Haitian-born student shares similarities with Upstate president

Kethia is a third-year medical student.

Kethia Eliezer is in her third year of medical school at Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

Third-year medical student Kethia Eliezer introduced Upstate’s new president, Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, at a welcoming reception Thursday night. Both are natives of Haiti.

“When it was first announced that Dr. Laraque Arena would be the new SUNY Upstate president last September, I posted a link of an article about her and picture of her with the caption ‘Haitian-born, yay!’ ” Eliezer began. “My high school friend who lives in Brooklyn commented on my post saying ‘I know her. She worked at Maimonides. She’s a very smart woman. I chatted with her a few times when my daughter was in the hospital. She listens and appeared to be very caring.’

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University.

Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, is president of Upstate Medical University. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

“I know I can go on to list other similar anecdotes as well as her past work experiences in various health communities, but I’m sure you are all aware of her extensive resume.  Instead, I will tell a brief story of how two somewhat parallel lives, separated by a couple of decades, met each other for the first time here in Syracuse, on Monday Feb. 1.

“We were both born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, shaped by our altruistic parents and influenced by our experiences in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. We both moved to the U.S. at a young age, me at the age of 12 and her at the age of 7.

“We have both lived in Westchester County, just a town apart. We have both lived in Philadelphia, Pa., where I completed a masters in medical sciences at Drexel University and where she completed her residency at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“She is now a pediatrician, and I have wanted to be a pediatrician since I was 8 years old. (Just a note, I will be a pediatrician in approximately 1,566 days, but who’s counting, right?)

Eliezer continued: “From talking to Dr. Laraque-Arena on Monday, I can tell that she is very decisive and that we both value fairness, diversity, community, and inclusion. She wishes to bring to SUNY Upstate transparency and a sense that if it’s one person’s problem, its everyone’s problem. She wants to foster change based on data and dialogue among the leaders in the Upstate community.

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs Kethia

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, hugs medical student Kethia Eliezer at her welcoming reception. Photo by Debbie Rexine.

“Though she will no longer be seeing patients, she informed me that she plans on being engaged in the clinical community via teaching, life-long learning, and research. In addition, she will keep in touch with some of her patients because she values long-term patient relationships, something I wish to have as a future physician.

“I can’t explain how special it is for me to share all of these similarities with someone who has done such incredible things. To me and to many others in the SUNY Upstate and Syracuse communities, I am sure she is not only SUNY Upstate’s new president and first female president and first black president, she is someone truly relatable and someone to look up to.

“She will be a role model for many of people. She confirms that I, too, can do great things.”

Laraque-Arena began her first day as president Jan. 14.


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HPV vaccine protects against viral cancers, including those of head and neck

While smoking-related head and neck cancer rates have declined in recent years, that drop has been offset by a rise in cancers caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus, or HPV.

Robert Kellman, MD

Robert Kellman, MD

Upstate experts say the HPV vaccine is a simple way to protect yourself.

The HPV vaccine was created to protect women from cervical cancer. Now that a strain of HPV has been linked to head and neck cancers, which can affect men and women, “Today everyone coming up from childhood today in our society should be vaccinated,” says Robert Kellman, MD, who leads Upstate’s department of otolaryngology and communication sciences. “We believe if we get everyone vaccinated, in another generation we will no longer have the virally caused cancers.”

The same types of HPV that infect the genital areas can infect the mouth and throat, and some research suggests that oral HPV may be passed on during oral sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seung Shin Hahn, MD

Seung Shin Hahn, MD

Head and neck cancers can affect the voice box, esophagus, throat, pharynx, nose and sinuses. Most of those caused by HPV arise at the base of the tongue and tonsils, in an area known as the oropharynx, notes Upstate radiation oncologist Seung Shin Hahn, MD.

Typically, such cancers are detected after a patient has soreness, trouble swallowing, a swelling that doesn’t respond to antibiotics, ear pain or persistent hoarseness. Some people might assume they have a tooth problem and see their dentist, who can recognize the symptoms and refer patients to a specialist for testing and treatment.

