World Alzheimer’s Month brings focus to mysterious disease

Michael Reinhardt, MD ’09

World Alzheimer’s Month, launched in 2012 by nonprofit organization Alzheimer’s Disease International, cast a light on the growing and persistent issue surrounding a condition that affects more than five million Americans, with one in three seniors passing away with the disease’s pathology in his or her brain.

Michael Reinhardt, MD ’09, the associate director of the Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and director of its geriatric psychiatry fellowship program, explained what makes the disease so mysterious and so challenging, and the steps that doctors are taking to treat patients suffering from the affliction. 

St. George’s University: What is Alzheimer’s disease, and what causes it?

Michael Reinhardt: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, making up 60 to 80 percent of all cases. It is neurogenerative, meaning it causes a decline in brain cell health and function, and eventually it results in brain cell death. We haven’t put our finger on exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease yet, but the most common explanation is that it’s a buildup of what’s called amyloid plaque in the brain. Once you’ve triggered enough amyloid buildup in the brain, there’s this irreversible cascade that happens that leads to progressive decline in brain cell function and healthy brain cells.

SGU: How prevalent is Alzheimer’s in the US? Is the situation getting better or worse?

MR: Unfortunately, it’s getting worse. Between 2000 and 2018, there’s been about an 8 percent decrease in cardiovascular-related deaths, but there’s been a 146 percent increase in Alzheimer’s-related deaths. In 2020, the projection is that Alzheimer’s-related care will cost around $305 billion. By 2050, the costs are going to be around $1 trillion annually. (can we link to a study or report?)

“We’re looking to 2021 as a possible timeframe in which medication may become available and provide us hope of not only slowing down the illness, but stopping it in its tracks.”

 

SGU: A recent study by University of California, Berkeley suggests that Alzheimer’s may be a byproduct of poor sleep habits. Have you seen such links between sleep and the disease?

MR: This is absolutely in the literature and it’s been a growing area of study over the last several years. We ourselves aren’t doing research on the link between sleep disorders and Alzheimer’s disease, but we do see it clinically. Our patients with more disrupted sleep cycles tend to have a more rapidly progressive course of illness. Knowing what we know about basic physiology, neurophysiology, and the growing knowledge base surrounding the actual functions of sleep and allowing the brain to recuperate—to clear its waste products on a nightly basis—it makes only good sense that if your sleep cycle is disrupted, you’re not going to have that rhythmic cleaning of your central nervous system that’s required for optimal brain health.

SGU: What treatments are used for patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s?

MR: The current treatments comes with limits. We have a couple of approved classes of medication that modestly slow the progress of the illness while you’re taking them, and perhaps have some benefits to the behavioral problems that come with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. But they’re not disease-modifying treatments. We’re very hopeful about some compounds that are going through clinical trials. We’re looking to 2021 as a possible timeframe in which that medication may become available and provide us hope of not only slowing down the illness, but stopping it in its tracks.

SGU: At the Center of Excellence for Alzheimer’s Disease, what goals are you aiming for with your patients?

MR: Some of the other treatments that many times prove more meaningful and more useful involve connecting families to the support services and social services they need to maintain their loved one in the home and really improve their outcomes through social connectedness and meaningful preventive programming. Music programming, art therapy, all of the different multimodal social therapies that don’t involve medications, are of utmost importance, both to patients and their caregivers.

– Brett Mauser

A Closer Look at Trends in Telemedicine

Shyamal Majithia, MD ’14

The emergence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forced just about every individual, and every organization, to discover new ways to achieve their goals and reach positive outcomes.

Shyamal Majithia, MD ’14, a family medicine physician at Western New York Immediate Care in and around Buffalo, NY, has been accustomed to providing in-person urgent and emergent care for patients of all ages and backgrounds. However, in light of recent events, much of that care has shifted online, including Teladoc Health, for which Dr. Majithia serves as an independent contractor.

He sat down with St. George’s University to describe his experience with administering telemedicine during a crucial time in healthcare.

St. George’s University: What has your experience been like working for Teladoc Health?

