing and business, with more programs planned.
    Campion at CU Donor Dinner

    Lynn Campion of the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation receives a donor recognition gift from CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman at the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Anschutz Donor Recognition Dinner (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

  • The Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation, which in 2015 made the largest programmatic gift in CU Anschutz history, investing $10 million in the University of Colorado Depression Center (renamed the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center). The gift ensures that researchers and clinicians can provide the best patient care and conduct leading-edge mental health research in a state-of-the-art facility.
  • Judi and Joe Wagner, whose philanthropic interests at CU Anschutz include the Center for Women’s Health Research, the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes and the CU Cancer Center. In 2013, the couple established the Judith and Joseph Wagner Endowed Chair in Women’s Health Research, which is helping accelerate women’s health and sex difference research, supporting mentorship of future researchers, and expanding educational programs for the public and health care providers.
  • Sara and Bill Caile, who are longtime donors to the University of Colorado. Their recent focus has been with Assistive Technology Partners (ATP), which is a part of both CU Anschutz and CU Denver, within the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Bill Caile is chair of the ATP Advisory Board, while the annual party the Cailes started 10 years ago, named Déjà vu Rendezvous, provides ongoing support for ATP. The Cailes were honored individually on behalf of the Déjà vu Rendezvous Steering Committee.

‘One of Denver’s top assets’

Wagners at CU Donor Dinner

Judi and Joe Wagner receive recognition at the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Anschutz Donor Recognition Dinner (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

CU Denver’s new leader, Chancellor Dorothy Horrell, PhD, said she’s been “amazed and inspired” by the tremendous outpouring of philanthropic support from the CU Denver community. Such generosity, she noted, allows the university to, among other things, spearhead important research and fund student scholarships – both essential to CU Denver’s goal of becoming a premier public urban research university.

“We want to be the university that is embraced as one of Denver’s top assets – one that both defines and is defined by the city we call home,” Horrell said. “The resources CU Denver has to offer – talent, research capability, advanced technologies, and understanding of local issues – all position us to do just that. … I look forward to getting to know other dedicated partners and benefactors like you who are absolutely essential to our ability to achieve ambitious goals.”

‘World-class leadership’

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman spoke of ambitious goals as well. “Simply put, the CU Anschutz Medical Campus seeks to provide world-class leadership in health and health care in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain region and across the globe,” he said. “The new discoveries and developments that your support makes possible accelerate the incredible progress and innovation that we see on our campus every day.”

Elliman listed a few of the medical breakthroughs that occurred at CU Anschutz over just the past year, including a bionic eye transplant (UCHealth Eye Center) as well as a double-lung and liver transplant (University of Colorado Hospital Transplant Center).

“Our faculty are truly at the leading edge. Last year alone, we were issued a campus-record 27 U.S. patents and spun off 10 startup companies,” Elliman said. “Each of you makes that work possible, and I can’t thank you enough.”

‘Incredible work’

Cailes at CU Donor Dinner

Bill and Sara Caile receive recognition at the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Anschutz Donor Recognition Dinner (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The thankfulness was mutual, as the honored donors praised the work and service of CU Denver and CU Anschutz. Judi and Joe Wagners’ investment ensures the continued growth of the Center for Women’s Health Research, which was founded in 2004 to increase knowledge about the impacts of cardiovascular disease and diabetes on women. The Wagner Chair is the first chair in women’s health research at CU, and is one of only a handful in the world.

“We are so happy and grateful for the recognition, but we want to push it back to all of you, because you are the ones who are making this university work so well,” Judi Wagner said. “We are just so grateful to play a small part of that incredible work.”

Joe Wagner got choked up as he said, “What you do is very important. It affects the lives of a lot of people.”

Chancellors at CU Donor Dinner

CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman and CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell thank generous donors at the Ninth Annual Donor Recognition Dinner. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Dave Liniger recounted how he and his wife, Gail, battled health issues that put both of them in the hospital for significant periods. “No matter how rich or powerful you are, if you end up in those circumstances you are weak … and you depend on the professionals that are trained by CU and other organizations to keep you alive and to give you hope for the future,” he said. “For me, it’s personally gratifying to see the CU College of Nursing training happening at (the Liniger Building at CU South Denver). I think that’s cool.”

Gail Liniger said she and Dave strongly support education and are gratified to see the Liniger Building now serve CU students in the fast-growing South Denver area. “What could be better than our affiliation now with CU?” she said.

‘Means so much’

The transformational commitment from the Johnson Foundation strengthens the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, and will help remove the stigma around mental health.

Lynn Campion, chairman of the foundation’s Board of Trustees, walked to the stage to accept the recognition along with her daughter, Berit Campion. “It means so much to us to be able to help with mental health and furthering research in this area,” Lynn Campion said. “It’s such a big issue in our country.”