Head and neck cancers that have not spread beyond the neck are most likely curable, says Kellman. Radiation and surgery are the usual treatment options, sometimes with assistance from chemotherapy. He notes that great advances have been made in reconstruction techniques after surgery to remove a tumor.

CDC recommends vaccine

The CDC recommends that all women ages 26 years and younger, and all men ages 21 years and younger, receive three doses of the HPV vaccine, beginning in childhood.

hloa-art2Layout 1Hear a radio interview about the HPV vaccine. This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.


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How many risks will you take? Processed meats increase your chance of colorectal cancer

iStock_000019961545_FullMeats such as breakfast sausage and marinated turkey breast are ready to cook, and meats such as ham and corned beef are ready to eat. Both types are “processed” meats — and both are carcinogenic.

The World Health Organization this fall joined the chorus of health groups warning that bacon, hot dogs and other processed meats can cause cancer. Citing epidemiological studies, the organization said that small increases in the risk of colorectal cancer are associated with eating processed meats. An association with stomach cancer also exists.

Data analyzed from 10 studies estimated that eating 50 grams of processed meat daily increases a person’s relative risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 percent. Fifty grams of processed meat is two strips of bacon, or 2½ slices of bologna.

Maria Erdman, RDN

Maria Erdman, RDN

Unfortunately, there is no way to make processed meats safer, says Maria Erdman, a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in oncology at Upstate. She said not enough research has been done on the new “nitrate-free” processed meats – which are processed with celery seed, a natural source of nitrates – to assess whether they are safer.

Centuries ago, before refrigeration, meats were smoked or salted to extend how long they would be edible. Nitrate was used in the form of saltpeter to cure meats and prevent the growth of the bacteria that causes the deadly disease botulism.

Meat processors eventually shifted to the closely related sodium nitrite because it was more reliable in its effects, and today, such preservatives are added to meats for flavoring, to improve the appearance or texture of the meat, and for food safety. The American Meat Institute points out that since sodium nitrite has been commonly used in commercially prepared meats, no cases of botulism have been linked to processed meats in the United States.

However, the WHO links about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide to diets high in processed meat. It also says a million people die each year from smoking tobacco.

Erdman likes to say that we all have health “bank accounts.” We make deposits when we do things that help our health, such as exercise and eat plant-based foods, and we make withdrawals when we do things that are harmful, such as eat bacon or smoke. She points out that smoking raises a person’s risk of developing cancer much, much more than does eating processed meats.

“It comes down, again, to moderation and thinking about what’s important to you,” she says. “We all take risks every day.”

How many, and which ones, are you comfortable taking?

To reduce your risk:

  • Replace deli meats with fresh poultry or fish.
  • Try vegetarian sausage instead of bacon, chorizo or salami.
  • Replace sausage in chili and soup with kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils.
  • Sample eggs, cottage cheese or hummus as protein sources.
  • Save your favorite processed meats for special occasions.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

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Black History ceremony features new president, honors Black National Anthem

Upstate President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, talks with students outside Weiskotten Hall. Photo by Susan Keeter

President Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, pictured with Upstate students, gives the keynote address at today’s ceremony. Photo by Susan Keeter.

Upstate’s Black History Month opening ceremony is being held at 11:30 a.m. today (Wednesday, Feb. 3) at the Campus Activities Building. The event includes music, poetry, prayers, awards, a soul food-with-a-healthy-twist lunch and a speech by Upstate’s new president, Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD.  Medical students are performing a dramatic reading of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, which was written 115 years ago by poet James Weldon Johnson. Awards from the Faculty and Staff Association for Diversity are being given to Sharon Contreras, PhD,  and Susan Keeter, MFA.

Keynote speaker Danielle Laraque-Arena, MD, FAAP, became the seventh president of Upstate Medical University on Jan. 14. She comes to Syracuse from Brooklyn, where she served as chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Maimonides Medical Center and vice president of Maimonides Infants and Children’s Hospital. Laraque-Arena is a pediatrician who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She was 7 when her family fled and settled in Queens. By the age of 12, she decided she wanted to use a career in medicine and research to help others. “My parents were an incredible influence on my life,” says Laraque-Arena. “That mission to serve the poor — not in a charity way, but in a way that people have the right to health care, and live OK and send their kids to school — that’s a message I got from the very beginning.”

