A Day in the Life at UNMC http://blog.unmc.edu University of Nebraska Medical Center Tue, 26 Aug 2014 15:32:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 When in a strange land, laughhttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/25/when-in-a-strange-land-laugh/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/25/when-in-a-strange-land-laugh/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 14:51:15 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2177 ... Read the full article]]> UNMC graduate studies student Raheleh Miralami re-enacts the horror of finding her hair dryer does not work in America.

UNMC graduate studies student Raheleh Miralami re-enacts the horror of finding that her hair dryer does not work in America.

Comedian Yakov Smirnoff rose to stardom by summing up the incredulous, wide-eyed experience of being an immigrant in America with the catchphrase, “What a country!”

Likewise, many of UNMC’s international students can weather culture shock the way successful fishes out of water always have — with a sense of humor.

Raheleh Miralami, a UNMC graduate studies student from Iran, has been through it. She’s been in this country for a couple of years now, so she’s a veteran. But she wishes someone might have given her a head’s up (American slang; a forewarning) on some of the craziness that comes with being an international student in America. “Nobody told me,” she said.

So now, she’s telling everyone. And, yes, laughter sometimes ensues. She and other international students laugh at their situation, laugh at themselves – and, they occasionally laugh at us, too.

Miralami gave a presentation during UNMC’s recent International Student Orientation, entitled “U.S. customs, culture and culture shock.” First, she said, upon arriving in America, you are in euphoria. Everything is beautiful. You’ve never seen anything like it! But, it didn’t take long before Miralami was coldcocked (American slang; to be unexpectedly punched in the face) by reality.

“My first problem?” she said, queing up the next PowerPoint slide. “It was this.”

The American electrical outlet.

Not even Jackie Chan (top left) can defeat the American electrical outlet.

Not even Jackie Chan (top left) can defeat the American electrical outlet.

First of all, what in the world WAS that? And, let’s face it, it’s tough to think of the U.S. as the greatest country in the world when it can’t even run your hair dryer.

“The voltage here is 110,” she said. “The voltage at home is 220.” (Cue Michael Keaton as Mr. Mom: “220, 221, whatever it takes.”)

The coins don’t have numbers on them, the dime is smaller than the nickel, what’s up with that? And no metric system! How heavy is a pound? How far is a mile?

When it’s 40 degrees out, what does that mean? Is it cold? Is it hot?

Uptown, downtown? What?!

And, let’s not even get into “football.” But, since you brought it up, the even crazier thing is this: “Some houses have a special room decorated to watch the football.” (Yes. It’s called a Husker Room. What, is that not normal?)

Anyone else out there notice anything crazy about this country?

international students 007

You mean the ball is not round, and they throw it with their hands, and they call it “foot” ball? Ohhhhh! This country is SO confusing!

One young man raised his hand. In his hometown in China, it is socially acceptable to just stand around on the sidewalk at 2 a.m., whereas in America, people tend to find that unnerving.

Yes! Someone asked, “Why is everything closed when you want to go out to dinner at 11 p.m.?” (Hey, we’re also cultured in this country. Taco Bell is open. We’re not savages …)

At times it feels like international students may as well have landed on another planet. So what do you do? It’s taken so much, financially, emotionally, all the work and effort and everything else, to get here. You can’t sulk home. It’s time to get tough. It’s time to adjust.

(Strangely enough, it turns out that even after adjusting, many international students find themselves going through a “reverse culture shock” upon returning home. Presumably by going to bed before midnight.)

Americans are fat? Hold on, let me get this down.

So, “What’s up, partner in crime” means “Hello, my friend”? Hold on, let me get this down.

So, how does one adjust? The first step may be to realize that people here in the United States don’t necessarily speak English. They speak American. If you’re going to succeed in academia, you’d better figure that out.

Reheleh’s mentor-to-English phrasebook:

  • “I’ll have to think about it” = “No.”
  • “You might want to consider this” = “Do this right now.”
  • “That’s interesting” = “I can’t think of anything else to say.”
  • “Sounds great” = “It’s … OK.”
  • “It’s not bad” = “It’s bad.”

Then, there’s dealing with Americans. They’re different. You’d better prepare yourself for American culture, so let’s go over the stereotypes.

Americans love food. (Yes, no other people in the world enjoy their food or put social or cultural significance on mealtime like Americans do. Though, to be fair, in other countries they may not get quite as euphoric about curly fries.)

Americans are very passionate when they talk; they love to talk and will talk about anything. (Another trait unique to America; I’ve never seen anyone have a passionate, animated, garrulous conversation in any language other than English, have you?)

Drive around and around until you find a parking space closest to the door? Wait a minute, that's not a bad idea ...

So they drive around and around until they find a parking space closest to the door? Wait a minute, that’s not a bad idea …

Americans are very religious. (Because obviously, they’ve worked out that issue everywhere else in the world.)

Americans want what they call their “personal space.” (What are you looking at?!)

So now that a group of scientists have a set of preconceived notions to cling to, we’re ready. The next step in the process is the “mastery” phase. It’s where you adjust to your new surroundings, and everything is OK (American slang; it means “OK”). You get involved. You make friends. You find your way. It may seem a long way off, but you, too, will get to that place.

And then? Then, we will explain football.

The ball isn’t shaped like a ball. They use their hands but call it football. And the coach carries a cat for some reason.

Sigh. Americans …

What a country!

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/25/when-in-a-strange-land-laugh/feed/ 0
On the road with Dr. Khanhttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/15/on-the-road-with-dr-khan/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/15/on-the-road-with-dr-khan/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 21:24:25 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2144 ... Read the full article]]> College of Public Health Dean Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., near Chimney Rock.

College of Public Health Dean Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., near Chimney Rock.

