2019 SGU Graduate Follows in Father’s Footsteps

Tracey O’Brien, MD ’19, with Chancellor Charles Modica and father John O’Brien, MD ’81, at commencement ceremonies in New York City

Connecticut native Dr. Tracey O’Brien travelled thousands of miles to attend St. George’s University. But for the 2019 graduate, a new internal medicine resident at Queens Hospital Center in New York, studying medicine in Grenada also represented a homecoming of sorts.

“My dad was a member of the St. George’s University charter class,” Dr. O’Brien said. “He’s taken my family on multiple trips to Grenada. I became very familiar with the island, the school, and all those who live there.”

On one trip, her father brought her and her family to a local hospital. Seeing the amputees’ limited access to care prompted him to open a prosthetics clinic. The entire O’Brien family worked at the clinic, which has since helped dozens of Grenadians walk again.

“The resilience of the patients was inspiring,” Dr. O’Brien said. “At the beginning, they’re leaning on your shoulder and struggling to move by themselves. But within just a half hour, they’re walking out the door. They were so appreciative, and it was so rewarding to see that.”

Dr. O’Brien’s work in the prosthetics clinic helped her realize her dreams of becoming a doctor—but not without a few detours along the way.

Initially, she planned to pursue veterinary medicine. She received an undergraduate degree in animal science from the University of Connecticut and worked at a zoo and a veterinary office. But she could not help but feel that something was missing.

“I’d gained significant experience with animal science,” Dr. O’Brien said. “But I also wanted to give back to the community and help people who were suffering. That’s when I realized I wanted to become a physician—and to start my career at the school where my dad learned to help people.”

St. George’s was the perfect fit for multiple reasons. Dr. O’Brien enjoyed SGU’s lecture-based curriculum and collaborative work environment. Her love of engaging with others made picking a specialty for residency an easy choice.

“I really am a people person, and that’s why I fell in love with internal medicine,” she said. “You get to know your patients so well, and really help them with all facets of their health.”

Dr. O’Brien is thrilled to be practicing medicine in New York. But she’s looking forward to returning to Grenada—to give back to the community that set her on the path toward becoming a doctor.

“I definitely plan on returning and providing the community with the healthcare services they need,” she said. “I would love to do that.”

2019 Resident: Time at SGU Was “Best of My Life”

Kate Alemann, MD ’19

Dr. Kate Alemann has racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles. The New Zealand native, a 2019 St. George’s University graduate and newly minted resident, has traversed the globe to pursue her dream of becoming a physician.

“Living in Grenada was entirely new to me. But when I got to St. George’s University, I realized I was surrounded by people who shared my love for medicine,” said Dr. Alemann, who joined the emergency medicine residency program at Saint Louis University School of Medicine this summer. “Like me, they were willing to travel thousands of miles to prove they had what it took to be a physician.”

Dr. Alemann grew up in Auckland and spent much of her youth sailing, surfing, and playing basketball. She excelled on the basketball court, ultimately joining New Zealand’s national team and playing in the Australian Youth Olympic Tournament at the age of 17.

Her athletic prowess caught the attention of colleges in the United States. She played at Mineral Area College in Missouri from 2010 to 2012 and then transferred to Mercer College, a Division I program in Macon, GA.

For Dr. Alemann, choosing to play basketball at an elite level was a given. Choosing a major proved more difficult.

“I really struggled with deciding what I wanted to study. But my favorite class in high school was a sports science course,” she said. “It dealt with the science behind optimizing physical performance. I really loved learning about the human body, so I decided to declare pre-med. Looking back, it was the best decision I ever made.”

After college, Dr. Alemann worked in an urgent care clinic as a patient care representative. Once she arrived at SGU, she served as an instructor and guidance counselor at the Department of Educational Services.

“I loved every subject at SGU. As we progressed each semester, the material became even more interesting,” she said. “I really feel that SGU gave us all the tools we needed to excel.”

When it came time to select a specialty, Dr. Alemann knew she wanted to work in a fast-paced, active environment.

