December 20, 2022

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Happy holidays and good tidings of a great year

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and Hanukkah and a brand-new year. What a great time to celebrate our families, friends and colleagues and the many blessings that they bring to our lives. I hope each of you know what a blessing you are to me as an individual, a physician and as dean of one of the nation’s first medical schools. There are tough days, no question, but that is at least in part because of the importance of what each of you and MCG do. You contribute to the wellbeing of people, and it’s hard to imagine a higher calling. Please let me thank each of you again for being the heart and soul of the Medical College of Georgia and please know that I firmly believe our best days are right around the bend.

Drs. Alexis Stranahan and Sharad Purohit are making international headlines

Some of these days are pretty awesome as well. This week, you will find stories about Dr. Alexis Stranahan’s pioneering work about the brain protection provided by subcutaneous fat, which females tend to have more of than men at least until menopause (we tend to gain weight around our middle), in Italy and India and beyond. And, Dr. Sharad Purohit and Dr. Paul Tran’s work implicating antibodies to the antibiotic gentamicin as a possible new risk factor for type 1 diabetes in those already genetically at risk, is showing up in Spain and France. You may remember twins Paul and Lynn Tran came to us as MD/PhD students at the age of 17. Dr. Paul is now studying internal medicine at Yale with endocrinology as his planned next step. Dr. Lynn, who has a special interest in bladder cancer, is studying urology at Baylor. 

Dr. Stil Kountakis, chair of Otolaryngology, honored by international group; grad students, postdocs get AHA grants

There’s international rock star Dr. Stil Kountakis, our chair of Otolaryngology, who takes credit for some of the best Greek chicken ever served at the annual Greek Festival (I say ‘takes credit’ because I have never actually seen him do the cooking). Dr. Kountakis was in his homeland, gorgeous Greece, this month as the guest of honor at The Hellenic Rhinologic Society-Facial Plastic Surgery gathering being recognized for his distinguished career and outstanding contributions to rhinology. No doubt. He fixed my sinus problems. Meanwhile, the American Heart Association was sending emails to graduate students Candee Barris, Jaser Doja, Josue Zambrano-Carrasco and David Kim about the predoctoral fellowship awards they were receiving and to Drs. Sheela Nagarkoti and Qian Ma (who we just talked about last issue) about their postdoc fellowship awards. These young, brilliant investigators are all in our Vascular Biology Center working and learning from some of the best scientists ever. Next door in the dynamic Department of Physiology, graduate student Emily Burns and postdoc Dr. Aleksandra Zamaro also were getting electronic news about grants they are getting from the AHA. My heartfelt congratulations to all!

Longtime Dalton orthopaedic surgeon and MCG alum honored with Bronze Star

Dr. Conrad Easley, a 1966 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, opened his mail recently to find that he had been honored with a Bronze Star for his heroic service in combat more than a half-century ago in Vietnam. Like the best heroes, Dr. Easley was quoted as saying he didn’t feel like a hero for his service in the U.S. Army as a much-needed physician. But this orthopaedic surgeon who serves the Dalton, Georgia community to this day in his Dalton Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic, was and is a hero.  Dr. Easley and his colleagues would come under fire themselves while tending to others and lose four members of their own team, but he never stopped then and he still hasn’t. Truly one of the blessings of being part of MCG is knowing that you have even a small part in helping shape true heroes like Dr. Conrad Easley. We are very proud of you, Dr. Easley.

