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UT Health doctors diagnose rare disease in Honduran teen

Honduran native Benjie Benitez traveled across the world in hopes of finding answers to a mysterious neuromuscular disorder that has left him in a wheelchair.

Dr. Jeffrey Hammersley asked Benjie Benitez how his hands were doing during a visit to UT Medical Center earlier this month. The Honduran teen was diagnosed with a rare mitochondrial disease that leads to muscle breakdown.

Dr. Jeffrey Hammersley asked Benjie Benitez how his hands were doing during a visit to UT Medical Center earlier this month. The Honduran teen was diagnosed with a rare mitochondrial disease that leads to muscle breakdown.

After two weeks of tests in June, the doctors at The University of Toledo Medical Center determined he has a rare mitochondrial disease, which affects the protein in his cells and leads to muscle breakdown.

The diagnosis was possible thanks to a collaboration between CedarCreek and UTMC in an ongoing medical mission clinic in La Ceiba, Honduras.

The 18-year-old doesn’t speak English, so he used a translation machine to communicate with UT Health doctors. He also used his music to bond with people he met during his first trip to America.

The former track star brought his guitar to a recent appointment with cardiologist Dr. Samer Khouri. He played a song for everyone as a way to offer thanks.

“We are happy to find an answer, but unfortunately, there is no cure,” said Dr. Kris Brickman, founder and director of the UT Office of Global Health, and professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “He has been seen by many doctors and after an exhausting number of tests, scans and evaluations, no one has been able to find a diagnosis or treatment for this illness — until now.

“Hopefully, we can slow the progression of this disease with a series of vitamins and medicines, which we are starting right away,” Brickman said.

CedarCreek Church paid for Benitez and his mother, Martha, to fly to America. CedarCreek heard about Benitez’s condition during a mission trip and asked UTMC doctors to help with the diagnosis.

Benitez arrived May 27 and stayed until June 11. He met with Khouri, director of echocardiography, director of the heart station and professor of medicine; Dr. Boyd Koffman, director of neurology ambulatory services and professor of neurology; Dr. Dalynn Badenhop, director of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and professor of medicine; Dr. Bashar Kahaleh, chief of the Division of Rheumatology and Immunology, and professor of medicine; Dr. Jeffrey Hammersley, chief of the Pulmonary Division and associate professor of medicine; Dr. Blair Grubb, director of electrophysiology services and professor of medicine; and Dr. Donald Cameron, assistant professor of neurology.

Up until a few years ago, Benitez was an athlete, his mother said. He was a strong and healthy young man. He started having trouble with muscle control, which progressively worsened leaving him needing a wheelchair.

Benitez wrote an email that expressed his gratitude: “I’m almost in shock of happiness that this is happening; thank you for caring for my family. God bless you all for everything you do.”

Brickman said Benitez is overwhelmed that anyone would do this for him.

“We aren’t considering this anything special,” Brickman said. “This is taking some time, but it is the right thing to do. We aren’t getting reimbursed for any of this.”

Bill Trout, executive pastor at CedarCreek, said many people approach his church for help, but Benitez’s case was unique.

“It is an opportunity to help Benjie, but it is an opportunity to teach students about a case that the doctors in Honduras haven’t been able to diagnose,” Trout said.

Benitez and his mom split their time staying with Trout and his family. They also stayed with Sean Siwa and his wife, Yeimy, who is from Honduras.

Siwa, who accompanied Benitez to his appointment with Khouri, said Benitez is sick, but he still smiles because he loves music.

“The guitar is helping,” she said. “He has a hard time using his hands because of his muscle problem, but he plays anyway.”

Men’s Health Month: ‘Typical macho man’ admits ignoring cancer symptoms

Jason Scott ignored major signs that something was wrong.

He had swelling in his right testicle that he chalked up to a hunting injury.

He had back pain that couldn’t be curbed with the handfuls of over-the-counter pills he took every morning.

When the 21-year-old started to limp, he thought it had to do with falling on the ice.

Jason Scott, seated, celebrated his last day of chemotherapy at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center with a cake to share with, from left, Cindy Peters, staff nurse; mother, Vicki; dad, Dan; and friend, Max Newcomer.

Jason Scott, seated, celebrated his last day of chemotherapy at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center with a cake to share with, from left, Cindy Peters, staff nurse; mother, Vicki; dad, Dan; and friend, Max Newcomer.

Some of his symptoms persisted for more than a year, in particular a nagging fatigue.

It wasn’t until the Perrysburg resident woke up one morning and couldn’t use his right foot that he considered a doctor’s visit. Yet he still waited another week.

“I was a typical macho man and ignored signs that something was wrong,” Scott said. “I played football in junior high and high school. You are taught to tough it out. If I am fishing and a hook goes into my hand, I just rip it out. I don’t want to show my buddies that I am hurting.”