By Elizabeth Kumru, UNMC public relations

The new dean of UNMC’s College of Public Health is in love with Nebraska and Nebraska seems to be in love with him.

Just one month into his new position, Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., began a six-week listening tour of all 24 local and tribal public health departments in the state.

Brandon Grimm, Ph.D., director of public health practice, wasted no time in planning the trip Dr. Khan had envisioned while still in the interview process. The four of us — myself, Drs. Khan & Grimm (who handled most of the driving) and the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Karen Levin, director of development for the Colleges of Medicine and Public Health – were excited as we left. Never before had a dean from the College of Public Health taken a tour of the state like this one. Dr. Grimm, a Nebraska native, often seemed proud to be displaying the beauty of his state to his college’s new dean.

Our “most excellent journey” to western and central Nebraska started with an eight-hour trek to Alliance, punctuated by a drive through the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus and a brief stop at Carhenge, Nebraska’s answer to Stonehenge, built with 38 vintage cars.

In all, Dr. Khan visited eight departments, one critical care hospital and one federally qualified health center, stopping in the communities of Hemingford, Scottsbluff, Gering, North Platte, York, McCook, Holdrege and Burwell. He met with directors, staff, board members and a hospital CEO. He dined with UNMC donors and one prospective student in the unincorporated town of Lisco, population 64, and in a Broken Bow hotel that features the culinary art of a Lebanese chef.

From left, Karen Levin, Dr. Khan and Brandon Grimm, Ph.D., at Carhenge.

From left, Karen Levin, Dr. Khan and Brandon Grimm, Ph.D., at Carhenge.

His easy-going, sincere and energetic style charmed them all.

Dr. Khan spread the message that he was inspired by UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., and one of his strategic goals of making Nebraska the healthiest state in the nation.

“I call this the ‘Goldilocks state’ because it’s just the right size to get big things done,” he told his hosts. “It’s a microcosm of the country. We have the opportunity to be a model for the nation and the world. It will take a strong public health system partnered with education, business and community. We’re already 11th, so we don’t have far to go.”

See the World-Herald interview with Dr. Khan here.

“America’s Health Rankings,” compiled by the United Health Foundation, places Nebraska 11th on the list of states. Several factors, including the states’ immunization rates, infectious disease numbers, preventable hospitalizations and infant mortality rates, are considered.

Dr. Khan listened to the successes and health challenges each district faced and learned how the College of Public Health faculty, staff and students could collaborate to impact these priorities.

At the first stop, the Panhandle Public Health District in Hemingford, director Kim Engel and her 15-member staff are responsible for the public health of 50,380 people in 10 counties that cover 14,000 square miles. Engel chose Hemingford, population 830, as a base of operation because the “small town makes us think regionally.”

The Panhandle PHD is one of 18 public health districts covering 86 sparsely populated counties that were formed by the Nebraska Health Care Funding Act (LB 692) of 2001 and funded by tobacco settlement funds. All but four districts cover more than one county and three districts do not qualify for state funding.

Engel and her staff spoke about immunizations, clean water, worksite wellness, tobacco-free zones at schools and hospital campuses, health and nutrition education and a myriad of other programs they administer.

Her list of public health challenges foreshadowed those we’d hear across the state:
• Health care access
• Chronic disease management and prevention – diabetes, heart disease and cancer
• Domestic violence/child abuse
• Healthy pregnancy/teen pregnancy prevention

Of course, disease surveillance is constant. Outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough, have cropped up in pockets across the state where vaccine rates have dropped. West Nile virus is ever present and mosquito and bird testing is continuous.

The public health professionals we met face another challenge, as well — people generally don’t understand what they do, because the definition of “public health” is so broad. From the first meeting, officials were exploring avenues to better explain the concept of public health. The difficulty of defining public health became clearer after each visit as the team saw the diversity of public health activities at each location.

“Public health is unsustainable as it is set up now and will be unrecognizable in a decade,” Dr. Khan said. “These changes are being driven by the Affordable Care Act (which will fundamentally change health care) coupled with new technology, changes in demographics and populations, and globalization.

“In the U.S., we spend $3.1 trillion on health care. That’s one-sixth of the economy. It’s our version of the cookie monster gobbling up one out of every four state dollars and the crumbs symbolize waste,” he said. “Our health care cost is so much higher than other leading countries in the world, yet we don’t have better public health as a result of that. We can use public health and a community-based approach to make the state and nation healthier.”

The trip allowed Dr. Khan to meeti with some of the state's top public health professionals.

The trip allowed Dr. Khan to meet with some of the state’s top public health professionals.

Prevention is the most efficient and effective way to be healthy, he said. And the public health officials across the state can have a huge impact there, Dr. Khan said, showing people how to “be healthful in your life — with great choices, the ability to exercise and experience positive mental health. “Who doesn’t want to be healthy?”

Officials expressed a desire to collaborate with the College of Public Health to help train health care practitioners, expand research capacity and look for ways to provide field experiences for students.

Dr. Khan announced that this year he is forming the first student outbreak response team, which will provide assistance in an emergency. He also said that adjustments are underway in the master’s program so that students are able to complete the degree in two years.

“I’m out here because I learned a long time ago that public health happens on the local level,” he said. “The best practices and innovations happen here.

“We’re all in this together,” he said. “If we’re going to be the healthiest state in the nation, we have to work together.”

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/15/on-the-road-with-dr-khan/feed/ 0
Dr. Wolfensberger kept everything, gave even morehttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/11/dr-wolfensberger-kept-everything-gave-even-more/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/11/dr-wolfensberger-kept-everything-gave-even-more/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 18:43:07 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2147 ... Read the full article]]> The McGoogan Library's Cameron Boettcher is tasked with unpacking, archiving, organizing, digitizing and otherwise curating the massive collection of Wolf Wolfensberger, Ph.D. (Photos by Rich Watson, UNMC Public Relations)

The McGoogan Library’s Cameron Boettcher is tasked with unpacking, archiving, organizing, digitizing and otherwise curating the massive collection of Wolf Wolfensberger, Ph.D. (Photos by Rich Watson, UNMC Public Relations)

When young Wolf Wolfensberger escaped Nazi Germany for Denmark, then later immigrated to the United States, he took a few things with him.