Laraque-Arena is a nationally and internationally recognized expert in injury prevention, child abuse, adolescent health risk behaviors and issues critical to health care delivery in underserved communities. She is also the recipient of numerous academic, research, community and public service awards.

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD

Sharon L. Contreras, PhD, superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, is receiving the community leader award for her efforts to provide high quality education to all children. Contreras began her career as a high school English teacher in Rockford, Ill., then went on to serve as a principal, area superintendent and assistant superintendent. Throughout her tenure, she worked to implement a federal court order to desegregate the Rockford Public Schools. In 2011, Contreras became superintendent of the Syracuse City School District. She is the first female superintendent of the school district, and the first woman of color to serve as superintendent of one of New York State’s Big Five districts (New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers). Under Contreras’ leadership, the school district has significantly enhanced its academic programming for students. She has spearheaded initiatives to address not only students’ educational needs, but their health and social-emotional needs as well. She has worked to expand the Promise Zone program to every elementary, K-8 and middle school, and to provide critical supports and resources to students with emotional or behavioral challenges. Contreras serves on many boards. She has degrees from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a 2010 graduate of The Broad Academy, an advanced development program for education leaders.

Susan Keeter, MFA Photo by Sara Tucker

Susan Keeter, MFA
Photo by Sara Tucker.

Susan Keeter, MFA, assistant director for creative services, Marketing & University Communications, is receiving the Upstate employee award for promoting the goals and accomplishments of the African American community. Keeter has promoted Upstate’s first African-American graduate, Sarah Loguen, MD, 1876, by painting her portrait, writing her biography, and proposing a building-naming. Keeter helped establish Upstate’s CSTEP program, the Synergy internships and marrow drives to benefit African-American patients. As part of her marketing/ communications work, Keeter designs displays and writes articles for Upstate, often focusing on people of color and issues of multiculturalism. Her support of the award-winning Healthy Neighbors collaboration with Syracuse Housing resulted in the book, “Our Community, Our Health.”

As part of Upstate’s outreach, Keeter volunteers with 100 Black Men, the Duck Race Against Racism, and Mary Nelson’s Back To School Barbecue/Backpack Giveaway.

Keeter is the illustrator of children’s books which feature African Americans, including “Phillis Sings Out Freedom,” “An Apple for Harriet Tubman,” “Tippy Lemmy,” “The Piano,” “Harry’s House,” and “Honey Baby, Sugar Child,” which was a finalist in the NAACP Image Awards. Keeter is a guest artist at libraries, festivals and schools, including doing multiple presentations in Auburn on the 100th anniversary of the passing of Harriet Tubman.

Chef Blue (Will Lewis) is catering the should food luncheon which is free and open to the public. Photo by Susan Keeter.

Chef Blue (Will Lewis) is catering the soul food luncheon which is free and open to the public. Photo by Susan Keeter.


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Measuring, treating a patient’s distress is part of shift in attitudes

Years ago, people believed a cancer diagnosis meant death. They were so ashamed of the disease that its name was mentioned only in whispers.

Jimmie Holland, MD, has written, co-written or edited numerous articles, books and book chapters on cancer, including the book "The Human Side of Cancer: Living With Hope, Coping With Uncertainty" (HarperCollins, 2000).

Jimmie Holland, MD, has written, co-written or edited numerous articles, books and book chapters on cancer, including the book “The Human Side of Cancer: Living With Hope, Coping With Uncertainty” (HarperCollins, 2000).

Fast-forward 50 years. “Most people today say, ‘Well, I think maybe I’m going to be OK’ when they get a cancer diagnosis,” says Jimmie Holland, MD, founder of the field of psycho-oncology, who spoke at Upstate this fall. She leads the psychiatric oncology department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

She credits the attitudinal shift to:

* development of quantitative tools to measure levels of pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, delirium and health-related quality of life factors. With ways to measure outcomes, scientists could conduct clinical trials that focused on psychosocial issues.