Shyamal Majithia: During the current pandemic, the need for access to medical advice and care has grown rapidly. Working with Teladoc was relatively easy to get used to from the obtaining of emergency medical records and ‘seeing patients’ aspect. We provide care via video and/or over the phone. For minor complaints, patients can be seen quickly and efficiently allowing them to get a genuine medical opinion from a licensed professional rather than being left to find their own answers during the pandemic.

SGU: What are some of the trends you are seeing in telemedicine?

SM: I believe telemedicine will soon become a staple of most healthcare practices. It provides a much wider access to care. Minor injuries are treated with relative ease. Patients now upload their photos or are being evaluated by a physician over video chat. These trends are particularly used as viable tools in specialties such as dermatology and psychiatry.

SGU: How has the telehealth traffic been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

SM: There has definitely been an increase in the use of telemedicine in recent months. I remember logging onto Teladoc and seeing the patient queue with a wait time of over three hours at times of patients waiting for callbacks. It was understandable as everyone was trying to shelter in place and help flatten the curve. Now that the country has been reopening, people have continued to seek telemedicine options because they’ve had their issues resolved, resulting in a positive experience.

“I remember logging onto Teladoc and seeing the patient queue with a wait time of over three hours.”

 

SGU: How have hospitals/medical practitioners had to adjust to practicing telemedicine?

SM: There was a learning curve when it came to adjusting to practicing telemedicine. Medicine is such a personal experience, usually practiced face to face with a physician. It was hard to imagine not doing a full physical exam, or having immediate access to a set of vitals. My colleagues and I have definitely had to adjust the way we navigate health problems over the phone. This is where new features such as being able to see uploaded photos or logging on to a video chat can be a big help in aiding in diagnosis.

In preparation for the upcoming possible second wave coupled with flu season, we have also begun integrating telemedicine into our clinics to allow our patients a safe way to seek care.

SGU: Can you share a time when practicing telemedicine was particularly helpful to you? Also, where do you see it going in the future?

SM: With the shelter in place order, volumes dropped in emergency rooms and urgent care practices. Telemedicine allowed me another way to fill my schedule and feel like I was contributing during the pandemic. It allowed me to set my own work hours, and see patients after my urgent care job as well. I see telemedicine here to stay. With today’s access to technology such as phones, tablets, and computers, patients have almost 24-hour access to care from the comfort and safety of wherever they are.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Mourns the Loss of Dr. Mark Lanzieri

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

The SGU community mourns the passing of Mark Lanzieri, MD ’85, a dedicated and beloved alumnus of the School of Medicine who provided much-needed heart care for adult Grenadians at no cost under the Visiting Cardiology Program at SGU. Dr. Lanzieri, an interventional cardiologist at Steward Health Care in Massachusetts, passed away at the age of 60 on Sunday, August 9, 2020, surrounded by his family at his home in Monmouth, ME.

In addition to an esteemed career, having been one of the founding members of Central Maine Heart and Vascular Institute in Lewiston, where he practiced for more than 17 years, it was Dr. Lanzieri’s interests in travel cardiology and his passion for volunteering that were two of the biggest themes of his life.

His desire to volunteer in Grenada in particular motivated him to visit three times a year to treat the island’s residents, who in the past would have had to fly to other Caribbean islands or as far away as New York or Miami to have complicated heart procedures done. In his time, he and his team implanted more than 100 pacemakers and performed 20 coronary angioplasty procedures, arguably adding a collective thousand or more years to the lives of many Grenadians.

“We are eternally grateful to Dr. Lanzieri for his more than 20 years of life-saving cardiology service to the Grenadian people,” said Dr. Charles R. Modica, chancellor of SGU. “Mark represented the spirit of pure humanitarian medicine at its best and he loved what he did. Our thoughts are with his wife, Annie, and their children and grandchildren. He will be greatly missed.”

Dr. Lanzieri’s multiple visits were arranged through the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network (SGU-PHuN), a program that he was instrumental in creating. His team included his wife, who was an X-ray technologist and cardiovascular specialist, as well as many other volunteers who treated a wide variety of patients since the program’s inception. The value of their time and the equipment they donated exceeded $1 million.

Prior to performing Grenada’s first angiograms in 2013, Dr. Lanzieri and his team of volunteers were also the first in Grenada’s history to implant a cardiac pacemaker in 2001. For these and his many other selfless contributions, St. George’s University honored Dr. Lanzieri by awarding him with a Doctorate of Humane Letters at the 2019 School of Medicine commencement ceremony in New York City.

