Vital Signs

September 2005

Medical Center Responds to Hurricane Katrina on all Levels

From On-Site Volunteers to Grass Roots Fundraising, All Areas Contribute


Strong Memorial pediatric nurse, Wayne Lee (left), with other volunteers helping out at the Houston Astrodome. Click here to see more photos from his five-day volunteer experience.

It was Friday night, just five days after Hurricane Katrina obliterated our country’s Gulf Shore, and Wayne Lee, a part-time pediatric nurse on 4-3600, sat at home helplessly watching as the devastation unfolded on the TV screen. But his helpless feeling didn’t last long, as Wayne picked up the phone to find a place where he could volunteer. The words "pediatric nurses and doctors are desperately needed at the Astrodome" were music to his ears.

With lightning-speed efficiency, by midnight he had booked a flight to Houston, found a hotel with a vacancy, and reserved a rental car. Less than 48 hours from picking up the phone on that fateful Friday night, Wayne was walking into the medical operations center located next to the Houston Astrodome, and stopped dead in his tracks by what he saw.

"I felt like I walked into a sea of humanity, there were so many people there of all ages, shapes and sizes," he recalled. "And then I saw in a split-second that things were very orderly and calm. It was a very well organized, yet very primitive, medical operation."

Befitting the convention hall space housing it, pipe and drape set-ups combined with tractor trailers to create distinct medical areas, including a dialysis section, general surgery area, eye clinic, pediatric and adult areas, OB-GYN area, a dental clinic, and pharmacies. Wayne was assigned to the pediatric area charged with caring for those afflicted with GI-related illnesses.

And thus began his five-day tour of volunteer duty at the Houston Astrodome. He clocked in between 12 to 14 hours a day, although he humbly said, "It was nothing compared to the other folks, who were volunteering for 10 hours, going home and getting a couple of hours of sleep before going to their paying job, where they would finish their shift before coming back to the Astrodome. I didn’t have a job to go home to, so I got a full night’s sleep."

In the end, relief organizations estimate that care was provided to about 27,000 evacuees, whose indomitable spirit served as a source of inspiration to the volunteers.

"All were so grateful to be receiving the aid and help, and even more amazing were the many who said ‘I had next to nothing in New Orleans. Maybe this is my chance to start over,’" Wayne recalled. "It was truly the most inspiring opportunity and experience in my life -- to see so many people come together to help each other. The evacuees were so appreciative of everything that anyone did for them, the volunteers did everything that they could possibly do to make people feel safe, protected, well fed, comfortable, and loved, and everyone worked as a cohesive team. I was so proud to be a part of this."

Widespread Effort

Wayne’s story is just one of several Medical Center faculty and staff who provided on-the-ground support to hurricane victims. Department of Psychiatry Faculty Associate Jack Herrmann, a nationally recognized disaster-relief expert, was in Baton Rouge just days after the disaster struck running the Red Cross effort in Louisiana (see for more information on Jack’s experience). And like Wayne Lee, several nurses have volunteered their expertise to relief organizations, and are either down there now, or have plans to travel in the near future.

On an administrative level, the Medical Center also reached out to the stricken region, agreeing to open its medical, graduate, and residency programs, as well as research labs, to those in need. A second year Pharmacology Ph.D. student from Tulane is one of the first from the stricken region to enroll here, where he will complete coursework this semester, and possibly the next. See for more information on this effort.

Fundraising campaigns of all sorts and sizes sprouted throughout the Medical Center and Strong Health raising more than $26,000. Collection stations were placed throughtout Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals in high traffic areas. In just four days, Friends of Strong organized a 5K Katrina Relief Run, which had close to 75 runners and generated an additional $1,650. And Nursing Practice introduced a "Wear Your Jeans to Work" day that raised close to $4,000.

Spiritual needs also were fulfilled. In concert with the national Prayer and Remembrance Day for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Strong Memorial’s Chaplaincy Services hosted a prayer and meditation service in the Interfaith Chapel for faculty, staff, patients and visitors.


Strong Stroke Center Receives NYS Designation

brianThe high level of care provided by nearly 100 physicians, nurses and rehabilitation specialists at the Strong Stroke Center at Strong Memorial Hospital has earned it an official Stroke Center designation from New York State’s Department of Health. The Department of Health is in the process of forming a statewide system of designated stroke centers to improve the standard and timely access to care for stroke patients, a system shared by only one other state in the nation, Massachusetts.