For the rest of his life, he kept them.

Turns out, he kept everything.

Turns out, he gave everything.

Wolf Wolfsensberger, Ph.D., was an extraordinary man. He came to America. He educated himself. He was a researcher at the former Nebraska Psychiatric Institute from 1964 to 1971, and a faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry, of what would become UNMC, during his time here. Over the course of his career, he became a world-renowned advocate for and expert on the care of the developmentally disabled.

“He revolutionized services for people with disabilities,” Mike Leibowitz, Ph.D., director of Munroe-Meyer Institute, said.

Said a UNMC release: In 1999, he was selected by representatives of seven major mental retardation organizations as one of 35 individuals worldwide who had the greatest impact on mental retardation in the 20th century.

During a period when the developmentally disabled were routinely shifted off to institutions, literally cast off from society, he recognized their humanity. He insisted they be treated as citizens, as people. He realized that not only could they benefit from living in regular society, they could contribute to that society.

When he founded ENCOR, the Eastern Nebraska Community Office on Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, “those were the first community based programs in this country,” Dr. Leibowitz said.

To say that he fought for these people is not an understatement. There were debates with other “experts” in his field, he once said, “which almost digressed to physical violence.”

He gave everything.

Check out the walls and walls of files. The collection itself takes up 1,584 square feet.

Check out the walls and walls of files. The collection itself takes up 1,584 square feet.

We know he gave everything because he kept everything. All of it, just about anything he ever read, wrote, said or thought. He saved it all. Dr. Wolfensberger was a person who made your everyday pack rat look like a piker. He didn’t just keep notes to himself scribbled on scratch paper. He kept notes – sometimes unrelated to one another – he’d scribbled on both sides of scratch paper. On napkins. Everything. A publication celebrating his career noted his collection even included “a history of institutions through postcards.”

The sheer volume of it all is staggering.

Dr. Wolfensberger had worked at a number of places. After he died in 2011, most of these places looked at his collection and wanted some of it. But only one of them wanted all of it.

The UNMC McGoogan Library of Medicine stepped forward: Munroe-Meyer Institute, the Nebraska Developmental Disabilities Council and UNMC collaborated to make possible taking it all. All the scratch paper. All the boxes. All the books. All the items and trinkets. A lifetime’s worth of stuff.

Among the collection, the passion of a man’s life’s work is palpable.

Now, it is 2014, and another man is combing through it. Another man is starting to feel that passion seeping into his bones. Another man may be finding his life’s work.

Of all the rarities within Dr. Wolfensberger’s collection, Cameron Boettcher believes he has found the rarest of them all.

“A history major with a job,” Boettcher said, and grinned. That would be him.

This is his job. This collection. All this stuff. Wolf Wolfensberger. Boettcher spreads his arms and smiles, the wonder of it all washing over him. He is home. He ducks his head and gets back to work.

Boettcher has put his own stamp on the collection. One needs to keep his sense of humor when taking on a job this big.

Boettcher has put his own stamp on the collection. One needs to keep his sense of humor when taking on a job this big.

Boettcher, a library assistant in the McGoogan Library of Medicine, tackles his task with a young man’s enthusiasm and a novice’s wide eyes and bursting heart. This is new to him. All of it. Wolf Wolfensberger? Never heard of him. Is that even a real person?

The treatment of the developmentally disabled. A few short months ago, he knew next to nothing. Now?

“Did you know …?!” he will begin, before launching into indignities from decades past.

The passion is seeping into Boettcher’s bones.

It’s all here. Over there, half a small library’s worth of bookshelves. Their contents? Some, seem obvious. Others … a Danielle Steele romance novel? A Dungeons and Dragons adventure fantasy? Each book has tucked within it a sheet of paper, neatly typewritten. Dr. Wolfensberger’s thoughts on what he’d read. His own synopsis, what it meant to him. What a word on page 236 might have meant to those for whom he spent a lifetime working. Every book has a summary; why he kept it.

Why he kept everything.

There were 35 filing cabinets. Hundreds of boxes; 450 boxes, in fact, containing books, monographs, papers, artifacts, recording tapes, CDs, journals and photographs. There were 4,550 books and monographs, 598 journal volumes, and thousands of file folders.

The collection itself takes up 1,584 square feet. “The size of a house!” McGoogan Library head of special collections John Schleicher said.

Among Dr. Wolfensberger's rarities, a series on Nazi atrocities.

Among Dr. Wolfensberger’s rarities, a series on Nazi atrocities.

Over here there’s a shelf filled with what Boettcher calls “a Ph.D. in a box.” Dr. Wolfensberger had done all the research on a certain topic, written it up, and then, just filed it away. Never published it. Never did anything with it. Just, a Ph.D.’s worth of work, here. In a box. There are several of them.

Boettcher has met with members of Dr. Wolfensberger’s family, great people. Grateful people. Grateful that all of this has found a home, a home that will treat it like the treasure it is. Grateful that home isn’t theirs. Dr. Wolfensberger would send his kids to garage sales, when they were younger, armed with lists of rare things he was on the lookout for. His daughter remembers, when she was a girl, her nightstand piled high with her father’s books, so full was their house with all this stuff.

Why save it? Was the man just a hoarder? No, Boettcher said, going through it all now, it’s clear it was more than that.

“I think he knew he was important,” he said. Dr. Wolfensberger knew what he was doing mattered, would matter. Still matters today.

