A story can be a powerful thing. Numbers and facts have the power to impress, but it is only when the scale is narrowed to specifics that we can begin to connect emotionally or on a personal level. This is in part why the University of Iowa Foundation hosts its weekend-long Inside Iowa Medicine event. Each year a different department has the opportunity to spend two days with guests of the Foundation in a variety of settings, from hospital tours and presentations to a Hawkeye football game. This year, it was the Department of Internal Medicine’s turn to serve as hosts.
Solving Mysteries in the Lungs and Heart
Guests at this year’s Inside Iowa Medicine included a mix of alumni and former patients. Friday morning, they gathered on the ground floor of the Medical Educational Research Facility for an introduction to the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute. The PBI Director and Professor of Internal Medicine Dr. Michael Welsh began the morning session with an explanation of the PBI’s mission as an interdisciplinary enterprise, finding novel and faster solutions to previously unsolvable questions. Dr. Welsh admitted that discovering more dead ends also comes with this method. But, he says, “if we’re not failing, we’re not stretching far enough.” He described Convergence Awards, grants which offer up to $100,000 for paired researchers from two different disciplines. Dr. Welsh went on to detail the ways in which junior researchers and trainees are mentored by more senior faculty, encouraging them to collaborate as well.
Other presentations followed. Among them were Dr. Joe Zabner and Dr. Paul McCray who described innovative genetic therapies, which can correct mucocilliary transport defects in the lungs of pigs with cystic fibrosis, delivered in an elegant and novel fashion via viral vectors. This breakthrough holds tremendous promise for future human therapeutics. Dr. Barry London, Director of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, shifted the audience’s focus from the lungs to the heart. He revealed research being performed by Dr. Chad Greuter that seems to indicate a connection between the heart and the body’s metabolism. Dr. London also described the dramatic increase in trans-aortic valve replacements being performed at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. More than 250 procedures have allowed patients to avoid invasive and dangerous bypass surgeries and usually go home the next day.
The Inside Iowa Medicine guests were then treated to a tour of the state-of-the-art laboratory facilities on the upper levels of the building, affording them a chance to see first-hand the research they had just learned about in progress. “It provided a great platform for us to showcase all of the outstanding work in these areas. To say our guests were blown away would be an understatement,” Alli Ingman said. Ms. Ingman is the Executive Director of Development for Internal Medicine and one of the organizers of the event.
Guests Tell Their Own Stories
After the lab tours and lunch, guests were introduced to the incredible work being done on the clinical side by the Department of Internal Medicine in collaboration with other outstanding teams at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Dr. Michael Giudici and Dr. Phil Horowitz introduced innovations in cardiac implants, which are far less invasive and life-defining as traditional pacemakers. Dr. Julia Kelsey-Tait and Dr. Kalpaj Parekh discussed the incredibly successful lung transplant program at this institution. A particularly emotional moment came when one of those lung transplant recipients rose and told his own story and expressed his gratitude to those physicians.
It was at this point in the day—“the most rewarding part of the event,” Ms. Ingman said—when these relative strangers, the guests invited to learn more about the Department of Internal Medicine’s research and clinical activities, decided to really connect with one another. In small ways it had been happening all day: at breakfast that morning, in-between presentations, over lunch, on walks from building to building, What brings you here? asked and answered again and again privately. But it was in the moments after the scheduled testimonial ended that one of the guests rose and told the other guests that he was also a lung transplant recipient. That Drs. Kelsey-Tait and Parekh had saved his life too.
“I was especially moved,” Aaron Olesen, Associate Director of Development, said, “to hear each person share their emotional personal stories with the group.” It is always one thing to hear of what could happen next or about high success rates for procedures in the abstract, but it’s another thing entirely to see proof that this institution changes lives sitting right next to you. Mr. Olesen went on, “We are confident this event was a one of a kind experience for everyone involved.”