  • A 1985 graduate of St. George’s University, Dr. Mark Lanzieri returned to Grenada three times a year to provide crucial cardiac care at no cost to the patient.

  • Dr. Lanzieri explains his patient’s cardiac condition to a small group of medical students at SGU’s Adult Cardiology Clinic in 2012.

  • At the 2019 SOM commencement ceremony in New York City, Dr. Lanzieri was bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for providing cardiological services at no cost to Grenadian citizens for more than 20 years.

 

“More than 30 years after he graduated from SGU, Dr. Lanzieri who wasn’t born in Grenada, but educated here—continued to return here to take care of the Grenadian people,” commented Dr. C.V. Rao, dean of students at SGU. “The Visiting Cardiology Program that he started once hailed from the humble beginnings of a single room at the General Hospital. Today, his legacy will live on in the clinic which 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 just as he once did.”

Dr. Lanzieri is survived by his wife, Annie, their three children, Mark Lanzieri Jr. and partner Kassie Haugen, Casey Conroy and partner Alaina Gayton, and Kristi and Jordan Hirsch; grandchildren Karsyn, Myla, Kameron, and Levi; and siblings Charles, Louise, and Eric.

St. George’s University sends its deepest condolences to Dr. Lanzieri’s family, friends, colleagues, and all those whose lives he touched. His invaluable impact on the growth and success of SGU will not be forgotten.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Grad Fosters Hope Through Curative Cancer Treatments

Treating and giving hope to the untreatable—they’re the reasons that Eric Tam, MD ’13, went into medicine in the first place, and what drive him to search for more positive results each day. After completing a bone marrow and transplant fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine, the St. George’s University graduate has just been appointed an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the University of Southern California, Keck School of Medicine.

While there, Dr. Tam will specialize in malignant hematology and allogeneic bone marrow transplant, as well as be involved in direct patient care across three institutions: Keck Hospital of USC, Norris Cancer Center of USC, and LAC+USC Medical Center.

“I have always wanted to be a doctor, particularly an oncologist,” said Dr. Tam. “In addition to having a strong personal interest in malignancies, I chose hematology/oncology because of the vast advances in science and improvements in treatment. Specializing in bone marrow transplant has allowed me to be able to provide curative treatments for otherwise generally incurable malignancies.”

“My experience at St. George’s was much more than I could have expected. I loved the island, the people of Grenada, and it was especially insightful to see clinical medicine in its truest form.”

Eric Tam, MD ’13

For Dr. Tam, California has always been home. He grew up in Danville, CA, about a half hour east of San Francisco, before moving to Southern California, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at UCLA. His biggest move, however, was to Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean that provided him with a very big opportunity—the chance to attend medical school at SGU.

“I chose to apply to SGU because it offered a strong curriculum and had very promising residency placements,” stated Dr. Tam. “My experience at St. George’s was much more than I could have expected. I loved the island, the people of Grenada, and it was especially insightful to see clinical medicine in its truest form.”

Currently, with the effects of COVID-19 still rippling throughout the nation, Dr. Tam has had limited contact with the virus, but acknowledges its repercussions and impact on the healthcare system and his colleagues in the medical community. Proud of their contributions on the front lines, he continues to advocate for their safety and the resources that they require.

“Most of my patients are already severely immunosuppressed, and already take appropriate precautions against infections even prior to the spread of the virus,” Dr. Tam said. “Personally, my family and I have had to adjust our lifestyles, and follow the necessary safety protocols just like the rest of the population.”

Today, Dr. Tam resides back in his home state where he’s married to a very supportive wife who is an attorney, and helps to raise their two toddlers together. As for the future, he remains true to his mission of fostering hope where it is lacking, currently working on the next generation of Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell (CAR-T) therapy to hopefully improve outcomes of many patients with hematologic malignancies.