As the third leading cause of death in the nation, and the leading cause of serious, long-term disability, how patients are treated immediately following stroke greatly determines not only their survival rate, but the extent of permanent disabilities they may suffer. The ability to quickly evaluate – and – treat patients with TPA or perform interventional procedures like thrombolysis are intricate procedures that need trained, multi-disciplinary teams to implement.

"This designation reinforces the critical processes that are vital to reducing the potential devastating consequences from stroke: immediately getting to a hospital at the onset of symptoms, where a seasoned team is in place with ready access to imaging and other technologies proven to reduce the severity of the stroke and its potential side effects," Curtis Benesch, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Strong Stroke Center, said. "We are honored to have received this designation from New York state, and look forward to continuing to provide the top notch care that we know helps save lives and prevent disability among stroke patients."

In order to receive the New York state designation, hospitals must have a staff specifically dedicated to treating stroke patients (including rehab), and round-the-clock capacity to perform CT scans. Patients must be seen by a physician within 15 minutes of arriving in the emergency room, have imaging within 25 minutes of arrival and interpretation within 45 minutes of arrival. In addition, rapid lab tests and a standardized written protocol for TPA administration are required.

As part of the designation, any stroke patient with acute symptoms within 20 minutes of transport to Strong Memorial will automatically be brought to the Strong Stroke Center. The fourth largest in New York state, Strong's Stroke Center cares for close to 500 patients annually. Four board-certified vascular neurologists, backed up by more than a dozen other neurologists, provide 24 hour, in-house coverage, ensuring the ability to deliver time-sensitive care, such as administering clot-busting TPA drugs to patients within three hours of stroke symptoms. In addition, a multi-disciplinary team provides follow-up care through a specialized inpatient unit and rehabilitation facility.

Each year, about 700,000 Americans suffer a new or recurrent stroke; nearly 163,000 people a year will die from it. One of the most promising treatments for strokes includes clot-busting TPA, which must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Unfortunately, according to the American Stroke Association, less than 5 percent of those who suffer a stroke reach the hospital in time to be considered for this treatment. By designating selected hospitals as primary stroke centers, the hope is to significantly increase the number of patients getting to experienced medical centers where TPA can be administered promptly and safely.

Med Center Receives $21 Million Terrorism Research Grant

The University of Rochester Medical Center will participate in a new, nationwide research network to improve the country’s response to a radiological attack, such as with a dirty bomb. The National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease awarded the Medical Center $21 million, over five years. It is the largest award ever received from the National Institutes of Health by the Medical Center.


(L to R) Amy Huser, Eric Hernady, Jacqueline Williams, Steven Dertinger, Peter Keng, Bruce Fenton, Paul Okunieff, Scott Paoni, Sally Thurston, Ollivier Hyrien, and Derick Peterson

"We are proud to be a part of the important effort of helping our nation better prepare for the devastating warfare techniques that have evolved and threaten our country and the world each day," said C. McCollister Evarts, M.D., CEO of the University of Rochester Medical Center and Strong Health.

The project aims to develop fast and accurate tools to identify radiation exposure in large numbers of people. Doctors and scientists also will focus on finding ways to treat the toxic effects of radiation, and, importantly, to identify ways to predict the long-term health risks posed by low levels of radioactive particles.

Co-principal investigators are Paul Okunieff, M.D., chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, and Jacob N. "Jack" Finkelstein, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine, Radiation Oncology and Pediatrics. Other members of the research team include Jacqueline P. Williams, Ph.D., associate research professor of Radiation Oncology; Yuhchyau Chen, Ph.D., M.D., associate professor of Radiation Oncology; and Sally W. Thurston, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biostatistics.

University Tops $1M in United Way Donations

For the first time ever, the University of Rochester has reached the $1 million mark in donations to the annual United Way campaign. More than 4,500 faculty, staff and retirees pledged to this year’s campaign, raising over $28,000 more than last year.

In doing so, the University joined the ranks of only three other Rochester area companies, Eastman Kodak, Wegmans, and Xerox, to exceed the $1 million mark, helping the United Way to reach its campaign goal of $35.5 million. One hundred percent of the monies raised are used to provide support to over 200 programs in the greater Rochester area.