But he was hurting — more than he wanted to admit.

Scott was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer in February. It had gotten so bad that the cancer had spread from his testicle to the bone in the lower part of his back, which affected his sciatic nerve and put him in a wheelchair, according to his oncologist, Dr. Roland Skeel at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center. Further tests showed that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and his lungs.

Scott is speaking about what he calls “his mistakes” in June because it is Men’s Health Month. He knows that men are less likely to take a symptom seriously and are more unlikely to go to the doctor’s office.

“Looking back when they told me all the signs of cancer, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that happened,’” he said. “But you don’t think of doing anything when you are a guy and only 21 years old.”

His diagnosis forced him to take a leave of absence from Bowling Green State University, where he was studying music education with a specialization in instrumentals. He was a student teacher at Elmwood High School before cancer forced him to face what he had been ignoring.

Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men 15 to 34 years of age. The two main types of testicular tumors are seminoma and nonseminoma. Nonseminomas tend to grow and spread more quickly than seminomas. Scott had the nonseminoma type.

“The initial treatment has more than an 80 percent chance of cure, even when it is advanced like it is in Jason,” said Skeel, professor and interim chair of the Department of Medicine. “If there is residual disease, sometimes a surgical procedure is done. In the end, more than 90 percent of people are ultimately being cured of what was once a fatal disease.”

But catching it early does help.

Skeel said that men tend to be a little more reluctant than women to pay attention to symptoms. He thinks testicular cancer is particularly difficult for young men to discuss with someone.

“Women categorize men as stubborn and not wanting to go to a doctor,” Skeel said. “It is probably true that women see physicians more regularly than men. In part, they have been accustomed to seeing an OB-GYN and getting mammograms. If you have men who have spouses, their spouses are insisting that they see physicians.”

Scott said his parents had repeatedly told him to make a doctor’s appointment. He ignored them.

“I was so far into school and student teaching, and I just wanted to get it done. It is a four-year degree, and most people get it done in five years,” Jason said. “I was on track to graduate in four years in May, and I didn’t want to take a timeout for my health.”

But the cancer diagnosis gave him no choice.

“We were totally expecting that we were going to see the doctor and he would suggest physical therapy for his back,” said his mother, Vicki Scott.

His dad, Dan Scott, remembers getting the news that his only child has cancer.

“I looked at him. He looked at me. It just seemed like our whole world went to pieces,” he said.

“I was so angry,” Jason said. “I knew nothing about cancer. The only thing I knew about cancer is that you died from it. When you think cancer, you think death sentence.”

The family immediately started trying to book an appointment for a biopsy of the tumor and begin the treatment process.

“Every day that passed, his pain was getting more and more intolerable,” his mother said. “He was to the point where he couldn’t sit, he couldn’t lay, he couldn’t sleep. He was just screaming in pain. It was so intense.”

It wasn’t until Jason talked to his friend, Max Newcomer, that they considered treatment at UT Medical Center. Max’s mom, Megan Newcomer, works at UTMC, and referred him to Dr. Prabir Chaudhuri, surgical director of the UT Cancer Center.

After his first visit with the UT Health cancer team, everything moved quickly. Jason had his right testicle removed March 2 by surgeon Dr. Khaled Shahrour. He started chemotherapy March 9. His last day of chemo was June 1.

“I went from hopping in my truck and going to Alabama to fish on a whim to having my dad help me do everything. I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without my dad’s help,” Jason said. “I literally slept for three months, and I just got out of the wheelchair a few weeks ago.”

To raise money, his friend Max sold T-shirts that reflect one of Jason’s favorite hobbies — bass fishing. The T-shirt read, “Team Jason — Reeling in a Cure.” The picture on the shirt was of a bass eating cancer.

“His battle with cancer was obviously not going to be easy, but I told him we would get through it,” Max said.

Jason said his family, friends and the UT Health doctors and nurses were the bright spots in an otherwise dismal year.

“A lot of the battle is mental, but if you have positive people on your side that really helps,” he said. “Dr. Skeel called me on his cell phone on the weekend. That is amazing.”

The irony of being treated at UTMC was not lost on the Falcon, though.

“I didn’t wear my BG gear to UTMC,” he said and laughed.

In July, Jason will have follow-up scans to check to see if the chemotherapy has successfully shrunk the tumor. He hopes for good news so he can begin a lifetime of sharing an important lesson with men his age.

“If you know something is wrong, don’t be too stubborn to do something about it,” Jason said. “I knew it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be happening. But I convinced myself that something wasn’t wrong.”

National Science Foundation innovation program gives students entrepreneurial confidence

In March, The University of Toledo began an innovative program that provides students in engineering and science the opportunity to gain skills and knowledge required to commercialize technology.

iCorps webUT is one of the first four locations in the country selected by the National Science Foundation to be an Innovation Corps (I-Corps) site, an academic institution that provides resources, networking opportunities, and training to enable participants in transitioning their ideas or technology into the marketplace.