– Ray-Donna Peters

Washington Post: Grad’s Quick Thinking Saves Life of Mother, Newborn Twins

Earlier this month, The Washington Post chronicled what one physician, a 22-year veteran, at Saint Barnabas Medical Center called “the craziest day of [her] career.” That’s when a 40-year-old mother, whose condition quickly worsened due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Upon being told that the patient’s blood pressure and oxygen level were dropping, Fariborz “Bobby” Rezai, director of critical care and medical/surgical intensive care at Saint Barnabas, made the decision to do an emergent C-section on the mother. In a matter of minutes, the babies were delivered, each at just over two pounds. His team’s attention continued on the mother, and in a span of 48 hours, she was “a new person.”

“I’ve been a critical care physician for over 13 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that,” Dr. Rezai told the Post. “Especially with COVID patients, you know when a patient is going to survive or not, and Ebony was not looking like she was going to survive. The decision to do the C-section really saved her life.”

From Pediatric Heart Patient to Pediatric Heart Doctor: Meet SGU Grad Thomas Glenn, MD ’16

Tom Glenn, MD '16

As someone who has suffered from congenital heart disease and survived five heart surgeries, Thomas Glenn, MD ’16, is now in a unique position as an up-and-coming pediatric heart surgeon. Today, Dr. Glenn is a PGY-5 pediatric cardiology fellow at UC San Diego – Rady Children’s Hospital, dedicating his life to taking care of and managing pediatric patients with both congenital and acquired heart disease, all while inspiring them to live their lives to the fullest.

“Luckily for me, I had many amazing cardiologists—one specifically during my teenage years, and she was one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve known,” said Dr. Glenn. “She took the time to ask me how I was doing, ask what my long-term goals were, and even encouraged me to live my life to its fullest potential without any restrictions.”

Growing up with congenital heart disease in the 1990s was much different than it is today. Back then there was no social media and no long-term outcome data to show that patients do well in the future and could go on to live normal lives.

However, having undergone five heart surgeries himself, the St. George’s University graduate knew from an early age exactly what he wanted to do with his future. His chosen field would be pediatric cardiology, a field he had been exposed to since birth. He knew that he could train in this field and have the opportunity to take care of and inspire patients like himself that needed that kind of encouragement in their life.

“I actually first told my parents when I was 10 years old that I wanted to become a pediatric cardiologist so that I could help encourage and motivate individuals like myself,” he said. “Thanks to everything my cardiologist taught me and instilled in me, I knew this was possible and I made it happen.”

He has made that prediction come true, yet the path to getting there wasn’t so straightforward. Born in California, Dr. Glenn’s family moved around often. He ultimately settled in Arizona where he attended the University of Arizona in Tucson, obtaining a Bachelor of Science in health sciences with a degree in physiology. Later, after having difficulty getting interviews at medical schools in the US, he chose to apply to SGU, where he could begin training at medical school immediately after graduating college, rather than taking more time off.

“I had a great experience at SGU,” stated Dr. Glenn. “I was especially impressed with many of the outstanding professors, who also taught at US medical schools as well. And while it was certainly nerve wracking trying to move to another country and start medical school all within a week, I was surrounded with an incredible group of friends, many of whom I am still close with to this day.”

Grateful for their support back then, today Dr. Glenn lends his support to those same colleagues as many of them who are currently training in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area have been impacted by COVID-19. He explains that being part of the medical community during this pandemic has been both eye-opening and humbling, even though he has been lucky enough to work with a patient population that has not been greatly affected by the virus.

“While I have only had a few patients with congenital heart disease that have been impacted by COVID-19, I am continuously inspired by everything my colleagues have been able to do for their patients,” said Dr. Glenn. “It is always a big reminder that, no matter what field or specialty you go into, what schooling or education you have behind you, or what your position at your institution is, we are all in this together and we need to continue to stick together to get through these tough times.”

In spite of the present global health crisis, the future continues to shine brightly for Dr. Glenn. Currently on track to finish his pediatric cardiology training in June 2021, he then plans to apply for a fourth-year fellowship in pediatric heart failure and transplantation.

