Michael Welsh, MD, described the day in 1990 he went to then-Chair of Internal Medicine Dr. Frank Abboud to ask for a sabbatical. “He said, ‘OK, when are you gonna go?’ I said, ‘Next week.’” After Dr. Abboud absorbed that, he asked Dr. Welsh where he was going. “And I said, ‘Nowhere, I’m going into my lab.’” Dr. Welsh was scheduled to work that next week in the MICU, a “demanding service” that two of his colleagues took over for him. While they covered his patients, Dr. Welsh explained, he was free to explore the CFTR gene and its connection to chloride transport, a linchpin discovery that helped change the future of cystic fibrosis research and disease management.
Dr. Welsh shared that story at Harvard Medical School earlier this month, at the 2018 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize Symposium, which honored this year’s recipients, including Dr. Welsh. (Video of this event can be seen here, with Dr. Welsh’s remarks from 1:32:00 to 2:06:00.) He also shared that story in a roomful of colleagues and trainees last week in a restaurant above downtown Iowa City. “Those individuals,” he said, who helped him free up his schedule and aided him in his research, “were emblematic of the supportive environment at Iowa who made this discovery possible.” He went on to list many names of people in the room, who specifically contributed then and now to the work. “The Alpert Prize is as much theirs” he said. “What I have done would never have been possible without them.”
Dr. Welsh’s remarks followed a social hour hosted by the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine at the Vue restaurant, and after a few words from current Department Chair Dr. Dale Abel. Dr. Abel praised Dr. Welsh’s vision and leadership, not just in the CFTR discovery nearly 30 years ago, but even still today. Dr. Abel joked that Dr. Welsh could now be considered a “grandfather,” as those he has mentored are now mentoring their own trainees, ensuring that the University of Iowa remains an important destination for those wishing to contribute to groundbreaking CF research.
The evening offered everyone–colleagues, family, and friends–an opportunity to congratulate Dr. Welsh on the achievement and to absorb his insistence that they should share as much in the success because of their own efforts.
(For more information about Dr. Welsh and the 2018 Alpert Prize: https://bit.ly/2tyY87d)