Drs. Anand Jillella and Vamsi Kota honored for innovative cancer programs

Dr. Anand Jillella, chief of our Division of Hematology and Oncology, can also be defined as a hero in the war on cancer. For about five years now, he has been providing treatment recommendations and literally 24/7 email or telephone support to oncologists across the nation through a national cooperative to improve care and results for the rare acute promyelocytic leukemia. A big problem with this cancer is a high death rate in the first few weeks of treatment. Also, because it is so rare, there are not that many oncologists familiar with its treatment. Six academic centers, including the Georgia Cancer Center here, worked together under the leadership of Dr. Jillella to make this national cooperative happen. He just told attendees at the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting that this commitment by a relative few made a huge difference, cutting the high early death rate in half. It’s also a great model for extending the reach of experts to patients and physicians who do not have access to clinical trials or academic medical centers (like MCG in partnership with the AU Health System), pointed out another APL expert, Dr. Selina M. Luger, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Luger also chairs the Leukemia Committee of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group. Great going, Dr. Jillella. It’s worth noting that the strategy was first utilized in Georgia and South Carolina before it spread nationwide. One of the experts at Dr. Jillella’s side was/is Dr. Vamsi Kota, hematologist/oncologist, who was on the faculty of Emory University at the time the initiative started but had done some of his training with us. Dr. Jillella brought Dr. Kota back to us shortly after and he now directs the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program that Dr. Jillella started. That is some great synergy. Well, Dr. Kota was recently honored in Minneapolis by Be the Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. Be the Match manages the essential donor registry that identifies the best matches to help save lives. Dr. Kota was honored by this group with its Equality Award for his effort to see patients needing a transplant in community physician offices in Columbia, SC, and in Athens, which dramatically reduces the trips patients and families have to make to Augusta. This outreach has increased the number of transplants these patients received, and the program is expanding to Macon and Savannah. Guess who works with Dr. Kota on this: Dr. Jillella. More super synergy in addressing health disparities and in meeting patients’ needs where they live.

MCG students Grace Koh and Michelle Lin take the lead in getting food to those who need it

You and MCG are definitely at the top of the list of gifts that keep on giving. While so many of us are fortunate to have all the food we need and often more than we need, especially this time of year, Feeding America tell us that nearly 1.4 million Georgians live with hunger, nearly 400,000 of them children. Second-year MCG students Grace Koh and Michelle Lin have started the AU Chapter of the Food Recovery Network, a national student-led initiative to help end that hunger and food waste. A handful of students at our university gather toward the end of every workday at one of the dining halls on the AU campus to collect food that was not purchased. They then deliver it to community partners like the Garden City Rescue Mission and our own Ronald McDonald House, where families of children being treated at our Children’s Hospital of Georgia can stay. Again, this is service multiplied, meeting people’s needs where they are and an indicator of the quality of individuals who are our students. Thank you all.

Carol Palmer, operational medicine education coordinator, passes

Today as we celebrate great success, we must also talk about loss. Carol Palmer, was program director of the EMS Progam in our Department of Emergency Medicine, a critical-care paramedic trained in air medical transport, who has taught many of the EMTs and paramedics who serve us in our community today. Carol came to AU as an instructor in 2012 and joined our Department of Emergency Medicine in 2015. She passed Dec. 16, and our thoughts are with her family.

The passing of Dr. Manish Jain

Finally, today, we join our MCG family in mourning the loss of Dr. Manish Jain.  Dr. Jain, an OB/GYN, came to us in 2015 with his wife Dr. Renee Page, also an OB/GYN. He passed unexpectedly Dec 6 and his loss immediately shook us. He was 49, the father of Siddarth and Vikram, a great educator and physician with a distinctive smile. He was born in India but came to Canada in 1976 with his parents Ashok and Asha who wanted a better life for the family. Dr. Jain would enroll in the BS to MD program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Albany Medical College, where he earned the top award for his chosen field of OB/GYN. He completed his OB/GYN training at Wayne State where he met Dr. Page. Some of us who might not know him well could think Dr. Jain a quiet man, but the people who do know him well, like Dr. Barbara Henley, chief of the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery in our Department of OB/GYN, describe him as happy, sincere, funny, brilliant and loving. Dr. Henley would choose Dr. Jain to deliver her twin boys and since they were about to enter this world right around 11:30 pm, she recalls he joked that maybe they should wait until after midnight for the second baby. The healthy twins actually were both delivered within two minutes. Dr. Henley further describes Dr. Jain as a model teacher, husband and father, who coached his sons in football and baseball. He was a recipient of a 2020 and 2021 Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology National Resident Teaching Award. He was the scholarly activity director for our OB/GYN Residency Program. As Dr. Henley said, let’s all try to live our lives as he did. I do hope Dr. Page and their children, his parents and the many others who loved and respected Dr. Jain will find peace.

My best to you always,

Dean Hess Signature

David C. Hess, MD

Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Jan 20 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Feb 17 – MCG State of the College Address, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium