July 2020 I Chief report, Research Award, Jean Fitzpatrick Retires
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the UIC Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy newsletter!
Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of the UIC Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy Newsletter. We initially intended to launch this project in March of this year. The first issue of the Newsletter had been finalized and was within one week of being distributed when the COVID-19 pandemic began arriving in force here in Chicago. Seemingly overnight it affected all of our lives with remarkable speed and intensity, dramatically altering our focus and our priorities.
Our ICUs began filling with desperately ill patients suffering from severe ARDS and multiorgan failure. Despite concerns about personal and family safety, appropriate and sufficient PPE, and uncertainties about the potential effectiveness of a myriad of therapies, the Division rapidly focused all our efforts to face this frightening and deadly new disease. At both our University Hospital and the Jesse Brown VA Hospital, Division members optimized workforce staff levels and assignments, repurposed other units for use as medical ICU beds, rapidly organized and participated in desperately needed multi-center therapeutic trials, and implemented new technologies for respiratory support and telehealth medical care. These changes allowed us to care for the eventual case load of twice our average MICU census (and much higher than average acuity) for an extended period of time.
I am enormously proud to work with such dedicated, resourceful, and resilient individuals. Without hesitation, all involved stepped up to assume new responsibilities and workloads. I am humbled by the professionalism and commitment to patient care of our Divisional staff. It is not an exaggeration to state that each individual deserves recognition and praise for their efforts during this time.
I know that many of you have faced and overcome similar challenges during the pandemic, and I salute you all.
During this extraordinary time in our history, we also are increasing our efforts to address racial bias and inequality. We must strive to acknowledge, confront, and eliminate the systemic racism in our society as a whole, and in our medical system specifically. I challenge and fully expect our Division to meet this pervasive and deadly problem with the same urgency and commitment displayed in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. We will be an agent of positive change. These collective experiences have strengthened us as a group and will serve to make us better physicians and citizens throughout the remainder of our careers. This is our mission and our pledge.
Although several months after the initial target date, the Division is now embarking on a quarterly newsletter to update former and current fellows, faculty, and friends about Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy here at UIC. The newsletter will highlight clinical and research advances at UIC, as well as fellows and fellowship news, in addition to other interesting updates about our program. The Division deeply appreciates its fellows and former fellows, who have been a major force in improving the fellowship program and division, and one exciting aspect of this new newsletter is that we will be highlighting a former fellow in each edition.
The Division continues to evolve and grow and is currently very strong. We have become one of the largest divisions in the Department of Medicine and are composed of 27 faculty and 20 fellows. Our clinical operations at UIC and the Jesse Brown VA continue provide the highest quality care to hundreds of patients each week. Our sleep medicine, allergy, and interventional pulmonary programs, in particular, have seen significant clinical growth in recent years.
Our members are highly engaged in advancing the science of practice of medicine with diverse areas of expertise including vascular biology, immunology, clinical outcomes and implementation research spread across pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy specialties. Together they hold a total of 48 active external grants. In the past year alone, Division members have been awarded 12 new grants totaling >$1.3 million (direct plus indirect funds). Our entire grant profile currently totals >$8.6 million annually. This active scholarship produces many collaborative pursuits within the Departments of Medicine, Pharmacology and the School of Public Health here at UIC which have generated national and international recognition.
We hope you enjoy the newsletter and find it a valuable connection back to the UIC Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy Division, a place you can always call home!
Steven Dudek, MD
New directions in training tomorrow’s Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep physicians
Fellowship training is evolving and treading new pathways. In this “information-at-your-fingertips” age, medical education must go beyond the provision and assessment of medical facts. The traditional paradigm of faculty-led rounds with gradual emulation by the trainee may now fall short of producing higher-order cognitive problem-solvers. Teaching advanced clinical reasoning and judgement emphasizes how fellows think more than what they know and how to manage complex cases rather than having information about rare diseases. This requires that mentors understand how fellows approach a clinical problem including their capability and conscious and subconscious cognitive biases.
More individualized mentorship based on fellow-driven clinical experiences guides fellows towards continuous education, self-analysis, and mastery to and beyond clinical competence. Fellowship Program Director, Dr. Sunit Singla, leads the effort to continually refine the curriculum to meet the new medical setting and provide the experiences the fellows need. Drs. Dustin Fraidenburg, Patrick Belvitch, and Kevin Haas are Associate Program Directors and Sue Hammerschmidt is the Program Coordinator.
In the past two years, Dr. Kevin Kovitz and Dr. Kevin Haas have brought navigational bronchoscopy, airway laser therapy, and emergency bedside disposable bronchoscopy to the University and VA hospitals, expanding the procedural arsenal of experience the fellows take with them upon graduation. The rapid set-up bronchoscopy at the ICU bedside improves the critical care airway management training experience. The number of thoracoscopic procedures has been steadily increasing creating more experiences for our future pulmonologists.