Boettcher hooked on to the McGoogan Library as an intern. Then, he was a temporary worker. He liked the work. He was a history major with a job. Then, as the acquisition of the Wolfensberger collection came together, they asked him. Would he like to work here, at UNMC? Would he like to do this?

He would. He absolutely would.

Now, this is what he does. Wolf Wolfensberger. UNMC has sent him to archivists’ training. He’s in this stuff every day, waist-deep. The goal is to wade through it, to move and organize and digitize, to sift this vast collection into something the public can appreciate. To go through these books and boxes and napkins and postcards and scraps of paper and make the genius within available. So the world can see who Wolf Wolfensberger was, what he did and what his work meant.

Combing through it all, Boettcher finds himself living a Bob Seger lyric: What to leave in/what to leave out …

“I get to decide what the world gets to see,” he said. “Right now it’s all in a back room, 50 years of advances for the developmentally disabled.”

Boettcher began knowing nothing about Dr. Wolfensberger or his work, but in going through it has discovered a new passion.

Boettcher began knowing nothing about Dr. Wolfensberger or his work, but in going through the collection, has discovered a newfound passion.

Here comes the passion again. Because of Dr. Wolfensberger’s efforts, Boettcher said, people who otherwise would have been shipped to institutions are now in classrooms, working, living lives.

The collection, “a unique, one-of-a-kind resource without parallel in the academic world,” retired library director Nancy Woelfl, Ph.D., said.

“Having that collection provides an amazing opportunity for students across all of our colleges,” Dr. Leibowitz said.

Boettcher looked out over the collection again. He shook his head and grinned. It’s amazing. Wolf Wolfensberger. That man kept everything.

He gave even more.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/08/11/dr-wolfensberger-kept-everything-gave-even-more/feed/ 1
Is there a sexpert in the house?http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/11/is-there-a-sexpert-in-the-house/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/11/is-there-a-sexpert-in-the-house/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 16:07:38 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2115 ... Read the full article]]> Drs. Irwin and Jawed-Wesel interacted with the public at a July 8 Science Cafe.

Drs. Irwin and Jawed-Wessel interacted with the public at a July 8 Science Cafe.

Sexpert. “It’s a funny word,” said Jay Irwin, Ph.D., associate director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative (MSHRC), housed in the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health in the College of Public Health.

It is a funny word. Nevertheless, Dr. Irwin has agreed to take it on as a mantle. At least that’s the way he and his fellow panelists are billed at periodic Science Cafes that tackle the subjects of sex, sexuality, gender issues and sexual health. They’re the sexperts.

Dr. Jawed-Wessel listened as a member of the audience contributed to the discussion.

Dr. Jawed-Wessel listened as a member of the audience contributed to the discussion.

How does one achieve the rank of sexpert?

“I would say at least some basic training in human sexuality and being comfortable with the title,” Dr. Irwin said. So, it’s an honorary title, but not just an honorary title. There should be academic/scientific training involved. That schmoozy guy at a party going around calling himself a sexpert?

“I’d ask to see some credentials,” Dr. Irwin said.

That guy’s probably a pervert.

But being a sexpert is not all glamour – writing academic papers, conducting research surveys and headlining Science Cafes.

Anyone with a profession – doctor, plumber, author of incredibly compelling Lookin’ at U profiles – can sometimes want to unplug and think about something else. Lawyers, for example, sometimes complain about getting bugged at parties for free legal advice. Do sexperts ever want to just talk about something other than sex?

Christopher Fisher, Ph.D.

Christopher Fisher, Ph.D.

“I was at a gas station,” said Christopher Fisher, Ph.D., UNMC assistant professor of public health and director of the MSHRC. He was minding his own business, looking for some beef jerky or some chips, when a woman yelled out: “Hey, you’re the guy from that thing!”

(It’s rarely good to be the guy from that thing.)

And the woman started enthusiastically asking him about sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Now THAT’S a full-service gas station.

“I did stop and talk to her,” Dr. Fisher said. “But I was just there to buy snacks!”

And physicians complain about being on call. Sexpert: it’s not just a job, but a mission to serve.

Dr. Irwin addressed a full house at the sexperts' recent Science Cafe.

Dr. Irwin addressed a full house at the sexperts’ recent Science Cafe.

I went to a recent Science Café to see sexperts in (ahem) action. This time the panelists were Dr. Irwin and Sofia Jawed-Wessel, Ph.D., another MSHRC assistant director. Dr. Irwin’s research interest is in health status and health care of LGBT individuals and in sexual and gender identity. Dr. Jawed-Wessel studies the sex lives of pregnant and postpartum couples.

“I come from a very pleasure-focused, sex-positive point of view,” she said.


They threw the floor open to questions. One young man raised his hand immediately. Then, question answered, we waited a minute or so for the ice to break and someone else to step forward. The same guy immediately raised his hand again.

It turns out, we need sexperts. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. As Dr. Jawed-Wessel said at one point, “There’s misinformation even at the doctor level.”

But the sexperts are helping there, too. They give presentations to UNMC students. These students master a tremendous amount of information, Dr. Irwin said. “But most of it is very clinical. Not so much on how to talk to people.”

A patient’s level of “outness,” for example, may be important. (That’s a scientific term, “outness.”)

Sexperts in action: important, but not quite as exciting as it sounds.

Sexperts in action: important, but not quite as exciting as it sounds.

The questions kept coming. One silver-haired gentleman seized the microphone. He emphatically stated that young people should not think it’s icky that their grandparents have sex. Old people have sex! And it’s beautiful!

It was unclear whether he was actually there for Science Café night at the Slowdown or if this was just his latest stop as he made this announcement at every bar in town. Either way, the sexperts nodded appreciatively.