“One of the great things about going through the regional or site program is that if you’re successful and interested in going further you can go to the national program and receive a $50,000 grant,” said Jessica Sattler, UT director of economic engagement and business development programs.

The program gives participants the opportunity to communicate with customers much earlier in the product and business development process and enables them to determine whether or not their product fits within the intended market.

“It’s training that you traditionally get at a business school,” said Dr. Patricia Relue, UT professor of bioengineering. “The National Science Foundation has been trying to get more research that they fund out into the world. The whole basis for this I-Corps program is to take scientists and engineers and train them in basically the business mindset or the business lingo so that they can actually go out and talk to people that are in the industry.”

During a two month period, eight teams consisting of a student, a faculty adviser and a community mentor took their products and business ideas and tested them out in their intended markets.

“The student is suppose to be the one driving the effort,” Relue said. “The research adviser and the mentor are coaching from behind, but the student is the one who is suppose to take the lead.”

Tim Walker, a mechanical engineering undergraduate student and program participant, worked on finding faster and more efficient treatment for a pulmonary embolism.

“This program helps push student ideas into the market and create change out in the real world,” Walker said. “A lot of the time, research will get passed along from student to student without any contact with the market, and as students it’s our responsibility to take our technology out into the world.”

The structure of the program offers entrepreneurship training to students and teaches them to identify product opportunities that can emerge from academic research.

“There were two or three students that I could tell you right now that specifically said, ‘This program helped me develop my interpersonal skills, I feel so much more confident.’ And I remember starting right out of college and being terrified, so I just think that’s a really cool, intended, maybe unintended, consequence,” Sattler said.

For more information on National Science Foundation I-Corps, click here.

New sculptures reign on campuses

A trio of red blossoms reaches skyward between UT Medical Center and Mulford Library. Swimming silently through a sea of green leaves is a 9-foot fish south of Carlson Library near the Ottawa River. And a 300-pound dog measuring more than 5 feet tall stands guard outside Nitschke Hall.

James Oleson’s “Howl” was installed May 29 near Nitschke Hall.

James Oleson’s “Howl” was installed May 29 near Nitschke Hall.

Ric Leichliter’s “Promise to Flower,” Tom Rudd’s “Whitefish” and James Oleson’s “Howl” are three of the 10 new works featured in the 10th annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition.

The three artists were among more than 50 who submitted proposals for consideration to the Midwest Sculpture Initiative. The UT Campus Beautification Committee reviewed the applications and chose pieces that were installed last month.

“It’s a privilege to be involved with this project and to see the creativity it sparks year after year,” said Dr. Steve LeBlanc, interim dean of the College of Engineering and chair of the Campus Beautification Committee. “I look forward each year to the arrival of the new sculptures to campus.”

Nearly 100 sculptures have rotated through the display at the University since the exhibit began, and 12 have become part of UT’s art collection thanks to the generosity of campus benefactors, colleges and departments, LeBlanc added.

New works dotting campus this year are:

• James Havens’ “Phoenix” rises atop the hill west of University Hall.

“Promise to Flower” by Ric Leichliter is placed between UT Medical Center and Mulford Library.

“Promise to Flower” by Ric Leichliter is placed between UT Medical Center and Mulford Library.

• “Teal Oak Leaf Bench” offers an inviting seat on Centennial Mall between University Hall and the Student Union. The decorative, functional piece was made by Joe Krajkiewcz.

• “Ad Infinitum” by Virginia Kistler is a 500-pound work created from Extira and steel that appears to rotate while standing still north of Libbey Hall.

• Todd Kime’s “Bounce” is a bright yellow and red piece that exudes energy on Centennial Mall west of the Health and Human Services Building.

• “Mantis,” a 1,500-pound black steel insect by John W. Parker, awaits traffic along University Parks Trail north of Ottawa House West.

• “To Hope” by William Walther is a funky steel bench located in front of University Hall and west of Gillham Hall.

• “Self Series Twins” by the Nordin Brothers sits east of the Health and Human Services Building.

Artists receive stipends for their sculptures, which will be on display for the next year.

LeBlanc said the annual exhibit is made possible through gifts from donors.

“Those who enjoy the sculptures are asked to please consider a donation to the Campus Beautification Committee through the UT Foundation,” he said.

Grandfather surprises family, finally obtains his first college degree

Amidst the hugs and happiness of hundreds of graduates from The University of Toledo College of Business and Innovation in May, there may not have been anyone happier, more emotional than Michael Mack.

Michael Mack posed for a photo with his family, from left, sons Chad and Chase, wife, Dandy, mother-in-law, Nancy Doran, and daughters, Summer Leganik and Shayla Ferguson. The 59-year-old received an associate’s degree in business in May.