“I am also involved in many national and worldwide collaboratives,” added Dr. Glenn. “We’re looking at improving the outcomes for patients living with single ventricle physiology, something that has a special place in my heart. I am extremely excited for what is to come, and I look forward to everything the future has in store for me.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters

Pathology Resident Making Impact Through COVID-19 Research at Mayo Clinic

Nicholas Boire, MD '19

Photo courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

Being a pathologist is an important specialty in the medical field that is critical to understanding how diseases affect the human body. It is a specialty that is particularly applicable as the healthcare industry grapples with treating those affected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to Nicholas Boire, MD ’19, a pathology resident at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

“Infectious disease pathology has never been more relevant than now, when we’re actually in a situation where we have a new disease and we, as a science community, are not yet sure how this disease functions,” Dr. Boire said. “We’re still uncovering how COVID-19 affects each body system and its pathophysiology. There are a lot of unknowns with the disease and that’s where my specialty comes into play.”

As an anatomical and clinical pathology resident in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic, the top hospital in the United States according to the U.S. News 2020-21 Best Hospitals Honor Roll and Medical Specialties Rankings, Dr. Boire is already making strides within the specialized field. The Long Island, NY, native was part of a team of the institution’s pathologists who performed some of the early autopsies on COVID-19 patients. The group recently published a case report citing its findings.

“COVID-19 (as a pathogen) has been fascinating with regards to my specialty,” he said. “What we saw [in the findings] was a spectrum of neuropathology, including white matter hemorrhages, acute axonal injury, and some lesions that resemble acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. All of this has not been documented before. As our research and understanding of COVID-19 continues to evolve rapidly, it’s helping to highlight what could happen over a clinical course in patients who are hospitalized, which will ultimately help to identify and manage the disease.”

Photo courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

At the Forefront of COVID-19 Research 

The Mayo Clinic has been doing its part to provide critical COVID-19 information and education to the public, to physicians, and to laboratory scientists. In February, the institution developed its own test and had it validated within three weeks—an “incredible and daunting task to those that know how the process works,” Dr. Boire said. In the following days, the institution brought in other commercial tests, and now has those at its disposal as well.

By the end of August, the institution expects to be able to perform up to 30,000 tests a day on the COVID-19 virus, with results within 48 hours if not sooner, according to Dr. Bobbi Pritt, MD, MSc, DTM&H, chairperson of the Division of Clinical Microbiology at the Mayo Clinic and director of the clinical parasitology laboratory at the institution. As an international reference lab, the institution has been asked by the state of Minnesota and nationwide to help out with testing patients.

In terms of research, the Mayo Clinic has concentrated on four main areas, according to Dr. Pritt: finding new ways to detect the virus itself; finding new ways for detecting antibodies to the virus; looking at ways to detect protective immunity from the virus from those who are infected so that their plasma could be given to other sick patients; and also looking at innovative ways for those who are possibly infected to collect a specimen for testing from the comfort and safety of their own home.

COVID-19 has “really brought pathology to the forefront,” Dr. Pritt said. “It’s a powerful opportunity for us as pathologists to be at the table as part of the team making decisions about testing and treating people.”

Working under Dr. Pritt, his mentor, Dr. Boire has thrived in his residency.

“He is a very enthusiastic, innovative, and an intelligent resident. He is very passionate about microbiology and pathology in general. I can see he has a very promising career ahead of him,” she said of Dr. Boire.

Nicholas Boire, MD '19, with mentor Dr. Bobbie Pritt

Nicholas Boire, MD ’19, with his pathology mentor, Dr. Bobbi Pritt. Photo courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

A Dream Come True

Obtaining a residency at the Mayo Clinic was a dream come true for Dr. Boire, given the institution’s extensive facilities and strong commitment to patient care and research impressed him.

“The size and scope of their microbiology department is incredible. Each individual pathology subspecialty here is larger than most hospital’s entire pathology department,” he said. “But it’s not only the facility; it’s about the individuals I work with. No matter how difficult a case, there’s always someone to help and one case can be shared with five or six pathologists—each one an expert in a different specialty.”

Dr. Boire spends his days reviewing cases alongside attending physicians involved in his specialty.

“The guiding principle of the Mayo Clinic is that ‘the needs of the patient come first.’ If they believe something will help a patient, they will invest,” he said. “When people around the world don’t know what they have, they come to us. It has been an incredible educational opportunity.”

Nicholas Boire, MD '19

Photo courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

A Scientist from an Early Age 

Growing up, Dr. Boire was always interested in science and wanted to be a research scientist. With a natural curiosity to learn more, he gravitated toward biology and chemistry. Dr. Boire received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry/molecular biology at Gettysburg College.