Afterward, more people came up to them. Asked more questions, delivered more declarative statements. They were surrounded by people. People who wanted to talk to them about gender identity, or sexual health. This is the life of a sexpert. It’s rewarding. But not as sexy as you’d think.

Listen to the podcast of the July 8 Science Cafe featuring the sexperts, below.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/11/is-there-a-sexpert-in-the-house/feed/ 0
Rocket menhttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/01/rocket-men/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/01/rocket-men/#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 19:21:48 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2096 ... Read the full article]]> Paul Paulman, M.D., professor of family medicine and part-time rocket man. (Photos by Kevin Trojanowski, The Heartland Organization of Rocketry)

Paul Paulman, M.D., professor of family medicine and part-time rocket man. (Photos by Kevin Trojanowski, The Heartland Organization of Rocketry)

Theirs is a dangerous hobby, in more ways than one.

They’ve survived some close calls. Don Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology and microbiology, once noticed a highway patrolman driving alongside him for 10 miles, down I-80, trying to decide whether Dr. Johnson had an armored missile in the back of his pickup.

Paul Paulman, M.D., professor of family medicine, realized, too late, that he probably shouldn’t be picking up someone at the airport with a bed full of rockets under his truck’s camper top.

“I thought, What if they decide to look in the back?” Dr. Paulman said. “I’m going to be going to that little room.”

It’s a dangerous hobby.

They launch rockets. Real rockets.

OK, not manned rockets. But real rockets, just the same. With explosives, and little computers and airspace clearance from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).


Don’t worry, they stress safety. Drs. Johnson and Paulman are members of national organizations and are part of a rocket club, THOR (The Heartland Organization of Rocketry), that includes aerospace engineers who work at Offutt Air Force Base.

You know, rocket scientists.

So, who is smarter? UNMC scientists or rocket scientists? Well, in this instance …

“They advise us a lot,” Dr. Paulman said.

“They kind of look down on us as biologists,” Dr. Johnson said with a laugh.

Don Johnson, Ph.D.

Don Johnson, Ph.D.

Their expertise is more black-and-white: “With physics and rocketry,” Dr. Paulman said, “you know when you are successful. In biology and medicine, you may not see results.”

Drs. Johnson and Paulman design and build their own rockets. They launch them when the weather is nice, but they work on them all year long.

They use the same explosives that were used with the space shuttles. They’re licensed to launch them as high as 20,000 feet.

They were both interested in rockets as boys, but then years went by. And then …

“I got back into it when my kids were a little younger,” Dr. Paulman said.

“Me, too,” Dr. Johnson said.

“It was a cool thing to do together. Now I launch with my grandkids,” Dr. Paulman said.

“For me, it’s something my son and I can do together,” Dr. Johnson said.

“His son is the best rocket tracker in the club,” Dr. Paulman said.

Søren Johnson, 15, the best rocket tracker in the club, with his National Association of Rocketry Level 1-approved test rocket.

Søren Johnson, 15, the best rocket tracker in the club, with his National Association of Rocketry Level 1-approved test rocket.

“He’s got good eyes,” Dr. Johnson said.

“And he’s determined,” Dr. Paulman said.

Good thing. Losing a rocket isn’t like losing a golf ball.

“Oh my gosh,” Dr. Paulman said. It’s a little more expensive than that.

But, oh, it’s fun.

“It combines engineering and propulsion and aerodynamics, recovery, electronics. Things have to work right,” Dr. Paulman said.

“They say, when the space shuttle goes up there are 50,000 things that can go wrong,” Dr. Johnson said.

“We’ve found a number of them,” Dr. Paulman said.


So, how are their families about how much time and money they spend on rockets?

“Tolerant,” Dr. Paulman said.

“It’s better than going to the bars,” Dr. Johnson said.

“There are worse hobbies,” Dr. Paulman said.

“There’s never been an accident,” Dr. Johnson said.

Launches are open to the public. If you are interested in joining the club or attending a launch, contact Dr. Johnson or Dr. Paulman.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/07/01/rocket-men/feed/ 0
Answered prayershttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/05/in-the-masters-hands/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/05/in-the-masters-hands/#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 18:20:29 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2082 ... Read the full article]]> Lisa Spellman and her nephew, Jeffery

Lisa Spellman and her nephew, Jeffery

By Lisa Spellman

My nephew has a new kidney!

Jeffery Spellman, the young man I told you about earlier this year, has a beautiful new, fully functioning kidney as of June 2.

We are grateful and indebted to the incredible generosity of an unknown donor and their family and will always be praying for them.

They will never know the magnitude of this gift.

But we do. I do. And so do total strangers to whom I have spontaneously blurted out the good news.

“My nephew just got a kidney transplant and it’s working perfectly!”

The looks of surprise quickly turn into smiles and hearty congratulations.

Happiness is definitely infectious.

We have a lot to be happy about. And the transplant team couldn’t be happier with how perfectly matched the donor kidney is to Jeffery. You can’t get better than 100 percent, with zero antigens.

Jeffery had 99 out of 100 antigens and finding that one person whom he would be compatible with, well, it took two years. For others, the wait is much longer.

This transplant was definitely orchestrated by a higher power.

Jeffery should have waited 10 years for a kidney, his transplant surgeon, Alexander Maskin, M.D., told us.

The best part was when he said the kidney began producing urine immediately. It’s as if it woke up the moment it touched Jeffery’s body.

As for the surgery, which we were sure would last well into the night, it only lasted two hours and 39 minutes.

We were amazed by how quickly things went.

Dr. Maskin seemed to think it took longer than the usual hour procedure.

“He was a very difficult transplant,” he said explaining the length of time to Jeffery’s wife Ashleigh and other family members in the waiting room that night.