* celebrities including Betty Ford and Happy Rockefeller coming forward to share their cancer diagnoses.

* the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which in the late 1990s embarked on ways to improve psychosocial care for people with cancer. The group’s research led to the use of the less-stigmatizing word “distress” in place of “psychiatric,” “psychosocial” or “emotional.”

Holland says appreciation for the role distress plays in a patient’s healing is slowly catching on. The network’s standard of care guidelines say distress should be recognized, monitored, documented in patient records and treated appropriately.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

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Read about Upstate expertise in Physicians Practice magazine

physpractThe February edition of Physicians Practice magazine showcases Upstate experts from gerontology, urology, otolaryngology, nursing and pharmacy, as well as a story about Danielle Laraque-Arena, Upstate’s new president.

Physicians Practice is a publication that is distributed to physicians throughout the Central New York region.


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Baby King needs a bone marrow donor. Can you help?

King Nazir Leon, 2, needs a bone marrow transplant, the only cure for a rare disease that affects his immune system. Photo by Mike Greenlar/Syracuse Media Group.

King Nazir Leon, 2, needs a bone marrow transplant. Potential donors can register today at Upstate’s Setnor Hall and Cancer Center. Photo by Mike Greenlar/Syracuse Media Group

King Nazir Leon, age 2, has CD40 Ligand deficiency, a rare disease that affects his immune system and is life-threatening. He has monthly, day-long treatments at the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse. His mother, Denisha DeLee, is vigilant about his health, watching for any sniffle or sign of fever, which means a race to the emergency room and probable hospitalization. At this stage, King’s best hope is a bone marrow match.

Would you take 20 minutes to try to save Baby King from this disease?

Tesha English collects tissue samples by swabbing her mouth with a Q-tip, a key component to registering as a marrow donor, 2008.

Tesha English collects tissue samples by swabbing her mouth with a Q-tip, a key component to registering as a marrow donor. Photo by Susan Keeter.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 44, and willing to donate to any patient in need, come to Upstate Medical University and sign up for the marrow registry today (Friday, Jan. 29). African-Americans are especially encouraged to register because King is most likely to match with someone of his own race. (Tissue types are inherited, so marrow transplant patients are most likely to match with someone of their own ethnicity.) However, everyone is welcome to join.

King loves Mickey Mouse, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and his Grandma Honey. He likes listening to music, especially the hip-hop song, “Long Live the King,” created for him by Makhai “Truth Speaker” Bailey, a 16-year-old student at Syracuse’s Henninger High School. Bailey, who is too young to donate himself,  performs the song to raise awareness of King and his need for a marrow transplant.

King’s mother plans to be at the marrow drive to thank the students and staff at Upstate for trying to find a donor. The marrow donor drive is open to the public from 10 a.m. to noon at Upstate’s Setnor Hall atrium and 2 to 4 p.m. at the Upstate Cancer Center lobby.

If you  are unable to attend today’s drive, and would like to register as a marrow donor or host your own marrow drive, contact the the William G. Pomeroy Foundation at info@wgpfoundation.org.

To learn more about the bone marrow registry, go to the national donor program, Be the Match.

To learn more about Baby King, read this Post Standard story.

What is a bone marrow transplant?

A bone marrow transplant is a life-saving treatment for people with leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases. First, patients undergo chemotherapy and sometimes radiation to destroy their diseased marrow. Then a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells are put into the patient’s bloodstream, where they can begin to function and multiply. In order for a patient’s body to accept these healthy cells, the donor’s tissue type needs to match the patient’s type as closely as possible. Patients who do not have a suitably matched donor in their family may search the National Marrow Donor Program Registry for an unrelated bone marrow donor or cord blood unit. –National Marrow Donor Program

Posted in community, education, Golisano, health care, hospital, medical student, patient stories, public health, transplant, volunteers | Leave a comment

Jimmy Carter’s cancer: Melanomas can appear throughout the body

Former President Jimmy Carter greets a Nepalese boy in Kathmandu, Nepal, in November 2013, when the Carter Center monitored Nepal's constituent assembly election, sending observers from 31 countries. (PHOTO BY THE CARTER CENTER)

Former President Jimmy Carter greets a Nepalese boy in Kathmandu, Nepal, in November 2013, when the Carter Center monitored Nepal’s constituent assembly election, sending observers from 31 countries. (PHOTO BY THE CARTER CENTER)

Former President Jimmy Carter’s skin cancer diagnosis began the way it does for so many others facing the disease. A spot discovered on his liver turned out to be melanoma. Then when doctors ordered an imaging scan, they found four more melanomas on his brain.