Michael Mack posed for a photo with his family, from left, sons Chad and Chase, wife, Dandy, mother-in-law, Nancy Doran, and daughters, Summer Leganik and Shayla Ferguson. The 59-year-old received an associate’s degree in business in May.

That’s because 59-year-old Mack, a skilled trades pipe fitter/millwright at Jeep in Toledo, first started taking college classes (political science) in 1978, but he never obtained a degree until receiving his associate’s degree in business last month.

And although his family knew he was taking classes at UT, they did not know he would be receiving his degree in May until about one week before graduation.

“I didn’t let anybody know I was getting my degree; I wanted people to be shocked,” Mack said.

“I always felt that something was not finished,” he explained. “I knew it would be a relatively difficult task, but that it had to be undertaken if I wanted to succeed. I kept this to myself and did not share it with anyone in my family except my stepdaughter — who developed into an inspiration when it became difficult — until just before graduation. The difficulty of this task make’s the taste of completion even sweeter and more appreciative.”

“This degree brings closure,” Mack said. “It’s like the closing of one part of my life and the opening of another. I had quite a few individuals ask me, ‘Why are you going back to school now?’ and expressing their apprehension toward it. The first reason is that my own father always told me an education is something to never be turned down, that once you have it no one can take it away. Secondly, I wanted to send a message to my own children and grandchildren about the importance of an education, that it is never too late to achieve it, that you never know it all.”

The challenges were great. Mack often worked at Jeep seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

“I worked, ate, did the dishes and then did my homework.”

Mack intends to continue his business college goals by obtaining his bachelor’s degree, possibly majoring in management.

He is already putting his business acumen into action, having started a small golf repair business.

“Mack Daddy Golf is up and running, but at a regulated capacity at the moment due to my present work and school schedule,” the UT alumnus said. “I would like to start a business in South Carolina where I can show different companies how to be more efficient in their processes and daily operations. I have had a few conversations with some individuals who have expressed interest in the different ideas I shared with them. I knew to succeed I needed to know and understand how to run a business, otherwise all I had was a dream. I had to equip myself for this new venture in life. About the same time Chrysler and The University of Toledo entered into an agreement offering individuals the opportunity to get back into school and further their education.”

Mack also admits that working on his degree enabled him to learn more than his course material.

“One eye-opening moment was when I came to the realization through my fellow classmates, most of whom are quite a bit younger than myself, that over the last few years I have spent my efforts talking at the younger generation and not with them. They do have some great and useful ideas if we just open up and absorb them.”

Patient’s recovery ‘unbelievable’ after brain bleeding

Kirk Walters heard a crash in the kitchen and ran in to find his son lying on the floor.

Dr. Daniel Gaudin, left, posed for a photo with the Walters, from left, Sam, Mary and Kirk, during a checkup in April.

Dr. Daniel Gaudin, left, posed for a photo with the Walters, from left, Sam, Mary and Kirk, during a checkup in April.

There were no visible signs of injury. Maybe Sam fell and twisted an ankle? But when his son answered “Where does it hurt?” by grabbing the back of his head, the father of four made a quick decision to call an ambulance and head to The University of Toledo Medical Center, where a neurosurgeon saved him from a rare brain bleed.

“That was our demarcation of time — Jan. 24, 2011. There is before and there is after. He was as healthy as an ox one minute and the next he just collapsed on the kitchen floor getting a Diet Pepsi,” Kirk said. “The progress he has made has just been unbelievable.”

Four years after that deep brain Arteriovenous malformation caused significant bleeding on the left side of Sam’s brain, which is the dominant side, the Walters family reunited last month with UT Health neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel Gaudin for a checkup.

“This was a complicated case and seeing his progress is the reason why I do this,” Gaudin said. “We don’t have a lot of huge successes like that.”

When Sam came to the hospital four years ago, he was unresponsive. The first step was to control the bleeding and save his life, then find the cause. In Sam’s case, that cause was a deep brain Arteriovenous malformation, known as AVM, which is an abnormal collection of blood vessels.

It is estimated that in the United States one in 200 to 500 people have an AVM in the brain, but half the time it isn’t discovered until there is bleeding more frequently. There is a 2 to 4 percent chance of a hemorrhage per year for people with an AVM, which compounds with age, and there is a risk of permanent brain damage or even death when it happens, Gaudin said.

Sam, who is severely autistic, was not able to communicate with his caregivers, which caused Gaudin and his team at UT Health to make adjustments to his treatment plan.

Sam Walters played a game on his dad’s phone while Allison Ovitt, nurse practitioner, reviewed his medical records in April.

Sam Walters played a game on his dad’s phone while Allison Ovitt, nurse practitioner, reviewed his medical records in April.

In most cases, and specifically for Sam, a blood clot needs to be removed to save the patient’s life and then he would need to have part of his skull removed for quite some time to accommodate for the brain swelling. After a couple months when the swelling recedes enough, the doctors can then replace the skull bone and perform radiation to address the AVM.