“I remember one particular night shift in the emergency department that was insanely busy,” she said. “That might have been stressful for some people. But when I left the hospital afterward, I was happier than when I’d walked in the door 13 hours earlier.”

Now, Dr. Alemann experiences that sense of fulfillment every day, as an emergency medicine resident in St. Louis.

“It’s the best feeling to finally practice as a doctor,” she said. “I’m thrilled with my match, and I’m already learning so much.”

“On the interview trail, I heard from multiple hospitals that SGU graduates are some of the most hardworking and professional residents,” Dr. Alemann said. “For anyone considering SGU, I can honestly say my years on the island were some of the best of my life.”

MD Grad Recognized as Chief Resident of the Decade at Maimonides

Dr. Joshua Ramjist was both humbled and surprised as the crowded room—full of his peers and mentors—rose to its feet. Just moments earlier, he had been announced not only as Maimonides Medical Center Department of Surgery’s Chief Resident of the Year but its Chief Resident of the Decade.

The 2011 St. George’s University alum was presented the award by Dr. Patrick Borgen, Surgery Chair at Maimonides, at the department’s graduation ceremony held at Above Rooftop on Staten Island in June. Dr. Ramjist was recognized for his impact not only with patients but on the hospital and the education of the residents and medical students he oversaw.

“In the audience were chief residents who were there when I was a medical student. Coming into the program, they were my heroes; I wanted to be like them,” said Dr. Ramjist, who began a pediatric trauma fellowship at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto this month. “To be acknowledged by them and to see the pride they had in helping me become who I am was incredible.”

Dr. Ramjist estimated that there have been between 50 and 75 chief residents in the department over the past decade.

“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “It was surreal to get a standing ovation. I was hoping to Chief Resident of the Year and thought that would be great, but this upped the bar significantly.”

In applying for residencies, Dr. Ramjist was drawn to Maimonides, where he had rotated during Year 3 as an SGU student. He not only enjoyed his clinical experience there, but also cited the hospital’s affinity for SGU grads as well as its history in surgery as deciding factors. Maimonides was the site for the first heart transplant in the US, and the intra-aortic balloon pump, a key innovation in cardiac procedures, was developed in its research lab.

“Maimonides is always pushing the needle,” he said. “It’s full of this rich history that is woven into the tapestry of Brooklyn and of America as a whole.”

Dr. Ramjist trained as a resident at Maimonides through 2019, a tenure that also included a two-year research stint at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, from which he earned a Master of Science. In addition, Dr. Ramjist obtained his Master of Business Administration in Multi-Sector Healthcare Management from SGU.

“Much of what I did for changing the face value of the department came from what I learned in the MBA program,” he said. “How I wanted us to be structured as an organization from a residency perspective stemmed from identifying leadership, establishing a chain of command, maintaining checks and balances, and applying the principles of leadership and management.”

Dr. Ramjist has also given back to his alma mater, conducting student interviews as well as mentoring students as an advisor in SGU’s Office of Career Guidance and Student Development.

– Brett Mauser

2019 Resident “Can’t Imagine a More Supportive Environment”

Gaelle Antoine, MD ’19

“Why do my arms fold this way? How can I feel my heart, but not see it?”

Most children don’t quiz their parents about human anatomy. But Gaelle Antoine, a 2019 graduate of St. George’s University and future anesthesiologist, was fascinated with the workings of the human body from an early age.

“My mother is a nurse, so I spent a great deal of time in hospital wards growing up,” Dr. Antoine said. “I still remember how dedicated she was to her patients, and how thankful they were when they recovered under her care. That connection was inspiring to me—and drove my interest in a career in medicine.”

Earlier thismonth, Dr. Antoine began a yearlong preliminary program in internal medicine at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. Next year, she’ll start an anesthesiology residency at Brown University, where she’ll be working at Rhode Island Hospital/Lifespan Health System.

Dr. Antoine’s childhood spanned North America. She was born in Brooklyn, but grew up in Haiti. However, the political instability there drove her family to move to Tampa, FL, in 2005. She eventually returned to New York for her senior year of high school. After graduating, Dr. Antoine enrolled at Brooklyn College for premedical training and Biological Sciences.

