Rio Grande Valley native
appointed as regional dean
Dr. Leonel Vela has been appointed to the position of regional
dean at the Health Science Center. He will administer the
Lower Rio Grande Valley Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), an education, research and health promotion center in Cameron and Hidalgo counties along the Texas-Mexico border.
Under Dr. Vela's leadership, the Health Science Center will operate the RAHC's Medical Education and Research divisions. He will assume his new duties in early 2000.
The Stanford- and Harvard-trained Dr. Vela is vice president for rural and community health at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and occupies the Marie Hall Chair in Rural Health. He is associate professor of family and community medicine and medical director of the Center for TeleMedicine/TeleHealth at Texas Tech. He is a native of Pharr, just east of McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley, and is a graduate of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District. His wife, Alicia Cruz Vela, is from Harlingen.
"Dr. Vela is returning to his roots," said Dr. James J. Young, dean of the Medical School. "Not only is he from the Valley, but he formerly served as regional medical director in Harlingen for the Texas Department of Health from 1992 to 1997. He understands health and education issues associated with the region. The citizens of the South Texas/Border Region will benefit from his talents. Our search committee is to be applauded for recommending the right person at the right time to do the right job."
Dr. Vela is highly respected in academic medicine, said Dr. John P. Howe, III, president. "His impressive background includes undergraduate degrees from Stanford, a medical degree from Baylor College of Medicine and a Master of Public Health degree from Harvard University," Dr. Howe said. "His dedication to improving the health of this region and this state has been evident throughout his entire career, and his qualities of leadership, academic excellence and concern about border health issues make him an ideal person to lead this latest Health Science Center outreach initiative."
Dr. Vela received a Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology from Stanford in 1978 with a concurrent Bachelor of Arts in psychology. In 1983 he completed his M.D. at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Harvard conferred on him the M.P.H. degree in 1987. He was the Kellogg Fellow in Health Policy and Management at Harvard in 1986.
His many accomplishments include completion of a Texas Department of Health preventive medicine/public health residency program in 1993 and selection as a National Institutes of Mental Health/American Psychological Association Minority Fellow in 1989. Earlier this year, he was honored with the Plate of Bounty Award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Migrant Head Start Branch.
Among his state and national appointments, Dr. Vela has served on the Governor's Border Working Group Health Subcommittee and on the South Texas Health Education Committee. He chaired the Lower Rio Grande Valley Diabetes Task Force and the Texas Medical Association's Task Force on Border Tuberculosis Curriculum. The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services recently appointed him to chair the National Advisory Council on Migrant Health.
Dr. Vela is a board-certified Diplomat of the American Board of Preventive Medicine. He did post-doctoral training in child psychiatry and neurology at the Children's Psychiatric Unit in Austin in 1988-89 and other specialized medical training in sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, epidemiology and preventive medicine. His past publications and lectures have covered topics such as diabetes, managed care, dengue fever, tuberculosis, neural tube defects, rabies, HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer screenings and migrant health.
Dr. Vela directed the local public health response to a nationally publicized Ebola Reston outbreak in the South Texas city of Alice, and directed comprehensive surveillance and intervention response to a dengue fever outbreak in South Texas.
As regional dean, Dr. Vela will serve under the auspices of the Medical School. He will be based in Harlingen and will oversee the RAHC's Medical Education Division in Harlingen and the Medical Research Division in Edinburg. The U. T. Health Science Center at Houston will operate the RAHC's Public Health Division in Brownsville.
Dr. Vela's selection culminated a nationwide search. "We are very pleased that one of the outstanding medical leaders in this state has agreed to become regional dean," Dr. Howe said.
Students get a view of careers in the sciences
Learning everything from how to intubate a patient to what an
infected ear looks like, high school students from around the
area were introduced to careers in science and medicine at the
Health Science Center's Science '99 expo.