This support is felt right in the Medical Center, by both individuals and programs. In 2005, more than 305 University of Rochester workers and members of their families received assistance through United Way funded services, while the University of Rochester received over $1.3 million in support for programs in the Mt. Hope Family Center, The Children’s Institute, Strong Memorial Hospital and Visiting Nurse Service.

The success of our annual United Way campaign stems from your support and the hard work of hundreds of campaign volunteers and staff across the University. The support of the University’s campaign staff, Cathy Densieski and Marianne Tress, who have been capably guided by Robert Allen for the past four years, has also been key to its growth. Upon Allen’s retirement this past June, Andrea Lennon, director of community health at the Medical Center, assumed responsibilities from Allen, and will direct the 2006 effort. The University stands proud as an institution dedicated to our community and looks forward to your support in the upcoming year.

Faculty Spotlight

Media Clips


The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 18), Oregon Public Broadcasting (Sept. 14), and several other outlets spoke with Yeates Conwell about suicide trends.

Thomas O’Connor’s work showing that new dads can suffer from post-partum depression was covered by the Indianapolis Star Tribune (Sept. 16).

The telemedicine project headed by Ken McConnochie was covered in depth by Government Technology (Sept. 14).

News about the $21 million bioterrorism project led by Paul Okunieff was carried by newspapers (Sept. 12) in Albany, Syracuse, and elsewhere around the state.

Vivian Lewis was one of three guests participating in NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” midday talk show (Sept. 9) about the debate over providing emergency contraception.

Michael Keefer’s remarks about modest prospects in the near term for an effective vaccine against HIV were carried by the Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, the London Free Press (Sept. 7) and several other Canadian newspapers.

Ruth Lawrence discussed the fat content of breast milk with HealthDay,, Atlanta Journal Constitution (Sept. 6) and other outlets.

Kishan Pandya’s research showing the effectiveness of gabapentin to treat hot flashes was carried by MSNBC (Sept. 1), Reuters, WebMD (Sept. 1), and other news organizations.

Findings by Berislav Zlokovic of another gene involved in Alzheimer’s disease were carried by outlets around the globe, including the BBC (Aug. 20), Baltimore Sun, and the Orlando Sentinel.

Tom Pearson was quoted in the New York Times (Aug. 18) about high death rates from heart disease in the New York City area.

Tom O’Connor’s work showing a link between maternal stress and depression in children was covered by outlets throughout Australia (Aug. 17).

Maiken Nedergaard’s work on the basis of epilepsy was covered by Newsday, New Scientist (Aug. 16), and several other outlets.

The success of Rochester’s telemedicine program was covered by several TV stations (Aug. 15).

News about John Treanor’s study of a bird-flu vaccine was carried throughout Canada and picked up by the Edmonton Sun (Aug. 14), London Free Press (Aug. 14), and other outlets.

Rollin J. (Terry) Fairbanks, M.D., M.S., (Principal Investigator) and Manish N. Shah, M.D., both assistant professors of Emergency Medicine, have received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for the development and evaluation of an event reporting system for Emergency Medical Services. The system will be modeled after NASA's successful Aviation Safety Reporting System and is aimed at gaining a better understanding of the nature of medical errors while delivering emergency medicine services.

Professor of Pharmacology and Physiology Trevor Shuttleworth, Ph.D., has been elected as an editor for the Journal of Physiology. The pre-eminent journal for the publication of studies covering all areas of physiology, Shuttleworth was appointed to a three-year term, where he will help to select manuscripts for review, make recommendations on acceptance/ rejection based on these reviews, and generate a final evaluation of the manuscripts. Currently, the journal has approximately 50 editors, with about 20 coming from the U.S.

Ralph A. Manchester, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, and director of University Health Service (UHS), has been named editor of Medical Problems of Performing Artists, the peer-reviewed journal of the Performing Arts Medical Association.  

Jennifer J. Griggs, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the Comprehensive Breast Cancer Program, will receive the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester’s Advocate Spirit Award on Oct. 1. The award, created in memory of Harriet Susskin-Rosenblum, who founded BCCR, honors individuals who demonstrate outstanding service and advocacy to women with breast cancer. Griggs was nominated by several of her patients.



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Last updated: 06/23/2009 10:17 PM