She applied to St. George’s University after receiving her college diploma. SGU appealed to Dr. Antoine for many reasons—paramount among them, a family connection.

“My brother actually went to SGU and had a great experience,” Dr. Antoine said. “It was easy for me to decide to attend. It basically runs in my family.”

Choosing a specialty proved more challenging. Pediatrics, OB/GYN, and several others interested her. But when she discovered anesthesiology during her clinical rotations, Dr. Antoine realized she had found her calling.

“Anesthesiology offers the perfect combination of the medical complexities of internal medicine with the procedural aspects of surgery,” she said. “Many of my classmates found the surgeries more interesting. But anesthesiology was more fascinating to me than operations.”

Securing an anesthesiology residency is difficult. But Dr. Antoine impressed her future colleagues at Brown.

“Brown put more weight on the quality of the individual student, and their dedication to learning,” she said. “That was attractive to me.”

Dr. Antoine also appreciated that Brown valued diversity, especially given that anesthesiology has historically been dominated by men.

“The residency program director takes the time to ask the women in our program how he can improve their individual experiences,” she said. “Being in a field that’s 80 percent male—that means so much to me. That’s when I realized Brown was where I wanted to train. I can’t imagine a more supportive community.”

Dr. Antoine attributes her success in part to SGU’s supportive community. “The resources provided in the Department of Educational Services were unparalleled,” she said. “The well-rounded curriculum at St. George’s was key to my success on both my USMLE and in matching into my residency.”

Our faculty pushed us to be our best—and it wasn’t the easiest at times,” she added. “But in the long run, if you put in the work and stay focused, it will pay off.”

Summer Academy Provides Students With Insight Into Medical and Veterinary Medical Careers

In its 17th year, the St. George’s University Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy continued to provide an insider’s view for college and high school students interested in exploring a career in medicine or veterinary medicine. This summer also marked the largest turnout since the program’s inception in 2002, with 133 aspiring physicians and veterinarians visiting the University’s True Blue campus in Grenada.

The high school student program ran for 10 days, while the Medical Leadership component of the college student program spanned 12 days. Qualified students are eligible for college credit through the School of Arts and Sciences.

“By coming here, students get the opportunity to decide for themselves whether or not this career choice is right for them,” said Avi Bahadoor-Yetman, director of the Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy. “This experience will either reinforce their passion to practice medicine or veterinary medicine or help them decide this is not the professional path for them.”

Hailing from the United States, Canada, South Korea, Thailand, Philippines and more than 10 other countries, the students were taught through a series of lectures, small-group problem solving sessions, hands-on training, and practical lab work. This year’s lectures ranged from cardiology and neurology to musculoskeletal and gastroenterology, and each is followed by sessions in the anatomy lab during which students work with human and animal cadavers.

However, the program isn’t all work. The academics are balanced out by watersports such as sailing, waterskiing, and snorkeling, as well as hiking through Grenada’s rainforests and other activities that highlight the culture and beauty of the island.

Nonetheless, fatigue is built into program and no matter the schedule, the 15-hour days are by design.

“Attending medical school or veterinary school is both rigorous and exhausting in nature,” said Ms. Bahadoor-Yetman. “Hence the program is designed to create an authentic experience successfully balancing a challenging academic program with extracurricular activities. They get a taste of curriculum, SGU, and Grenada. In addition, the quality of the professors and the organization of the staff help make this an invaluable experience that enhances students’ knowledge in the field of medicine or veterinary medicine, while also offering a tremendous opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.”

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Grad to News Anchor: Liver Donation to Sister is “Ultimate Altruistic Act”

FOX & Friends host Ed Henry announced on Sunday that he will soon donate part of his liver to his sister, Colleen, who requires a transplant to address a degenerative liver disease.

Mr. Henry and the FOX & Friends team were joined on set by transplant hepatologist and gastroenterologist Joseph Galati, MD ’87, who shed light on what to expect as he undergoes a major surgery to help his sister.

“Your donation is probably the ultimate altruistic act of selflessness,” Dr. Galati said. “The main thing is that, during this recovery, you may wake up in a day or two and feel absolutely awesome, but then four days later, not feel so good. In your recovery, you have to be able to deal with the ups and the downs and try to find a middle ground so that you have really good expectations. It’s going to be a process.”