As Dr. Maskin explained the surgery he spoke of a potentially fatal infection that he discovered in Jeffery’s bladder that would have destroyed the new kidney.

Someone was definitely looking out for Jeffery and his precious new kidney.

Jeffery will be just fine.

And I can breathe again.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/05/in-the-masters-hands/feed/ 3
Another unusual patient at UNMChttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/02/another-unusual-patient-at-unmc/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/02/another-unusual-patient-at-unmc/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 13:23:02 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2049 ... Read the full article]]> IMG_4149

UNMC is not just an academic health science center. It strives to be a vital resource to all Nebraskans. So it makes perfect sense that the radiation science technology education department in the School of Allied Health Professions recently lent its expertise in order to X-ray … a 19th century masterpiece from the Joslyn Art Museum?

The Nebraska State Historical Society’s Gerald Ford Conservation Center and the Joslyn are partnering with UNMC on radiographic imaging to assist with a full technical study, then the conservation of the painting. The process and results will be on display at the museum as part of a special exhibit.

This intersection of medical science and art also has inspired tonight’s Science Café featuring presenters Kenneth Bé and Jim Temme.

Science Cafe tonight

Kenneth Be, head of paintings conservation at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center and James Temme, associate professor and director of the radiation science technology division in UNMC’s School of Allied Health Professions, present tonight on “The Pearl of Venice” and the intersection of art and science at an Omaha Science Cafe at 7 p.m.  at the Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St.

On the day of the imaging, Bé, head of paintings conservation at the Ford Center, and the Joslyn’s Kay Johnson carried the painting into the med center’s radiography department and set it down gently. Tim Stack, radiology technologist for The Nebraska Medical Center, Justin Williams, a senior radiography student, and Temme, the Charles R. O’Malley Endowed Chair in Radiation Science Technology Education, started setting up.

Williams, Stack, Jolene Horihan, radiography and mamography technologist at The Nebraska Medical Center, and Temme pose with "The Pearl of Venice."

Williams, Stack, Jolene Horihan, radiography and mammography technologist at The Nebraska Medical Center, and Temme pose with the patient, “The Pearl of Venice,” after a successful radiography. (Photos by Fran Higgins, School of Allied Health Professions)

“The Pearl of Venice,” dated 1899, has long been a favorite of Joslyn visitors. Its painter, Thomas Moran, is best known for his paintings and watercolors of the American West. But this, one of his finest cityscape paintings, shows he also spent time, “as we all should,” Bé said, “in Venice.”

Yes. We all should spend time in Venice! (Moran himself wrote of the city’s “dreamy beauty.”)

And this is the way Bé speaks – elegantly. Maybe it’s being around all of these masterpieces day in and day out.

And it is only with this kind of imaging that one can truly know a painting, Bé said. “The history of this canvas,” he said. “We are looking not only for condition problems but also some clues to the painting’s studio technique, things we could only find in a radiograph. Things I couldn’t see with my naked eye.”

Some large museums have their own in-house radiography set-ups, Bé said, but this partnership works just fine.


A great look at the X-ray.

“These radiographic images look great,” Temme said, as the team imaged another section of the painting.

Temme beamed proudly. “I think I’d like to have a print of these radiographs in my office,” he said.

The exhibit will run June 7-Sept. 7 at the Joslyn Art Museum, and will include the painting undergoing its cleaning and conservation treatment in the galleries, with Bé working as visitors watch.

The Science Café is set for 7 p.m. tonight at the Slowdown. Please click the link for details.

Be, Johnson and Temme posed with "The Pearl of Venice." Be and Temme will present at a June 3 Science Cafe.

Be, Johnson and Temme posed with “The Pearl of Venice.” Be and Temme will present tonight at the Science Cafe.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/06/02/another-unusual-patient-at-unmc/feed/ 1
The beginninghttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/27/the-beginning/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/27/the-beginning/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 14:32:10 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2031 ... Read the full article]]> The practice ice rink looks like the graduation area.

DSC_0312There are rows of chairs for the graduates. There is a podium. There are even seats on one side, though not nearly enough to seat all the friends and family who are expected.

Still, the room looks official enough that one graduate, gown draped over her arm and a cap in one hand, asks “Is this where the ceremony is?”

It’s not.

UNMC’s official commencement ceremony was held May 10 at the Ralston Arena, on the main floor, where the Lancers hockey and UNO basketball games take place. This room, a practice area located just below and behind the arena gift shop, was the staging area, where, a half-hour before the ceremony starts, Barbara Breazeale and Janet McLaughlin are trying to wrangle more than 450 graduates.

“It’s our second year at the Ralston Arena,” Breazeale said. “We’re still trying to tweak things.”

Right from the start, some tweaking is needed. The seats have been sectioned into areas A and B, but the signs have been switched, so the students who have actually taken their seats – by college and in alphabetical order – are all in the wrong place.

“We always have interesting things pop up,” Breazeale said.

As the two consult lists – who is here, and who isn’t coming, and who’s supposed to be coming but hasn’t yet? – the students gather in groups, pose for photos and adjust their caps and gowns. The clear fiberglass that would serve as protection for the audience during hockey practice doubles nicely as a reflective surface, where hair can be checked or makeup fine-tuned.


Kate Weidemann and William Warner

Nursing graduate Kate Weidemann is adjusting classmate William Warner’s tassel as the two wait in their seats.

“I’m a non-traditional student,” Warner said. “I’m 41-years-old, and this is the completion of my first bachelor’s degree. Getting that degree in my hand means everything.”

Rob Bowen is getting his M.D.

“Graduation is a good opportunity for our family to come and see us,” he said. “It’s the end of something, but it’s the beginning of a lot.”

Ernie Sigler, D.D.S., and John Reinhardt, D.D.S., are lined up in a hallway behind the arena floor, academically garbed and waiting to make the walk into the main arena. The two are smiling as they talk to each other, obviously happy to be part of the Omaha ceremony, as well.