Equally significant in advancing the fellowship curriculum is promoting wellness in order to achieve optimal training and performance in the higher-order cognitive domains. Factors associated with burnout and depression, which currently occur at the highest rates in critical care physicians compared to other medical subspecialties, must be addressed in producing enthusiastic physicians who will be tomorrow’s leaders.
To meet these challenges, the Fellowship and the Division have partnered to convene a Wellness Committee made up of four faculty members and four fellows. The committee is charged with periodically assessing the wellness-related needs of faculty and fellows across mental, physical, social, and professional dimensions, and identifying resources with which to design targeted interventions addressing the specific wellness-promoting needs. Examples of future activities that may become a regular part of the wellness curriculum include outings that involve team-building exercises (such as Escape Room), or post-ICU small-group debriefing sessions led by a clinical psychologist with experience managing high performance teams.
Excellence in Our Specialty
The Pulmonary Hypertension program provide future care now
On any given Thursday morning, the pulmonary clinic is abuzz with activity as patients with all different forms of pulmonary hypertension await their echocardiograms, 6-minute walk tests, and clinical visits. Dr. Dustin Fraidenburg, Assistant Professor and Director of the Pulmonary Hypertension program, leads this clinic and has established a bountiful practice managing pulmonary vascular disease and pulmonary hypertension (PH). Over the past decade, care for pulmonary hypertension has been revolutionized by FDA approval of various new therapies, a better understanding of disease pathophysiology, improved prognostic markers, and updated management strategies for individuals living with this disease.
The UIC Pulmonary Hypertension program boasts more than 250 patients on active therapy for pulmonary arterial hypertension or chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension, including advanced therapies with infused prostacyclin analogs. Dr. Fraidenburg, who is NIH funded to study mechanisms of pulmonary vascular disease in basic science, has committed to bringing the future of pulmonary hypertension care to UIC. He and his clinical research team are actively participating in national and worldwide clinical trials with a study budget that exceeds $200,000 annually. Current studies are aimed at introducing new therapies for pulmonary arterial hypertension, as well as treatment for subjects with pulmonary hypertension related to respiratory diseases, including COPD and lung fibrosis. Dr. Fraidenburg states, “These clinical trials in pulmonary hypertension associated with respiratory disease are aimed at filling a huge, unmet need for a group of patients in which there are no current FDA approved pulmonary hypertension therapies.”
Additionally, Dr. Fraidenburg and colleagues are committed to advancing the mission of the UIC Department of Medicine to address health disparities among the patients they serve. Published abstracts presented at the American Heart Association and American Thoracic Society meetings have identified that African American patients presenting to PH clinic on average have more severe disease with lower cardiac output and more impaired walk distance than all other racial and ethnic groups. Dr. Solomon Krow, a Pulmonary and Critical Care fellow, published his findings related to this work in the 2020 ATS International Conference abstracts. Dr. Krow has identified that on average there is a delay of more than six months from the first abnormal echocardiogram until PAH is diagnosed by right heart catheterization. This delay is further magnified to more than two years in African American subjects, highlighting the importance of recognition and early referral of all patients in which pulmonary hypertension may be suspected. Dr. Fraidenburg says that he is committed to bringing the future of PH care to UIC, and part of that includes recognizing and addressing the racial inequities that deter or delay our underserved subjects from receiving appropriate care.
PCCSA research program reaches new highs
It is an exciting time to be a researcher in the division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy (PCCSA) at UIC. The division is home to a wide variety of cutting-edge basic, translational, and clinical projects conducted by a talented team of investigators. Valuable contributions from researchers at all levels including students, post-docs, fellows and faculty have expanded the recognition of UIC on a global scale in advancing our knowledge and the care of patients with respiratory disease.
A core mission of the PCCSA research program is training the next generation of scientists. Instrumental to achieving this goal is the division’s National Research Service Award T32 Institutional Training Grant. This highly competitive funding opportunity from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was renewed in the summer of 2019 and supports pulmonary-critical care and post-doctoral fellows with plans to expand significantly in the years to come. Recent graduates of the T32 Program include Drs. Mehdi Mirsaeidi and Dustin Fraidenburg (both featured in this issue) who along with many others have launched their own rapidly successful academic careers built on the solid foundations developed at UIC.
The PCCSA faculty are a group of dynamic and enthusiastic leaders. Their work encompasses the entire spectrum of medical knowledge and healthcare delivery. From identifying the cellular mechanisms of disease through clinical outcomes research and implementation science, UIC faculty have achieved national and international recognition in each of these areas. In fiscal 2019, PCCSA investigators were awarded 21 new grants and published 100 peer reviewed papers.