Dr. Galati’s practice, Liver Specialists of Texas in Houston, treats patients suffering from both acute and chronic disease. He also serves as the medical director at the Center for Liver Disease and Heart Transplantation at Houston’s Methodist Hospital and is president of the Texas International Endoscopy Center.

From War Zones to Hospital Wards: A SGU Graduate’s Story of Survival and Success

Dustin Blodgett, MD ’19

Earlier this month, the members of the St. George’s University Class of 2019 walked across the stage at Lincoln Center to receive their diplomas.

One of those graduates was Dustin Blodgett, who will start a residency in psychiatry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine in July.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Blodgett, who hails from neighboring Tennessee. But since he left his hometown of Murfreesboro at the age of 19, he’s seen quite a bit of the world.

There were the years in Tennessee and Virginia. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and Portugal. And most recently, in Grenada.

“I’m 32 years old—a bit older than your typical medical school student,” Blodgett said. “Medicine was always my ultimate goal, ever since a first-grade career fair. It just took me a little bit longer to get there.”

Blodgett enrolled at the University of Maryland after graduating high school. After one semester at Maryland, he enlisted in the Air Force, serving as a pararescue man with the US Special Forces. His unit was responsible for crossing enemy lines and transporting injured soldiers back to safety. He deployed to several countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan, over a six-year period.

“Every time the siren rang, you knew you were putting yourself in harm’s way,” Blodgett said. “But if you did your job, you could save a lot of people.”

“It’s certainly not the safest career path that you can pursue. My wife wasn’t too thrilled with that,” he said.

Despite the risk, Blodgett excelled in his role. In 2011, he won Airman of the Year at his base in Portugal.

Not long after, he received devastating news. He had Stage 3 melanoma and needed immediate surgery. He and his wife left Portugal that same week—and moved stateside to Washington, DC, for an emergency operation at Walter Reed Hospital.

“I felt pretty invincible before that,” Blodgett admitted. “Getting that diagnosis was an absolute shock.”

Blodgett fought hard against the cancer. He had additional operations and received chemotherapy and biotherapy. For roughly a year, he suffered from side effects resembling flu-like symptoms.

In the midst of his treatment, he finished his undergraduate degree. He’d been taking online courses from the University of Maryland since completing his Air Force training. While hospitalized, he had to take a series of eight different exams to graduate.

Within a single year, Blodgett beat cancer, received his bachelor’s degree, and set his eyes on medical school.

“I’d gotten into US medical schools. But it was a very easy decision to go to St. George’s University,” he said. “I wanted to see the world. And having lived in Portugal, it wasn’t shocking at all to live in a foreign country.”

“Plus, my wife kind of liked the beach,” Blodgett said with a laugh.

So, what’s next for Blodgett? His residency in Kentucky will last five years. He may also pursue additional medical fellowships. His ultimate goal is to specialize in child psychiatry.

“I want to treat adolescents who are at risk of opioid addiction,” he said. “Growing up in Tennessee, I’ve seen the effect of the opioid crisis. Drug abuse starts in adolescence, and I want to be able to support the kids who are struggling.”

“You can help people just by having a single conversation with them,” Blodgett said. “The trust that patients have in their doctors is very unique and special. I want to have those conversations with young adults who struggle with mental health, as I did when I was a kid. I’m confident that my time at St. George’s has prepared me well to do just that.”

SGU Recognizes Graduate’s 20 Years of Service to Grenada

SGU alumnus Dr. Mark Lanzieri implants cardiac pacemakers in OR 1 at St. George’s General Hospital in St. George’s, Grenada.

He lives and works thousands of miles away from Grenada, yet interventional cardiologist Mark Lanzieri, MD ’85, has carved out time in his schedule, time and time again, to give back to the island. For 20 years, the St. George’s University graduate has provided cardiology services at no cost to the people of Grenada.

For his selfless contributions, St. George’s University awarded Dr. Lanzieri with a Doctorate of Humane Letters over commencement weekend in New York City.