Following undergrad, he decided to tackle one of his bucket-list items—by spending time in Africa to serve in the United States Peace Corps. It was while in Africa, volunteering in various clinical settings and shadowing physicians who were providing care to local populations, that Dr. Boire became fascinated with pathology, specifically that of infectious diseases, which were prevalent in the area.

“Pathology interested me because, in medicine, it’s the closest thing to basic science research—uncovering the how and the why of diseases,” he said. “Pathologists are considered the doctor’s doctor.”

Upon returning to the states, he obtained his master’s degree in molecular biology and immunology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Soon after, Dr. Boire decided to take the next step in his career path by entering St. George’s University School of Medicine MD program.

“SGU got me to where I am and made sure I had the foundational knowledge to be considered competitive during residency interviews,” Dr. Boire said. “The school gave me a foot in the door by helping me get a residency position in one of the best, if not the best, hospitals on the planet, doing exactly what I want to do.”

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky 

D’Elia Memorial Scholarship Established to Honor Late SGU Graduate

Alexis D’Elia, MD ’08

Her future as a cardiologist was as bright as a fresh white coat, her list of achievements in just a short time both long and staggeringly impressive. Alexis D’Elia, MD ’08, was a rising star in medicine, deeply committed to her practice, medical research, and the well-being of her patients.

Only cancer—a difficult opponent for many—could hold her back, and even then it couldn’t. Diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2012, Dr. D’Elia continued to practice and teach and help all of those around her for nearly four years, before passing away on October 26, 2016, at just 34 years old.

To honor their dear friend and roommate, St. George’s University graduates Christine Goette, Panagiota Korenis, Anuradha Naidu, and Francine Scaffidi have created the Dr. Alexis D’Elia Memorial Scholarship Fund. With Alexis’ parents, Joseph and Ann D’Elia, and the fund’s board of directors, they hope to provide funding for a future generation of physicians to attend SGU and conduct potentially life-changing biomedical research.

Dr. Goette said that the ideal candidate not only exhibits a passion for medicine and publishing research but also a zest for life.

“This scholarship is a way to continue to honor Alexis’ passion by continuing her legacy of supporting others, of striving for excellence, contributing to important research, and helping others reach their goals,” said Dr. Goette, an internist with San Rafael Medical Center in California. She added that the board aims to make the scholarship “bolder, bigger, better, and touch even more people” in hopes of it mirroring the ambitions of that for whom it was named.

“We couldn’t be prouder of all that Alexis accomplished in her time as a physician,” added Daniel Ricciardi, MD ’81, dean of US clinical studies for St. George’s University. “She was one of those people who lit up a room and who you never forget. With this scholarship, we look forward to helping other bright students realize their own dreams and make a positive impact on countless patients in the world of medicine.”

A Commitment to Excellence

Alexis D’Elia grew up in a family of lawyers—her grandfather a State Supreme Court judge, her father a magistrate judge, and her brother, Justin, a lawyer as well. Yet she was drawn to medicine from a young age, according to her family.

“She just had a passion for it,” said Ann D’Elia. “She did very well in her science courses. It just clicked with her more so than business or law.”

Dr. D’Elia graduated from Connecticut College with a 4.0 grade point average, with degrees in neuropsychology and psychobiology. During that time, she saw the first of her many research articles published while just a junior in college. Dr. D’Elia was accepted to two osteopathic schools in the United States but opted to pursue a Doctor of Medicine degree at St. George’s University.

While in Grenada, she dove into her studies, and became part of a close-knit student community. Upon graduating, Dr. D’Elia made a quick ascent in cardiology, completing an internal medicine residency and cardiac fellowship at New York University Winthrop Hospital—the hospital where she was born. It was in her second year of her fellowship that she was diagnosed with stage 2 metastatic breast cancer. After major surgery and nine months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she returned to her fellowship and caring for patients.

“As long as she could do it, she was going to do it—that’s just who she was, that’s who we remember, and that’s who this scholarship award is named after,” Joseph D’Elia said. “She was an extraordinarily talented woman.”