In Sam’s case, however, he would not keep the helmet on to protect his brain while the piece of his skull was removed, so that was not an option.

“We needed to put the bone back earlier even though the swelling was still present in order to start the stereotactic radiosurgery in two to three weeks, rather than two to three months,” Gaudin said.

The radiation therapy focuses high-powered energy on a small area of the body. The radiation causes the AVM to close off over a period of two to three years in up to 80 percent of patients. After the radiation therapy, Sam’s AVM completely resolved.

“His parents were great through the whole process as we explained why we were doing things a bit differently,” Gaudin said. “There were some challenges, but we overcame them.”

Sam was in intensive care for a long time and had a difficult road ahead with some complications and other health concerns along the way. It was a year and a half before they could begin the process of teaching him how to walk again.

“When he took his first steps, everybody was in tears. Everybody,” said Mary Walters, Sam’s mother and director of the Autism Model School from which he graduated in the fall. “Then it progressed quickly. He went from barely standing to taking a few steps to walking the length of the gym in almost no time. Before this all happened, he would run like the wind. I had to take up running to keep up! So it was his determination that got him back on his feet.”

Kirk, who is the editorial cartoonist for The Blade, was worried that his son’s personality might have changed. Sam was withdrawn for a while and, of course, he couldn’t be as active as he once was.

“But then there was birthday cake at a nursing station where he was in rehab and Sam wheeled himself in there. Only able to use his left arm, he used his foot as sort of a rudder to steer and get in there without going in circles. He stole the cake and ate half of it before anyone noticed,” Kirk said with a laugh. “That’s when I knew he was going to be OK. If Sam is fixated on something, he will get it and there is nothing you can do to stop him. He’s mischievous and quite the problem solver.”

The recent reunion between the Walters family and Gaudin happened to occur during the Autism Awareness Month of April.

“I think the autism, maybe ironically, helped in his recovery,” Kirk said.

“He does have that resilience,” Gaudin agreed.

Sam, now 22, has resumed the language skills he had before the incident. There is still some weakness on his right side, but that will continue to improve over time.

The progress he has made from where he was is remarkable, his mother said.

“The entire staff at UTMC was fabulous,” Mary said. “They were so patient and explained everything to us every step of the way. We were a team.”

“On a particularly difficult day, I’m sitting in the hallway and a woman pushing a cart stops to tell me a joke. I don’t even remember the joke, but I started laughing and she said, ‘Good. It looked like you needed to smile,’” Kirk remembered. “And that’s an example of just a nice touch through our experience here. That woman didn’t need to stop, but she did. That stays with me four years later.”

UT sorority members visit high school prom night

Senior prom: a night high school students spend dancing, laughing, chatting and eating with their friends. Some are lucky enough to be there with a special guy or girl.

Thomas Huffman posed for a photo with some of his dates for the prom, from left, Alpha Xi Delta members Sydney Miller, Kirsten Zalewski, Becca Potts, Maddie Burke, Gabbi Radford, Sydney Helsinger, Liz Russell, Jenn Lohrman, Courtney Howe, Broghan Gasser, Megan Graber and Corinne Porter.

Thomas Huffman posed for a photo with some of his dates for the prom, from left, Alpha Xi Delta members Sydney Miller, Kirsten Zalewski, Becca Potts, Maddie Burke, Gabbi Radford, Sydney Helsinger, Liz Russell, Jenn Lohrman, Courtney Howe, Broghan Gasser, Megan Graber and Corinne Porter.

That’s the experience Alpha Xi Delta’s Programs Vice President Jennifer Huffman’s younger brother, Thomas, had at his prom last month — only he had 16 dates.

Thomas has level-one autism, which prevented him from enjoying dances throughout high school. So when Huffman’s parents told her that her brother didn’t have a prom group with less than a week before the big night, she got the idea to ask her sorority sisters if they would be interested in being his dates. Alpha Xi Delta’s philanthropy is Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization.

Sixteen members of the sorority attended Lima Central Catholic’s prom April 25.

“It was a complete surprise,” Huffman said. “He had no idea we were coming.”

Jennifer Huffman, vice president of programs for Alpha Xi Delta, gave a hug to her brother, Thomas, before he left for the prom.

Jennifer Huffman, vice president of programs for Alpha Xi Delta, gave a hug to her brother, Thomas, before he left for the prom.

After surprising Thomas at his home in Lima, the girls took numerous pictures with him. Then after dinner they escorted Thomas to the dance, where the school allowed them to join him for the first song of the evening. The song was “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from Thomas’s favorite movie, “The Lion King” — a film he likes so much that he can recite the whole script in 12 different languages.

Each girl took a turn dancing with Thomas during the song.