A physical therapy student, left, demonstrates the benefits of balance to a Science '99 participant. More than 600 high school students from around the area participated in the event.
Monica Guzman, a student at Highlands High School, watched video footage of a surgery at one of the 20 exhibit tables. She also looked on as a friend used the Department of Respiratory Therapy's intubation doll to practice opening a patient's airway.
"The surgeries interested me the most," Guzman said. "It showed me how patient and accurate you have to be."
Nancie Anchin, left, a teaching assistant in the Department of Microbiology, shows a student what a petri dish is used for and how specimens look under the microscope.
Misty Martin, a student at Mason High School, found the emergency services exhibit, which included a tour of an ambulance and a demonstration by emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters, the most interesting. Students were able to see the different devices used inside the ambulance and firefighters rappelled from the top of the Health Science Center as part of the demonstration.
"We learned a lot about EMT and fire fighting and how all of it ties together," said Martin. "There are so many ways to go in that career field."
Science '99 "Explore the Connections" included exhibits from occupational therapy, clinical laboratory sciences, respiratory care and the South Texas Poison Center, among others. More than 600 students participated in the day-long event that was designed to provide a closer look at what careers in science and medicine really entail and what types of training and educational opportunities are available at the Health Science Center.
Melodi Reeder, a physical therapy student in the School of Allied Health Sciences, let students try out wheelchairs and a balance ball. The most popular part of her exhibit was the ball toss, which physical therapists use to test coordination.
"Through the expo, we are able to introduce students to the concepts of physical therapy. We can talk with them about the importance of posture and what types of problems can occur with the loss of strength and balance," Reeder said.
Brittany Hancock, respiratory therapy, said many students do not know what respiratory therapists do and the event provided a way to show off the profession and its tools.
"They had a lot of questions about heart rate and blood pressure," said Hancock. "But the intubation doll was the favorite because most of them have seen the procedure being done on the television show 'ER'."
Science '99 was held in conjunction with programs at other area organizations, including the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston, the H-E-B Science Treehouse at the Witte Museum and the Scobee Planetarium at San Antonio College.
Sandra Hubbard, occupational therapy, appeared in a "Health Beat" segment on PBS about hippotherapy for disabled children. Dr. Martin Meltz, radiology, discussed health issues related to cellular phone use on ABC-TV's news magazine "20-20." Dr. Jean Smith, medicine, was quoted in an article about the organism Rickettsia helvetica in the Web-based Medcast Medical News.
Dr. Judy Teale, microbiology, was quoted in The Monitor (McAllen) and the Brownsville Herald in articles about neurocysticercosis and its prevalence along the Mexico-U.S. border. The Houston Chronicle noted that researchers at the Health Science Center will work on a major ovarian cancer study with the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center over the next five years.
The Austin American-Statesman, San Marcos Daily Record, Midland Reporter Telegram, Amarillo News, Beaumont Enterprise, Orange Leader, Waco Tribune-Herald and Pampa News ran a story on handgun safety that quoted Dr. Ronald Stewart, surgery. Dr. Stewart was also highlighted in the Odessa American, in an article about the Learning Channel's "Trauma: Life in the ER" program, which featured University Hospital's emergency room.
Dr. Charles Bryan, medicine, was interviewed for an article on flu shots that ran in the Greenwood Ranger and Martin County Messenger.
A story on angiogenesis in the Abilene Reporter-News quoted Dr. Steven Bailey, medicine. The Summer Biomedical Program sponsored by the Mid Rio Grande Border AHEC was highlighted in the Laredo Morning Times.
Dr. John P. Howe, III, president, was quoted in an article about former Gov. Dolph Briscoe and his wife, Janey, who received the 1999 John Henry Faulk Award for Civic Virtue. An article on the 1999 Profiles in Leadership Award listed Dr. Sylvia Fernandez, director of special programs, as one of the 12 honorees.