Her drive led her to finish her cardiac fellowship at Montefiore Hospital Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and take on a second fellowship in cardiac imaging. Then, at the behest of world-renowned cardiologist Mario Garcia, she applied for and was accepted into a vascular fellowship at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Shortly after arriving in Cleveland, however, Dr. D’Elia was forced to return home to continue her battle with cancer, yet she still managed to work as a cardiologist at Montefiore.

“She was an extremely caring person, and despite the difficulties she faced personally, she was 100 percent devoted to her patients,” said Dr. Garcia, chief of the Division of Cardiology at Montefiore. “I think she worked until probably the last day she could stand on her feet. It was quite a moving experience for all of us to see what she had to endure. Even until the last moment, she was dedicated to her profession, her patients, and her peers.”

Dr. D’Elia was often accompanied her mother or father on long drives to the Bronx, sometimes through snowstorms, to care for patients.

“I remember asking her when she got out of the car one day, ‘don’t you think you’ve put in enough? Maybe it’s time to sit back,” Mr. D’Elia recalled. “She said to me, ‘I’ve been given a bad hand. I did everything I wanted to do. I’m going to see people in there today who may have never seen a cardiologist in their life. I need to help them.’”

Finding a Cure

In reviewing her own diagnostic imaging, Dr. D’Elia was the first to identify the tumor that spawned a four-year battle with cancer. She and her family visited and consulted with hospitals and cancer institutes around the country—Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, New York University, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and many more. However, her form of breast cancer—HER2-positive disease­—was both rare and aggressive, resistant to customary cancer treatment drugs Herceptin and Perjeta.

For the D’Elia family, their voyage forward is less about treatment than it is finding a cure for their rare condition. Through the scholarship in their daughter’s name, they hope to inspire future physicians to aim high in their own research, to solve the kinds of mysteries in medicine that Alexis D’Elia was primed to find herself, if given more time.

“We’ve dedicated ourselves to this,” Mr. D’Elia said.

The D’Elia family presented the inaugural scholarship award last fall to Matthew Peachey, MD/MSc ’20. Dr. Peachey, who began an internal medicine residency at The Brooklyn Hospital Center in July, was honored with the $10,000 scholarship at a dinner in Dr. D’Elia’s honor.

“I was beyond flattered to receive the award,” said Dr. Peachey, who hopes to serve as a hospitalist in the future. “I keep the award on my desk, and during my most trying days, it is a reminder that things could be exponentially more difficult, and someone believes in me.”

Interested in learning more information or applying for the scholarship? Contact Dr. Panagiota Korenis Rios at korenismd@gmail.com

 

— Brett Mauser 

St. George’s University Adds New US Clinical Sites for Medical School Student Core Rotations

SGU Students at Clinical Rotations

St. George’s University has finalized agreements with seven new hospitals across the United States, including several in California as well as a new venue into the South that will allow for third-year medical students to receive core clinical training during a crucial time in healthcare.

The hospitals that will now be designated as SGU clinical sites include:

  • Baton Rouge General Medical Center in Baton Rouge, LA
  • Doctor’s Medical Center in Modesto, CA
  • Hemet Valley Medical Center in Hemet, CA
  • MacNeal Hospital in Maywood, IL
  • Mission Community Hospital in Panorama City, CA
  • Westchester General Hospital in Miami, FL
  • Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY

Each hospital will offer a range of core rotations for third-year students including: internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, OB/GYN, surgery, and/or psychiatry. The hospitals will also offer students elective rotations; more information on electives available at each hospital will be forthcoming.

“The new clinical sites offer placement for all students, but especially for those who hail from Florida, California, Louisiana, or nearby states, who would like to continue their clinical training closer to home,” said Daniel D. Ricciardi, dean of clinical studies for SGU’s School of Medicine. “In addition, given that each hospital has a residency associated with it, a clinical placement could also lead to opportunity to audition and interview for residencies in any of these hospitals for our students—that’s the key.”

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center

Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.

With accredited programs in emergency medicine, internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics, and pediatrics—in addition to electives that span the gamut—Wyckoff Heights Medical Center is ready for SGU students to enter its doors for continued medical education, said Dr. Ken Freiberg, vice president of medical education at the institution.

“We are really looking forward to this,” Dr. Freiberg said. “We are going to probably have approximately 100 SGU students at our institution for clinical training by September or October.”