Lark at CU Donor Dinner

Lark, an a cappella group at CU Denver, performs at the Ninth Annual CU Denver and CU Anschutz Donor Recognition Dinner. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

Bill Caile explained that he and his wife, Sara, have long enjoyed supporting the University of Colorado, noting that Sara’s parents were “great supporters of the School of Medicine.” Bill talked about how he was personally touched by the incredible work of Assistive Technology Partners in helping persons with disabilities. The Cailes, along with colleagues in the construction industry, a decade ago launched the Déjà vu Rendezvous.

“To this day,” Bill Caile said, “we’ve raised over $1 million for Assistive Technology Partners just from Déjà vu Rendezvous, and we now have over 100 sponsors every year that provide money for the event.”

Also receiving recognition were members of the CU Heritage Society. In addition to the standing ovations that greeted each of the featured honorees, a lengthy round of applause was given to the many Heritage Society members who support the university in their estate plans.

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CU brings medical expertise to extreme outpost

Big House and Green House at Summit Station in Greenland

The Big House and the Green House (science laboratory) at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

The Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the CU School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine is taking its expertise in wilderness and austere medical care to one of the most extreme and remote places on Earth.

In December, WEM won a subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services at Summit Station in Greenland. Summit Station is a global research facility perched at 10,500 feet atop the Greenland ice sheet.

Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and section chief of WEM, said providing medical services at Summit Station allows WEM to “think outside the box” in an unpredictable environment.

“It’s basically the art and science of taking care of people in remote and extreme environments,” he said. “It forces us to think in very creative ways. How do we take 21st century medicine and apply what we know to these places where you don’t have the technological tools to do what we do on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus?”

Researcher at Summit Station

A researcher releases a weather balloon at Summit Station. Photo by Kevin Hammonds.

WEM honed its expertise in remote medical services by holding the EMS medical directorship for the U.S. Antarctic Program for two years. In Greenland, the CU WEM bid was selected over various applicants, including private industry, for the subcontract, which lasts for a year with an option for renewal. Support at Summit Station is provided by CH2M HILL Polar Services, under contract to NSF.

Four services for Summit Station

In Greenland, WEM will be in charge of four phases of service:

  • Remote medical support services and supplies for Summit Station;
  • 24/7 telemedicine services;
  • First aid medical support services; and
  • Training in arctic first aid and wilderness first responder/aid.

Lemery said people are more frequently venturing to extreme places across the globe, and the expertise of WEM faculty – in altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia, trauma treatment and other wilderness care – uniquely positions WEM to serve these travelers, as well as advance remote-setting health care.

“We have that niche in the health-care world,” Lemery said. “Greenland is a robust place to test best practices in medicine – to see what works, what doesn’t work. We’re also training people to be outstanding clinicians anywhere in the world. Most of the planet doesn’t have the medical tools like we have at CU Anschutz. These are important lessons to bring home to our students and residents.”

David Twillman, RN, University of Colorado Hospital, will staff Summit Station during the high season of roughly April to August. During the winter months, WEM will provide medical services via telemedicine.

‘Quite a bit of altitude sickness’

Christopher Davis, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, led WEM’s application for the Greenland subcontract and will serve as medical director for the operation. He said adjusting to high altitude is the most common health complaint of the researchers, who spend weeks to months at a time at Summit Station. “Most researchers are coming from sea level and they fly directly to 11,000 feet, so you see quite a bit of altitude illness,” Davis said.

Davis, who is also medical director of Altitude and Mountain Medicine Consultants, a branch of the Travel, Expedition and Altitude Medicine Clinic, plans to visit the Summit Station this spring to ensure that the medical equipment is up to date. During the summer high season, about 50 researchers live and work at the station. In the winter, fewer than 10 people live at the facility, according to Davis. Much of the research conducted at the facility focuses on climate and weather.

The Big House at Summit Station Greenland

The Big House at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

Greenland’s polar environment and growing medical needs made Summit Station a perfect fit for WEM’s service-oriented approach to health care.

“Our department chair, Richard Zane, MD, has been very supportive of us being entrepreneurial and extending the reach of our medical expertise to far afield,” Davis said. “This is also in line with the university’s research mandate.”

Although no specific CU SOM Greenland-based research has yet been approved, Davis said, “there will be the opportunity for us to study altitude and also study health care systems and how and whether telemedicine support is effective in this type of extreme environment.”

Unprecedented course

Another opportunity that Summit Station provides: Teaching an unprecedented course in one of the most dramatic locations on the planet. Lemery and Davis together will teach “Introduction to Polar Medicine” over a week in August. Students will receive three hours of credit for the accredited course, as well as a Wilderness First Aid certificate.

“We’ll talk about climate change and health and provide wilderness medicine education,” said Lemery, who co-edited the book, “Global Climate Change and Human Health.” “It’s pretty unorthodox – nobody’s really done anything else like this.”

The course is designed for pre-health students and will take place in the town of Ilulissat, Greenland. “We think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for students,” Lemery said. The deadline to register is March 15, 2016; click here to register or for more information.

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