In upcoming issues of the UIC PCCSA newsletter we plan to highlight investigators and research groups. The UIC community is proud of the division’s success and passion for improving the care of our patients. We hope to share this enthusiasm with you our extended family!
Mehdi Mirsaeidi, MD - Research in high gear
Mehdi Mirsaeidi (fellowship 2011-2015) is a fitting fellow to be chosen for our first newsletter. He came from Louisville with an MPH, training in Infectious Disease, and excitement about investigation−and his fellowship brimmed with research. He collaborated with many different individuals, departments, and even colleges. Most of his work he initiated himself, and most was without outside funding. He also helped other fellows, often tutoring them in research or involving them in his projects. His confident embrace of research earned the nickname, “the Professor” while still a fellow. He published 39 papers during his 4-year, T32 fellowship.
Mehdi is now an Associate Professor at University of Miami, Director of the Sarcoidosis Program and Co-Director of environmental mycobacteria program. His main research centers on sarcoidosis and environmental mycobacteria. One of his current projects is studying the effects of α-melanocyte stimulating hormone, melanocortin, and melanocortin receptor-1 on the immune function of granulomatous inflammation, clearly important in sarcoidosis and mycobacterial infections. He has won several teaching awards, holds positions in several professional societies, sits on many editorial boards, and has reviewed manuscripts for many journals. Currently, he has 7 grants including one from an NIH PICORI program. He has 143 peer-reviewed publications−not bad for someone only 5 years out of his fellowship!
In 2016, Mehdi and his wife Golnaz, set up the Reza Ebrahimi Research Award in memory of Golnaz’ father, an outstanding researcher. The annual award goes to the UIC PCCSA fellow who is most productive in research. Mehdi said that he and Golnaz believe in giving back and want to encourage research at the fellow level. He is grateful for the excellent mentoring and friendship at UIC and hopes this award will stimulate research training, while it honors an important scientist.
Mehdi is also interested in travel, history, and art, especially surrealism. He is an extraordinary photographer; his art can be found at:
Jean Fitzpatrick retired from UIC and the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy after years of dedicated service. Jean grew up in Illinois and got her college degree in medical technology. A college girlfriend suggested they move to Chicago to “have fun” and she never left until retirement. Shortly after starting as a med tech, she decided she wanted more variety to her work and daily personal communication. She went back to school for her MBA, but soon got married and had a family. She was out of the workforce for 10 years but began working for the American Society of Clinical Pathology, located near UIC at that time. In 2001 Jean moved to UIC to become Dr. Tom Layden's assistant.
When John Christman came to UIC, he asked Tom for a first-rate business manager and Tom agreed to let Jean move to pulmonary. Jean said she actually was not a business manager at the time, but quickly learned about grants, budgets, and HR.
What Jean loved most about working in PCCSA was that every day was different and she got to talk with all sorts of people. One day Michael Markos, a fellow at the time, noticed a photo of a golden retriever on her wall. She told him that it was Brandy, the best dog ever, who had recently died. Michael said that he had accepted a golden retriever from his brother, but they soon found out they were expecting a child, making it difficult for them to care for the dog. He asked, “Would you like a dog?” Jean accepted it and gave it to her daughter Maureen. Now years later, that golden retriever turned out to be wonderful, “almost as good as Brandy.”
Now in retirement, Jean has moved to Olney, Illinois to live near her daughter, Claire, her husband, and three children on their dairy farm. She looks forward to spending time with her grandchildren. Jean said she was still unpacking but is already helping at her grandchildren’s school by managing one of their fund-raising program.
Jean has helped almost a generation of fellows navigate UIC. She worked to make fellows’ and faculty’s lives easier and more efficient. Her trouble shooting has “saved the day” many times. She relishes her new lifestyle but appreciates the good times and many friends at UIC.
New Director of Business Operations
We would like to introduce Alejandra (Alex) Martinez as our Director of Business Operations. Alejandra started working at UIC in November 2006 in the OBFS Grants & Contacts department. In this position she began managing the post award/grants for the Department of Medicine. In 2009 she was hired by the Department of Medicine as a grant specialist managing Pre/Post award grants for several divisions. Then in 2013 she took the position of Administrative Director for The Institute for Minority Health. The following year an opportunity opened up in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy and she became the Associate Director of Administrative Operations. Alex managed the entire pre/post award research portfolio and divisional funds for the division as well as working alongside Jean Fitzpatrick on all administrative duties. In July of 2018 she became the Director of Administrative Operations for the division and plans to continue her career alongside Dr. Steven Dudek.