Dr. Steven Haffner, medicine, was quoted in an article on the many clinical drug trials ongoing in San Antonio, including Dr. Haffner's diabetes prevention study. Dr. Daniel Hale, pediatrics, was interviewed for a piece on the complications of obesity.
A two-part series on the effect that Medicare cuts will have on teaching hospitals quoted Dr. James Young, Medical School dean. Dr. James Thornton, plastic surgery, was interviewed for an article on permanent cosmetics.
Jeanne Jakle's column mentioned Dr. Blake Simpson, otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, who operated on popular KTFM 102.7 DJ Drex. Dr. Sunil Ahuja, medicine, was quoted in an article about the evolution of HIV. The Health Science Center's "Tex-MUG" Mac User's Group was mentioned in the Local Scene column.
Dr. David Armstrong, podiatry, was highlighted in a story on Leadership San Antonio, in which he is a participant. Carol Heston, university relations, and Molly Greene, office of the vice president for academic services, were mentioned as co-organizers of the Express-News Sports Fiesta Challenge Health Fair.
KENS, Channel 5, interviewed Dr. Stefan Kiesz, medicine, about rotablation techniques; Dr. Richard Seals, prosthodontics, on aging mouths; and Dr. Pamela New, medicine, on Parkinson's disease.
Also appearing on KENS were Dr. Robert Schenck, orthopaedics, on mending broken bones; and Dr. Sunil Ahuja on AIDS genes.
The station also interviewed Dr. Pam Otto, radiology, on National Mammography Day, and Dr. Ronald Williams, orthopaedics, on liposarcoma. Dr. Robert Nolan, pediatrics, discussed appropriate medication doses for children, and Dr. Robert Brzyski, obstetrics and gynecology, spoke about a new infertility study.
Dr. Tim Jones, medicine, was interviewed on KENS about differentiating severe and ordinary coughs. Dr. Richard Haines, laboratory animal resources, discussed germ transmission from household pets, and Dr. Edward J. Zayac, ophthalmology, was interviewed about diplopia.
KENS; KSAT, Channel 12; KMOL, Channel 4; and KABB, Channel 11, interviewed Dr. Sylvia Fernandez about Science '99.
KSAT interviewed Dr. William Morgan, cellular and structural biology, about cloning and the recent discovery of a woolly mammoth. KMOL spoke with Dr. Alexander R. Miller, surgery, regarding lymph nodes and cancer.
Dr. David Shelledy, respiratory care, discussed breathing problems on KABB-TV.
WOAI-AM, 1200, interviewed Dr. Sunil Ahuja about AIDS genes; Dr. Stefan Kiesz about rotablation; and Dr. Tim Jones about obesity in Americans.
Seminar explores herbs and health
"Herbs and Health" is the topic for the Nursing
Advisory Council's seminar from 7:45 to 9 a.m. Wednesday,
Nov. 17, at the San Antonio Country Club.
Dr. Beverly Hall will discuss scientific research that supports the use and safety of certain herbs in health care. Sponsors for the event include the Biomedical Development Corp., Mission Pharmacal, the San Antonio Express-News, Barbara Wulfe, Sun Harvest, the San Antonio Credit Union, and S&C Advertising and Public Relations.
The cost is $20 per person. For more information or to reserve a space, call ext. 5901.
Public forums scheduled for chancellor search
Public forums have been scheduled around the state so that a
committee of the Board of Regents for The University of Texas
System can receive comments on the search for a new
A forum in San Antonio will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 17, at the Rilkin Auditorium, room 1.406, in the Frio Building at the downtown campus of U.T. San Antonio.
The forums are part of the process to find a successor to Chancellor William H. Cunningham, who has announced that he plans to step down in August 2000. For more information regarding the forum, call Edda Mayer at 458-5110.
Banquet a reminder on World Hunger Day
A hunger banquet is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday,
Nov. 18, in the Dental School cafeteria. The event is being
held in conjunction with World Hunger Day.