Following rotation fulfillment, students will be encouraged to apply for the highly competitive residency programs at the hospital, he added.

This year, more than 1,100 SGU grads matched in residency programs that span internal medicine to pediatrics, emergency medicine, surgery, and anesthesia, among other specialties.

SGU has developed longstanding relationships with many hospital and clinical center partners in the US and United Kingdom. The additional clinical sites boost SGU’s clinical network to more than 60 locations across the US, with another 17 clinical sites in the UK.

In 1999, SGU’s School of Medicine inaugurated a system of clinical centers to add to its already impressive list of affiliated hospitals. A clinical center is defined as a hospital, or group of hospitals, able to provide at least four core rotations and train 80 to 100 students at all times while providing sub-internships, primary care rotations, and electives.

View SGU’s list of affiliated hospitals and clinical centers on our website.

“Our clinical rotations allow our students to gain knowledge of different patient populations in a variety of settings and environments, offering valuable hands-on experience as they complete their final two years of medical studies,” said Dr. Richard Liebowitz, vice chancellor at SGU. “These clinical site additions allow SGU to expand upon a system that has proven successful not only in the education of our medical students, but also in creating a community for students to thrive. We are thrilled to add these new locations to our broad clinical network.”

Incoming third-year students will be able to apply for clinical rotations at each of the hospitals starting in September. For more information, please email Dean Ricciardi at dricciardi@sgu.edu.

 

 

 – Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Grad Translates Research Evidence to Combat COVID-19

Ahmad Firas Khalid, MD '09

Ahmad Firas Khalid, MD ’09

As a medical doctor, a health policy researcher, and a lecturer on health systems, Firas Khalid, MD ’09, finds himself in the perfect position to utilize the knowledge and experience he’s acquired to address the present health crisis and its urgent population health needs.

Currently a research manager at Evidence Aid, Dr. Khalid’s expertise in health policy, specifically in health and humanitarian emergencies, is put to good use, as he dedicates his time and effort into translating research evidence to inform policy and practice since the beginning of the pandemic. He spends most of his days ensuring that review summaries relevant to COVID-19 displayed on the company’s website are robust, high-quality, clearly-written and accessible to all users.

“I was always keen to pursue a career in healthcare and in health systems,” said Dr. Khalid, who’s originally from Jordan. “I was particularly drawn to learning how to better strengthen health systems’ response to emergencies. Although I no longer practice medicine as a clinician, I utilize the medical knowledge and experience I acquired from SGU daily in all the roles I play—as an educator to my diverse set of students and as a health policy researcher and advisor on key health issues.”

On a professional level, for Dr. Khalid and many others in the medical community, the pandemic has had a significant impact on his life. He finds himself on the news almost daily, answering COVID-19 pressing questions by the public and utilizing his social media platforms to help disseminate the best available evidence. Meanwhile, as an educator, he’s used this time to push himself to create a new course for his students at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada that addresses current health issues related to governance in health and humanitarian emergencies.

“However, it is on a personal level that I feel this health crisis has had an even bigger impact on my life,” shared Dr. Khalid. “It has brought me much closer to my family and friends, especially my colleagues from SGU that are currently practicing in the US in various specialties, who I turn to daily for their expert insights on major health issues.”

Today, Dr. Khalid is currently leading a monitoring and evaluation research project on COVID-19 evidence summaries to better understand how to support knowledge needs in crisis zones. While in addition to his course at McMaster, he is also teaching two other health policy and systems courses in the fall at Wilfred Laurier University, and York University located in Brantford and Toronto, Ontario respectively.

“COVID-19 has tested my medical and health policy knowledge to the maximum,” added Dr. Khalid. “Hence, I am forever grateful to SGU for the exceptional medical education and experience I received. It has served me throughout my professional and personal career, and I am especially grateful for the lifelong friendships I developed during my time there. My colleagues are my go-to source for the most up-to-date medical insights on a diverse set of critical health issues and they are also part of my extended family. We developed a strong bond because of SGU and the experiences we shared in Grenada and beyond.”

Are you an SGU doctor succeeding in your career? Send us your story ideas. You can also share your story with us on social media by tagging SGU or using the hashtag #WeAreSGU and #SGUAlumni. 

– Ray-Donna Peters