“For many people, this is life changing, whether it is a single-chamber pacemaker, a stent, or simply something that allows them to go back to work or keeps them out of the hospital,” said Dr. Lanzieri, staff cardiologist, Steward Health Care in Massachusetts. “This work is important because there are immediate benefits conferred to patients who do not need to leave their family and social support networks. It is pure humanitarian medicine at its best and I love what I do.”

Dr. Lanzieri visits three times a year to treat Grenadians who in the past would have had to fly to other Caribbean islands or as far away as New York or Miami to have these procedures done. To date, he has implanted more than 100 pacemakers and performed 20 coronary angioplasty procedures, arguably adding a collective thousand or more years of life to Grenadians.

Since its inception in 2000, the Visiting Cardiology Program, under the sponsorship of St. George’s University School of Medicine, continues to provide much needed heart care for adult Grenadians free of cost to them. Dr. Lanzieri and his team, which includes his wife, Annie, an X-ray technologist and cardiovascular specialist, have seen a wide variety of patients since the program’s inception. The value of their time and the equipment donated has exceeded $1 million.

The visits are arranged through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), a program that Dr. Lanzieri was instrumental in creating.

“We at SGU are extremely grateful to Dr. Lanzieri and the vast network of friends and associates volunteering their time and expertise as we continue to work hand-in-hand towards the goal of top-notch healthcare delivery here in Grenada,” said Mr. Brendon La Grenade, Vice Provost for Institutional Advancement. “Dr. Lanzieri represents the spirit of the SGU Physician Humanitarian Network. Today, we’re seeing more patients in a month in this clinic than we probably saw in an entire year in the first few clinics that we ran.”

“The Ministry of Health is constantly looking for ways to bridge the shortfalls at the General Hospital and the medical community at large, because our aim is to improve the delivery of health care in Grenada,” said the Hon. Nickolas Steele, Minister for Health and Social Security, Grenada. “We congratulate Dr. Lanzieri on his 20 years of service to the Grenadian people. Even though you weren’t born here, you were educated here, you returned here, and you’ve cared for our people. As the Ministry of Health and the Government of Grenada seek to nurture the relationship forged with St. George’s University, future plans to build on his legacy will include increased collaboration in the areas of pediatric ophthalmology and intensive care training for staff at the General Hospital.”

Thirty-four years after he graduated, Dr. Lanzieri marvels at the exponential growth of a program that once hailed from the humble beginnings of a single room at the General Hospital. The clinic now has a dedicated center at Grand Anse with more and more St. George’s University alumni and friends of SGU signing on and dedicating their time and expertise for the monthly clinics, and new services, like angiography, are being introduced. According to Dr. Lanzieri, this work is critically dependent on humanitarian support from corporations including Medtronic, ZOLL, St. Jude Medical, Merit Medical, and Terumo that will hopefully always be available.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Ophthalmology Clinic Provides Transformative Eye Care Surgeries in Grenada

 

In what is considered the largest eye care event in Grenada’s history, the School of Medicine’s Division of Ophthalmology, in conjunction with the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), recently performed a 14-day clinic with six visiting surgeons equipped with specialized ophthalmic micro-surgical instruments, and three highly-trained technicians—all committed to the goal of increasing the access and delivery of quality vision care at no cost to Grenadian citizens.

Spearheaded by the father-daughter duo of Orazio Giliberti, MD ’82, and Francesca Giliberti, MD ’10, the Division of Ophthalmology partnered in a first-time collaboration with Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International, a non-profit organization which treats a variety of sight-impairing conditions around the world, along with Grenada’s Ministry of Health to ensure its success.

“In an amazing outpouring of philanthropy, our team and SGU’s Division of Ophthalmology secured an additional operating scope, slit lamp, phaco machinery, and microinstruments, as well as, pharmaceutical donations to the SGU-PHuN clinic,” said Orazio Giliberti, MD ’82, FACS. “These machines and materials mimic a US-style operating room, which will allow future graduates, physicians, and SGU friends and guests to provide essential ophthalmic services.