“They work so hard, it’s almost like they can’t believe it’s over,” said Dr. Reinhardt, “It’s great to assure them that they’re ready to face the world, and it’s great because we get to see their parents again – to have them come for a special celebration like this is really nice.”

By 9 a.m., everyone in the practice rink is ready. McLaughlin and other Student Services staff have the students seated in the proper sections and in alphabetical order by school. No-shows have been identified. It’s go time.

At the signal, the graduates rise and, behind two red-garbed marshalls, they troop out of the practice rink.

From the arena floor – from the real graduation area – the music starts.

It’s the beginning.


Entering the arena for the ceremony.


http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/27/the-beginning/feed/ 0
Surgical Boot Camp at UNMChttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/07/surgical-boot-camp-at-unmc/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/07/surgical-boot-camp-at-unmc/#comments Wed, 07 May 2014 16:29:05 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=2007 ... Read the full article]]> (To the tune of Piano Man)

It’s 9 o’clock on a Friday morn. The regular crew shuffles in.

They’ve all matched into residencies, but just before they begin:

Chickew…record scratch: BOOT CAMP.

A three and a half-week, elective course for M4s to hone their surgical skills just before graduation.

Did I mention it was optional? And that all 20 UNMC students who matched into surgical specialties opted to do it?

boot campers

Here are the overachievers with boot camp organizer Dr. Wendy Grant on the far left. Surgical Resident and Alex Trebek wannabe, Dr. Jeff Carson, is on the far right. On the first day, Dr. Grant buys them camouflage hats and labels them with the students’ last names. They can wear the hats during the month, but Dr. Grant asks for them back just before the end. On the last day of boot camp, she returns the hats back with “Dr.” before their last name.

They could be sleeping in, going out, traveling abroad, goofing off, wandering around, but they’re not.

They’re in the basement of the cadaver lab, tying knots on the incisions of donor bodies. Knot after knot after knot so that when called upon to suture in the operating room, they don’t freeze. Start to shake. Or worst-case scenario: get passed over from someone who does know how.

Surgical boot camp, now in its third year, was designed by Wendy Grant, M.D., from the Department of Surgery. She organized it to give UNMC students a leg up (or would it be a hand?) when they begin their careers as doctors later this year.

“Knot tying is the most basic, fundamental surgical skill,” Dr. Grant said. “If everyone who comes through here can be called on to tie a knot on their first day, whether it’s right-handed or left-handed, they’re ahead of the curve.”

You won’t catch Dr. Grant barking at students to “drop and give her 20” knots, but instead sketching a pancreas on the white board and peeking over the scrub-donned shoulders of her students with pride.

Thanks to those who donate their bodies to science, this course gives students the most accurate representation of what tissue will feel like in the operating room. Ortho students focus on the bones and joints. Obstetricians and gynecologists zero in on the uterus. ENTs and neurosurgeons concentrate on the head and neck.

“It’s the ultimate simulation,” said Ben Grams, who matched into general surgery at UNMC. “Having the cadavers makes it so much easier to learn as opposed to looking in a book.”

Jeremy Hosein, who matched into neurosurgery in Colorado, is practically boy scout status after tying so many knots.

“I’m 1,000 percent better,” he said. “We’ve each now tied a couple thousand knots.”

It’s not all knots. The mixture of advice and teaching comes from faculty and residents in many areas of surgical specialties at UNMC. There’s also the Laparoscopic Skills Olympics and of course, Jeopardy, held in the Medical Services Building.


With categories like “Things that are Red?” (Solo cup not being an acceptable answer) “The Number After 2,” “It’s Not a Toomah,” “Orders in the OR” and “X-ray,” it’s hard for the students not to have fun. After four years of non-stop studying, they relish the relaxed environment of “boot camp.”

“It’s an opportunity to reconnect with everybody,” said Jennifer Dwyer, a soon-to-be urological surgery resident at UNMC.

Dwyer brought the bagels and coffee for her team on the day of Final Jeopardy. After correctly writing an order to “administer a fluid challenge to a 19kg child who is hypotensive,” she and her teammates were stumped by what foreign body was pictured on an X-ray.

Fishing bobbers, guessed one student? Nope. Another student shouted an answer that can’t be printed in this blog. Nope. The answer was magnets. Giggling ensued.


Tom Brush holds up his team’s answer to a surgical Jeopardy question.

Their final exam was a double elimination bracket of tying 10 knots with fine suture. For many, having to do so will never be a part of their everyday lives, but it was a skill they thought impossible just three and a half weeks ago.

They opted to be here because they know it’ll make them better.

That, and it’s fun.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/07/surgical-boot-camp-at-unmc/feed/ 3
The scientist and his chicken souphttp://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/05/the-scientist-and-his-chicken-soup/ http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/05/the-scientist-and-his-chicken-soup/#comments Mon, 05 May 2014 15:34:34 +0000 http://blog.unmc.edu/?p=1990 ... Read the full article]]> Oh. So that’s what we’ve come to talk to him about.

Chicken soup.

Dr. Rennard exhaled, and leaned back in his chair so his voice would carry into the open office door across the hall: “How do I feel about the chicken soup story, Lillian?”

After a knowing laugh, the answer: “It’s just been unbelievable,” Lillian said.

Dr. Rennard watches his wife, Barbara Rennard, the study’s first author, make her famous chicken soup.

Dr. Rennard is Stephen Rennard, M.D., Larson Professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at UNMC. Lillian is Lillian Richards, office associate I, internal medicine pulmonary, charged with wrangling Dr. Rennard, and sometimes (OK, often) also all this stuff about chicken soup.