Banquet organizers are asking participants to skip at least one meal that day in recognition of those who face hunger on a daily basis in countries throughout the world and donate the money they would have spent on that meal to the Oxfam organization.
There is no charge to participate in the hunger banquet and all Health Science Center staff, students and faculty are invited to attend.
For more information, contact Teresa Johnson at 561-6155 or e-mail her at <NurseTJ1@aol.com>.
25th anniversary event includes former surgeon general
The Cancer Therapy and Research Center is celebrating
its 25th anniversary with a Silver Jubilee Gala Nov. 20 at
the Westin La Cantera Resort.
The former surgeon general of the United States, Dr. C. Everett Koop, will be among the special guests at the event. The Cancer Center Council, a non-profit, volunteer organization, is hosting the celebration.
Tables and individual tickets are available. To purchase a ticket or for more information, call the Cancer Center Council Gala at 616-5514.
Gifts for Children meeting set for Nov. 23
The Gifts for Children organization will meet from 12:30
to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23, in room 4.484T.
Volunteers are needed to help with preparations for this year's Gifts for Children program and events.
Through this charitable program, Health Science Center employees are able to raise money for and donate hundreds of presents to hospitalized children and youngsters receiving clinical care.
Individuals willing to attend a few planning meetings and
do some work between meetings and at big events should
call ext. 2276.
Dr. John P. Howe, III, president, and Dr. Deborah
Greene, below, vice president for institutional effectiveness
and planning, thanked the organizers of this year's State Employee Charitable Campaign (SECC) at an end of campaign celebration. This year's campaign raised $219,000, up from $208,000 last year.
Med/Ed finds the Valley's 'diamonds'--
potential health professionals
Participants in the Health Science Center's Med/Ed program visit a lab at U. T. Pan American as part of a chemistry camp sponsored by Med/Ed.
Dr. Mario Ramirez's home county, Starr, in the northwest corner of
the Rio Grande Valley, is one of the poorest in the country. Like
most rural areas of the Valley, it is medically underserved. Yet Dr.
Ramirez knows there are diamonds in the fields--young people who can serve their home region through health careers. Starr County produced one new doctor per year on average during the 45 years he was in practice, but many others with potential missed the calling.
Four years ago, Dr. Ramirez, vice president for South Texas/Border Initiatives at the Health Science Center, launched a new program based in McAllen, the largest city in neighboring Hidalgo County. The program's name is "Med/Ed," and it is a mix of academic preparation, role model influence and community service values. Since 1996 when the first high school students were enrolled, more than 1,000 freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors have participated in summer science academies; biology, physics and chemistry camps; essay-writing and study skills sessions; and even on-site internships with physicians. The program today reaches 25 high schools.
"Our rural high schools--places like San Ysidro,
Progreso, Hidalgo and Roma--contain untapped jewels," said Yvonne Kautsch, Med/Ed program coordinator. "We do a considerable amount of recruiting for the program in these schools. All some kids need is someone to find them and give them some direction."
Priscilla Alejos, an Edinburg North High School sophomore, attended Advanced Biology Camp as part of her participation in Med/Ed, a bioscience careers pipeline program offered by the Health Science Center. The biology camp was held at U. T. Pan American.
Kautsch taught history to children from mostly lower-income families in McAllen for 10 years. She recognizes the teens who will rise above, or make the most of, their circumstances. "Med/Ed students want to move forward and we can't offer them enough programs," she said. "Students like Charles Vega, a Med/Ed participant now at Rice University, let us know what they need to succeed. He was the one who initiated an internship with Dr. Norman Ramirez, a cardiologist at the McAllen Medical Center. He also received a scholarship from a local TV station; we helped by writing a recommendation letter for him."
Med/Ed students prepare themselves for college by learning what recruiters are seeking, and Med/Ed community projects instill service as a hallmark of health careers. The academic preparation program, already substantial, is expanding to include courses in critical thinking skills, medical terminology and organic chemistry.