“He’s never really done something like this before, so I just thought it was really cool that everyone drove down for him,” Huffman said. “It made it a really special time for him.”

After the sorority girls left, Thomas was awarded prom king. While receiving his crown, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King,” another classic tune from Thomas’s favorite film, was played.

“It’s my favorite memory of Alpha Xi Delta so far,” said Gabrielle Radford, a sophomore majoring in exercise science and member of the sorority. “It was so great standing in that circle dancing with him; we were all starting to cry, and he sang every single word to [‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’]. It was just such a great night.”

Thomas graduated May 9. He plans to attend the Lima branch of Ohio State University this fall.

UT Health transplant surgeon creates concept to solve U.S. kidney shortage

A new approach to kidney transplantation developed by a University of Toledo Health transplant surgeon aims to connect donors and patients around the globe in a way that reduces cost, improves quality, and increases access to life-saving care for people suffering from kidney failure.

Dr. Michael Rees explained the concept of Reverse Transplant Tourism to Jose and Kristine Mamaril, a couple from the Philippines.

Dr. Michael Rees explained the concept of Reverse Transplant Tourism to Jose and Kristine Mamaril, a couple from the Philippines.

Dr. Michael Rees created the concept of Reverse Transplant Tourism as an alternative to the black market of organ trading, known as transplant tourism.

“This revolutionary concept could be an important step in solving the kidney shortage in the United States,” he said. “To some extent, it also will reduce American participation in the exploitive and dangerous international kidney black market as thousands of more kidneys could become available.”

Instead of thinking of the developing world as a place where there are desperate people who will sell their kidneys for money, Rees proposes a new approach where the developing world can be seen as a place where there are desperate patients with kidney failure who need kidney transplants and who have willing, living kidney donors, but insufficient financial resources to pay for their transplant and subsequent immunosuppression.

Jose Mamaril received a kidney transplant in January at UT Medical Center. His wife, Kristine, continued the donor chain for another patient in need.

Jose Mamaril received a kidney transplant in January at UT Medical Center. His wife, Kristine, continued the donor chain for another patient in need.

The first Reverse Transplant Tourism exchange earlier this year successfully connected Jose Mamaril of the Philippines, who has end-stage renal disease but not the means to pay for a transplant or regular dialysis, with an American donor. His wife, Kristine, donated her kidney as part of the exchange that created a donor chain that has already benefited 10 people with kidney failure and promises to help more with another donor waiting to continue the chain.

These patients have benefited from the help of transplant surgeons at The University of Toledo Medical Center, University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, Wake Forrest University in Salem, N.C., and Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.

In the past, barriers to transplantation have been blood type or antibodies. The barrier Rees is working to overcome now is poverty.

The Mamarils would not be considered poor by most standards. They both are college-educated. She is an accountant for Dunkin’ Donuts in the Philippines’ Laguna province where they live, and he operated a taxi business.

But after Jose was diagnosed with kidney failure, the family needed to borrow money and then sell his business, all of their possessions, and their home to pay for expensive dialysis and medications to keep him alive. It was a difficult time for them and their 8-year-old son, John.

“They never gave up on me,” Jose said.

A series of connections between Rees and other transplant surgeons across the world led to Jose coming to the United States as the first Reverse Transplant Tourism beneficiary. He received his new kidney Jan. 22 at UTMC.

“It’s like a miracle it all happened,” Kristine said.

“I’m happy to get this chance at life and to be here for my son,” Jose said.

In some areas of the world, such as where the Mamarils live, there is little problem finding living kidney donors from family or community members, but they cannot afford dialysis or kidney transplantation.

In the United States, the barrier is more supply and demand. In 2014, nearly 5,000 Americans unnecessarily died waiting for a kidney, and there are currently more than 100,000 patients listed on the UNOS deceased donor waiting list. In 2008, that number was at 84,000. In 2013, there were 16,895 kidney transplants in the United States, only slightly more than the 16,521 performed in 2008. Based on these figures, the kidney transplant waiting list has increased by 34 percent since 2008, yet the number of kidney transplants remains virtually unchanged.

But there are enough donor and recipient pairs in developing countries that would allow many Americans who have incompatible donors to receive a kidney through paired exchanges, Rees said. This is especially true if the donor from the emerging nation has blood type O and the recipient falls within the blood groups of A, B or AB, such as the Mamaril family, he added.

Averaged over time, the cost of treating patients with end-stage renal disease with dialysis is three times the cost of treating patients with kidney transplantation. According to Rees’ research, the annual cost of dialysis for a Medicare patient is $90,000 compared to $33,000 for kidney transplantation. Overall, the United States spends some $50 billion treating end-stage renal disease.

The first Reverse Transplant Tourism exchange was funded with $150,000 raised by the Alliance for Paired Donation, which Rees founded. Philanthropy alone cannot support this method, and it has not yet been financially supported by Medicare and health-care insurers under current policies.