And this chicken soup stuff never stops. It happened again, just the other day. This time it was Martha Stewart mentioning it in a syndicated “Ask Martha” column. Yes, Martha said. According to a “recent” University of Nebraska Medical Center study, chicken soup, while not a cure, could help alleviate symptoms of the common cold.

It never stops.

Go ahead, Google the words Rennard chicken soup and the search engine comes up with about 5,330 results in .21 seconds. None of them, as far as we can tell, are about any other Rennard or any other chicken or any other soup.

People love it that a scientist actually has studied whether chicken soup might be good for you, when you have a cold, just like your mom says.

Dr. Rennard, UNMC’s inaugural scientist laureate, is a world-renowned chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) researcher. Well, he’s world renowned for his COPD research within scientific circles. To the rest of us, thanks to a 1993 study that’s proven to have gone not viral, but retroviral, he’s world renowned as Mr. Chicken Soup.

“It’s been 20 years,” Dr. Rennard said.

“That’s the funny part,” came Lillian’s voice, from across the hall.

Barbara Rennard’s chicken soup comes from her grandmother’s recipe.

It’s like a musician, who has done great work for decades. But we, the public, can’t get that one, long-ago hit song out of our heads.


Well, no, Dr. Rennard said. It’s not like that at all. “It would be kind of like,” he said, and then paused for a good 10 seconds, trying to think of what it would be like.

“OK, so Charles Dodgson,” Dr. Rennard finally said. (Charles Dodgson? Pen name: Lewis Carroll.) “It’s kind of arrogant to compare yourself to somebody like that. But, he got to be really famous for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

“He was actually a serious mathematician,” Dr. Rennard said.

“But nobody cares about that other stuff.”

This all happened because Dr. Rennard had also always heard the folk wisdom, from cultures all over the world, that chicken soup helps colds, and he loves that kind of stuff – he studied folklore and mythology at Harvard. But he also is a scientist. He lives to find the truth of things, to figure things out.

And, his wife makes chicken soup. Wonderful chicken soup. Magical chicken soup. It is Barbara Rennard’s grandmother’s recipe, and if any chicken soup could cure colds, it would be this one.

TV stations across the country have shown Barbara Rennard making chicken soup, and a station in Cincinnati even uses some of the footage as “B-roll” on Mother’s Day. How do we know? A childhood friend called her: “Barbara! I just saw you on TV!”

Why not look into it?

What we did in the laboratory was actually very rigorous,” Dr. Rennard said. “Admittedly, we did it for the fun of it. Because we were amused by it like everybody else.”


“What ourwork shows is that there are ingedients in common foodstuffs that might have anti-inflammatory actions. That old adage, that if it helps you, it might not be wrong.”

And so it is that Dr. Rennard, renowned COPD scientist, will be forever cited for his research on chicken soup.

Barbara Rennard and Dr. Rennard go over some of the research inspired by her chicken soup.

How does he feel about that? Well, when the subject is first broached, his body language did not scream enthusiasm. But, the longer Dr. Rennard talked, it was clear chicken soup is like that rascal uncle you can’t help but love. With every memory, he couldn’t help but smile. It’s been a fun ride. Besides, he may as well roll with it. It’s never going away.

Leaning: “Do you think people will finally stop calling about the chicken soup story, Lillian?”

“No,” Lillian said.

“I think when you finally retire we’ll give them your home phone number,” Dr. Rennard said.

Chicken soup has given Dr. Rennard three great career highlights, the kind few scientists are lucky to get:

• His wife Barbara, the study’s first author and head soup chef, always loved listening to Bob Edwards on National Public Radio (NPR). Guess who was interviewed by Edwards about chicken soup and managed to get his wife in on the call? “He talked to me for 10 minutes. He talked to her for the whole rest of the hour!” Dr. Rennard said. “And my wife’s friends were listening to NPR radio and said, ‘That’s Barbara Rennard!’ ”

• When Dr. Rennard’s hometown paper, the St. Louis Sun, was doing a chicken soup story for its Sunday magazine, it asked him for a photo. Well, it is his wife’s grandmother’s recipe, he said, and she was from St. Louis. How about a photo of her? It ended up being an old photo of Barbara Rennard’s grandmother cooking with her two young daughters, Barbara’s mother and aunt. Heartwarming stuff. “I got my mother-in-law’s picture in the newspaper,” Dr. Rennard said. A man can’t do much better than that.

• Dr. Rennard and chicken soup were a question in Trivial Pursuit. Every parent can relate: of all the work he has done, it was nice to finally have something his kids thought was pretty cool.

And so, Dr. Rennard will continue to work tirelessly on COPD (“It’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States and it’s not a household word,” he said). And he will continue to take phone calls about chicken soup.

Dr. Rennard adds carrots under his wife’s watchful eye.

Because those calls keep coming. Lillian used to try to keep track of a stack of news clippings, but it grew too much. This year alone Dr. Rennard and his chicken-soup study have been cited nationally by Martha Stewart, Men’s Fitness and the Huffington Post, among others.

It’s the media-exposure equivalent of a golden goose. It just keeps giving, year after year.

Few have done as much to put UNMC in the public consciousness as has Dr. Rennard’s research on his wife’s wonderful chicken soup. And, while he said he isn’t quite sure of all the logic behind why, Dr. Rennard does know that any time national media mentions UNMC, it is, as Martha herself might say, a good thing.

“It doesn’t show up in my annual productivity, things I’m responsible for,” he said.

What? How can that be? That’s a huge contribution to the university. How is all this not noted in his file?

“Lillian!” Dr. Rennard said. “So, Kalani thinks that we need to record in ADIS all the chicken soup interviews.”

“I quit,” Lillian said.

http://blog.unmc.edu/blog/2014/05/05/the-scientist-and-his-chicken-soup/feed/ 2