The Health Science Center offers Med/Ed through the South Texas/Border Initiative (STBI), a program funded by the Texas Legislature in 1995. STBI has resulted in increased medical rotations in South Texas, enhanced distance learning opportunities in nursing and allied health fields, and more. The goal is to improve the health of South Texans by educating health providers for the region. Dr. Ramirez notes that only a very small percentage of physicians in Hidalgo County are originally from South Texas.
Med/Ed is such a hit among parents and students in Hidalgo and Starr counties that the Health Science Center has decided to expand it into Cameron County. Maria T. Mendez, a graduate of The University of Texas Pan American, will coordinate the Harlingen extension.
Multiple aspects shape the development of a future doctor,
Kautsch said. "It's not just their intelligence alone or
their desire; parents and mentors and service opportunities
make a difference too. Med/Ed is here to help facilitate the
process." The goal is to find Dr. Ramirez's diamonds
in the fields. Once the Med/Ed alumni start to enter medical
schools--including the Health Science Center's--the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley stand to benefit.
Department of Psychiatry
Faculty researchers in the Departments of Psychiatry, Pharmacology
and Medicine at the Health Science Center are conducting two
complementary studies on depression. The first is designed to
determine why individuals with major depression have an increased
risk of developing ischemic heart disease (a very common heart
condition caused by atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries).
Individuals who have completed that study are then encouraged to
join a second study, which offers treatment for depression with
conducting depression studies
Dr. Stephen Stern, psychiatry, and fellow researchers are seeking physically healthy patients with major depression and healthy people without depression for a procedure that will measure the sensitivity of their blood vessels to the stress neurotransmitter norepinephrine. "We know that depression affects the stress system," Dr. Stern said. "We need to figure out if that's how it leads to heart disease."
Previous studies have shown that people with high blood pressure respond differently to norepinephrine than people without hypertension. Norepinephrine can cause blood vessels to constrict and can activate platelets, which eventually can lead to atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and to ischemic heart disease.
The study examines whether depressed patients will have the same reaction to norepinephrine as those with high blood pressure. Using a measure developed by Dr. Dean Kellogg, medicine, researchers treat the forearm skin of both depressed patients and control subjects with a small amount of norepinephrine and measure skin blood flow. They also measure the blood levels of stress hormones, study platelet activation and evaluate how the subjects' blood clots.
The study will continue through June, Dr. Stern said. It is being conducted at the Frederic C. Bartter General Clinical Research Center, located at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System's Audie Murphy Division.
Participants are paid for their time and do not need to be
veterans. During the first visit, participants have a thorough
psychiatric and medical examination. Norepinephrine is applied
to the skin during the second visit--and subjects have blood samples drawn. After the second appointment, subjects suffering from depression are encouraged to seek treatment by participating in a methodological study of antidepressant medications.
The researchers on the second study, Dr. Stephen Brannan and Dr. John Houston, psychiatry, and Dr. Alan Frazer, chairman of the Department of Pharmacology, are looking at how rapidly people respond to antidepressant medications. They contend that depressed patients begin to show whether or not a medication is working as soon as 10 days after the initial dose, rather than four to six weeks as commonly thought.
Participants are first screened for depression through a psychiatric interview, a test of concentration and videotaping of facial expression and motor movement. In consultation with the patient, the psychiatrist determines which medication to usegenerally a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). No placebos are used. Subjects then make 10 visits to their psychiatrists over a six-week period.
"How a patient responds after 10 days will determine how that patient is going to react in six weeks." Dr. Brannan said. If a patient is not responding to a medication after 10 days, the psychiatrist can prescribe a different one so that the patient does not wait the full six weeks before receiving something new, he said.
The study will continue another six to nine months with a possible extension. For more information on the medication study, call 617-5300, ext. 4472. For the heart disease study, call ext. 5463.