Rees argues that by covering the procedure for one donor and recipient from an emerging nation, not only would Medicare help save American lives but also millions of dollars in medical costs over time.

“As the U.S. looks for unique methods to address health-care reform, Reverse Transplant Tourism is one of very few strategies that simultaneously achieves the goals of reduced cost, improved quality and increased access,” Rees said. “In this new approach, everyone wins.”

Med student adds ‘dad of 3′ to his degree

Christopher Johnson was unmarried and childless when he entered medical school in 2011.

That would change quickly.

Chris Johnson holds Madelyn, and his wife, Jillian, has Claire, left, and Sophia. Chris will receive the doctor of medicine degree Friday, May 29, and then study ophthalmology at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial for a year before serving his residency at Loyola University Hines VA Hospital in Chicago.

Chris Johnson holds Madelyn, and his wife, Jillian, has Claire, left, and Sophia. Chris will receive the doctor of medicine degree Friday, May 29, and then study ophthalmology at Indiana University Health Ball Memorial for a year before serving his residency at Loyola University Hines VA Hospital in Chicago.

In 2012, he married Jillian, his girlfriend of three years. Both wanted children and they thought, “Why not start right away?”

“I would say that it doesn’t get any easier as you go further in your training, so we thought we would get started,” said Chris, who is now 26. “We always wanted a good number of kids.”

But he didn’t expect they would have three children in 18 months.

Their oldest daughter, Claire, was born May 17, 2013, which was four weeks before his first set of boards.

“I was doing 12-hour study days,” he said. “The night my wife went into labor, I was studying until 10:30 p.m. and then went to bed. She, of course, went into labor at midnight.”

Their twins, Sophia and Madelyn, arrived Dec. 30, 2014. Before the twins were born, Jillian was put on bed rest while he was interviewing for an ophthalmology residency.

Jillian’s first thought was, “Oh no, what are we going to do?” The next thing that ran through her head was that these babies were “not allowed to be born” until he got home from his interviews.

“But with a little luck and a lot of prayer and extra helping hands, the twins waited another month to bless us with their presence,” Jillian, who works as a claim representative at State Farm Insurance, said. “We were so relieved that they waited until Chris was done with interviews so I had help at home while I recovered.”

Originally, the babies were going to attend his graduation from the College of Medicine and Life Sciences Friday, May 29, at 2 p.m. at Stranahan Theater.

“However, we decided the kids won’t attend the ceremony as I found out it is hours long. We don’t want to torture those around us,” Chris said.

Reactions to their growing family have been varied. Some people think they are crazy. Others ask, “How do you have time to do anything?” Some say, “What were you thinking?” And then the most prying question: “Was this planned?”

“Not 100 percent, definitely not the twin part, although twins do run on my wife’s side of the family,” Chris said.

The couple met during their undergraduate studies at Ohio State University. Chris is from Celina, Ohio, and Jillian is from Sagamore Hills, Ohio. For the most part, they share parenting duties, but Jillian knows how important it is for Chris to do well in school.

After Claire was born, he would hold his daughter while he was studying. She would spit up on his book, which was “the bible of studying for the test,” he said.

“That was a difficult time,” Chris said. “My wife would get up with her a lot so I could focus on studying. Then during rotations, I was getting up three or four times a night with the baby. I wanted to give my wife some sanity.”

Jillian said Claire was a terrible sleeper when she was an infant. For the first month, she got up at every feeding, which was just about every hour around the clock. Eventually, she put Chris in charge of diaper changing and burping.

“We make a really great team, and I could never do it without him,” she said.

When his wife was five months pregnant with the twins, he had to complete a monthlong rotation in ophthalmology in Cleveland.

He remembers saying, “‘My wife is pregnant with twins and home alone with our daughter. What am I thinking?’”

Luckily, the twins were born during his winter break, but he only had six days with them before getting back to work. He can’t remember much from that time. He wasn’t sleeping much, obviously.

“We were up a long time each night,” he said and laughed.

The next step for the family is moving to Indiana for his internship at Ball Memorial in Muncie. After that, he will complete his residency at Loyola in Chicago.

Chris decided to become an ophthalmologist after observing a cataract surgery.

“I love the combination of medicine and the eyes,” he said. “I will be able to make an impact in people’s lives. Seeing people being able to see again made me love it.”

His mentor, Dr. Gerald Zelenock, professor and chair in the Department of Surgery at UT Health, said Chris is a hard-working and dedicated young doctor.

“He is a very mature student who accomplished much in medical school, which is a challenge as a married student with children.”

By the time he is finished with his residency, Claire will be in school, while his twins will be heading to kindergarten. Jillian said his dedication to education is inspiring.