“In its quest to provide much-needed aid to the Grenadian people, the SGU School of Medicine and Division of Ophthalmology continue to be ambassadors for medical education and vision,” added Dr. O. Giliberti.

Led by Dr. Francesca Giliberti, the team arrived in Grenada with more than $200,000 USD worth of equipment and medical supplies. During this two-week mission, the visiting ophthalmology teams evaluated approximately 250 patients and performed 49 surgical procedures, including cataract surgery. The overall donation amount, provided free of charge to the clinic, including airfare, shipping costs, patient visits, and ophthalmic surgeries, totaled over $750,000 USD.

“Overall, the clinic proved to be successful with a strong turnout and positive reviews from patients,” said Francesca Giliberti, MD ’10, JD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at SGU. “Our clinic patients benefited from expert medical advice, and in some instances, underwent vision-saving surgical procedures such as advanced cataract surgery. We were privileged to have an SGUSOM parent and experienced nine-time returning glaucoma and cataract surgeon, Dr. Philip M. Fiore, on this mission. The Division of Ophthalmology and the SGU-PHuN also provide a great resource of clinical material for students to learn.”

“Through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network, Dr. Giliberti and his team have performed dozens of surgeries free of cost to the Grenadian people,” said Mr. Brendon La Grenade, Vice Provost for Institutional Advancement. “In 2011, he and his daughter, Francesca launched an ophthalmology clinic in Grenada, which sponsored over 25 physician trips to the island. Since then, the program has attracted the interest of doctors from all over the United States and abroad, including other SGU alumni, who are willing to donate both their time and equipment to such a worthy cause.”

Today, Dr. Orazio Giliberti is the Associate Dean of US Clinical Studies, and the Director of Ophthalmology at St. George’s University, heading a department that boasts no fewer than 30 skilled ophthalmologists. He also owns and operates a private practice, Giliberti Eye and Laser Center, in Totowa, NJ. Giliberti Eye and Laser Center is comprised of three SGU graduates. Dr. Orazio Giliberti works with his daughter, Francesca, who credits her father as the major inspiration in her life, and Dominick I. Golio, MD ’98, who also is a practicing craniofacial and oculoplastic surgeon in New York City.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU alumni Orazio Giliberti, MD ’82, and his daughter, Francesca Giliberti, MD ’10

St. George’s University Grants Four Honorary Degrees, Service Awards During 2019 Commencement

St. George’s University honored a new class of medical school graduates from 38 countries and bestowed honorary doctorates and service awards on four individuals during its commencement ceremonies this past weekend.

“It is my pleasure to be here once again at one of these ceremonies to recognize your accomplishments,” said Dr. Charles Modica, Chancellor and Chair of the Board of Directors at St. George’s University, in his opening remarks.

Doctorates of Humane Letters were awarded to Dr. Mark Lanzieri, a Massachusetts cardiologist and 1985 St. George’s alumnus, and José Sánchez, President and CEO of Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago.

For 20 years, Dr. Lanzieri has returned to Grenada to provide cardiological care free of charge to Grenadians. He encouraged the Class of 2019 to stay connected to the St. George’s community. “We need your involvement more than ever,” he said. “I would encourage you that this is not your last interaction with SGU or Grenada, and that you become involved early with the alumni association.”

Dr. Sánchez has managed healthcare and hospital systems for more than three decades. He is a member of the Illinois State Board of Health and helps lead several other state boards, councils, and commissions.

Marty Lyons, a philanthropist and former defensive lineman for the New York Jets, and Congressman Max Rose received Distinguished Service Awards.

In 1982, Lyons founded the Marty Lyons Foundation, which has 11 chapters across the United States. The non-profit grants wishes for terminally ill children.

“Life is about making opportunities and choices,” Mr. Lyons said. “You’ve made one that started four years ago, when you started to chase a dream of helping other people, and making a difference in this world.”

Congressman Rose is a decorated war veteran who represents New York’s 11th congressional district, which includes Staten Island and South Brooklyn. Prior to his election to Congress, he was Chief of Staff for Brightpoint Health, a non-profit dedicated to meeting the healthcare needs of New York City’s underserved populations.