“Chris is a great example of hard work and dedication for our daughters,” she said. “He is very dedicated to doing well in school and, obviously, as shown by his accomplishments, his hard work has truly paid off, but this is not at the expense of his family. I have never seen a father who is so amazing with his children. I know that the kids have no doubt that they are No. 1 in his life.”

Advanced Leadership Academy enhances futures of UT students

About 100 University of Toledo students from across campus took a major step to enhance their personal and professional lives recently as they participated in the sixth annual Advanced Leadership Academy, which was presented by the College of Business and Innovation.

Dr. Clint Longenecker, Stranahan Professor of Management, talked to students attending the Advanced Leadership Academy.

Dr. Clint Longenecker, Stranahan Professor of Management, talked to students attending the Advanced Leadership Academy.

Students were invited to participate in the academy based on their academic and professional records of success as well as the recommendations of graduate faculty. Academy members included master’s and doctoral students from most colleges across the University.

“It is always very exciting to bring together some of our best and brightest graduate students from across our campus to link up with outstanding leaders from a wide variety of professions and disciplines,” said Dr. Clint Longenecker, Stranahan Professor of Management and Advanced Leadership Academy program coordinator. “It is a unique and true cross-campus learning experience for everyone.”

“This academy exposes students to cutting-edge leadership theory and practices,” he added. “All disciplines, be it engineering, health care, pharmacy, business or science, need strong, effective, character-driven leadership.”

Community leaders participating in a panel discussion during the last class were, from left, Steven Cavanaugh, executive vice president and chief operating officer of HCR ManorCare Inc.; Joseph Zerbey, president and general manager for The Blade and chair of the UT Board of Trustees; and Michael Miller, CEO of Waterford Bank Ltd.

Community leaders participating in a panel discussion during the last class were, from left, Steven Cavanaugh, executive vice president and chief operating officer of HCR ManorCare Inc.; Joseph Zerbey, president and general manager for The Blade and chair of the UT Board of Trustees; and Michael Miller, CEO of Waterford Bank Ltd.

Students had the opportunity to learn success and leadership principles from a diverse group of speakers that included Joseph Zerby, president and general manager for The Blade and chair of the UT Board of Trustees; Steven M. Cavanaugh, executive vice president and chief operating officer of HCR ManorCare Inc.; Dan Rogers, CEO of the Cherry Street Mission; and Chad Bringman, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House Charities.

“What a phenomenal personal and professional development experience,” said Jenna LaSota, a master of science in biomedical sciences, human donation science, and professional science candidate in the College of Medicine and Life Science and the College of Business and Innovation. “Not only did we learn how to become an emotionally intelligent, results-oriented leader, we were able to hear current leaders from around the area. During each session, the panel discussion participants varied in background, but each of them had invaluable coaching and career advice to share.”

Michael Miranda, a PhD candidate in chemical engineering, noted, “The Advanced Leadership Academy has been a great experience. The program highlighted the qualities that make a successful leader, with emphasis on emotional intelligence, work relationships and public service. The panel discussion gave us insight to successful leadership and their experiences.”

Puja Pradhan, a graduate student in physics and astronomy, said, “I am an international student from Kathmandu, Nepal. I have been at UT for almost five years, and now I am in a stage where I should start looking for the job. So I wanted to take part in this program for my personal development; it really helped me to build self-confidence and better prepared me for the job market.”

Yuriy Romanovich Yatskiv, a graduate student in the field of bioinformatics on Health Science Campus, said, “I would recommend attending to anyone who is serious about their professional future. The Advanced Leadership Academy will teach you and show you what it takes to be a real leader.”

Jangus B. Whitner, a 2016 doctor of pharmacy candidate in the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said, “This program opened my eyes to new concepts and shed light on unique ways of thinking about traditional approaches to leadership. The energy of this academy is one that breeds positivity, learning and teamwork. I have already begun reflecting and implementing new habits and methods of leadership into my daily routine.”

Garrett Keeton, who anticipates graduating from the Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration Joint Degree Program in 2016, said, “I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude at the privilege of being involved in such a wonderful experience, and I would be remiss if I did not note Dr. Longenecker first and foremost. He contained such energy and zeal that it would have been a difficult task to not be motivated and enthusiastic. The greatest point, in my opinion, was made by panelist Dr. [Thomas] Schwann [chief of staff of UT Medical Center, the S. Amjad Hussain Professor of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and division chief of cardiothoracic surgery, and director of UT Health’s Heart and Vascular Center] when he discussed the concept of servant leadership and how it becomes an essential part of being a results-driven manager.”

Longenecker thanked Michael Miller, CEO of Waterford Bank Ltd., for his ongoing support of this year’s Advance Leadership Academy.

Miller said, “As a two-time graduate of the College of Business and Innovation, it is great to give back to this terrific institution, which has had a powerful impact on my life and career.”

Longenecker also extended his thanks to Dr. Gary Insch, dean of the College of Business and Innovation, for his strong support for the academy.