Carter, 91, disclosed his diagnosis in August. Four months later, he announced that his latest brain scan found no evidence of melanoma – but no one is using the word “cure.” Tim Turnham, the executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, told the New York Times that melanoma has a “frightening ability” to return years into remission.

Most likely in Carter’s case, the melanoma started somewhere in his skin and traveled via his bloodstream or lymph system to his liver and brain, says Ramsay Farah, MD, division chief for dermatology at Upstate Medical University. The majority of cases of melanoma begin in melanocytes in our skin, although these cells that provide our pigment can be located in other parts of the body.

“As the fetus is developing, these melanocytes can migrate to other parts of the body,” he explains. “So even though most of them are in the skin, you find them in the eye, in the gastrointestinal tract, in the lining of the brain. Anywhere you have melanocytes, you can get a melanoma.”

News reports say the 91-year-old Carter underwent radiation therapy and has been taking a new immune therapy drug called Keytruda. He receives his care at Emory University’s Kinship Cancer Institute in Atlanta.

Farah says Keytruda is an antibody that targets a receptor on a cell of the immune system called a T cell. “Normally T cells have some natural breaks on them so that they don’t attack every cell in your body. When the T cells are sleeping, they’re not going to attack the melanoma,” he explains. “This medicine basically awakens the T cell, so it can awaken its brothers and sisters, and they all attack the melanoma.”

While some melanomas run in families, most are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds.

Who is more likely to develop melanoma?

  • Someone with light skin. The pigment in our skin is protective. Melanocytes produce melanin, the chemical that absorbs ultraviolet radiation and protects the cells. People with dark pigment have an incidence of melanoma about 1/20th that of people with light pigment.
  • Someone who was exposed to high levels ultraviolet radiation, especially in childhood. Farah says “a lot of the sun damage we see in adults, they acquired it before the age of 12. There is a long latency period for melanoma.”
  • Someone who lives in an ozone-depleted region. Earth’s ozone layer filters some of the ultraviolet radiation coming from the sun. The highest rates of melanoma are from areas, such as Queensland, Australia, with a hole in the ozone.
  • Someone with lots of moles. Having 50 or more moles increases one’s risk of melanoma, and having suspicious moles also increases the risk.

Farah advocates prevention and vigilant screening so that any melanomas are caught early, before they can spread.

Mole check

See your health care provider if you have moles with any of these characteristics:

A asymmetry. Use your mind’s eye to cut the mole in half: Are both sides symmetrical?

B – border. Healthy moles have borders that are smooth, as opposed to jagged.

C – color. Shades of tan or brown are normal. Troublesome colors are red, white or blue.

D – diameter. Moles greater than ¼ inch diameter are suspicious.

E – evolution. Sudden growth of a mole, pain or bleeding warrants examination by a health professional.

Some melanomas are hidden, existing in the gastrointestinal tract, an eye or a nail bed. Others, called amelanotic melanomas, have no color but may be felt as bumps on the skin.

Source: Ramsay Farah, MD

hloa-art2Layout 1Hear Farah’s radio interview at healthlinkonair.org by searching “melanoma.” This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine. 


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New Upstate displays honor students, faculty, patients and providers

First-year medical student Tyler Pluchino recognizes his classmate, John Frandino, in one of the new student display panels in Weiskotten Hall.

First-year medical student Tyler Pluchino recognizes his classmate, John Frandino, in one of the new student display panels in Weiskotten Hall.

Three areas at Upstate Medical University have new displays, all created to celebrate its students and faculty, patients and providers.

Students at Weiskotten

 A new series of wall panels can be found in Weiskotten Hall, a historic Greek-style academic building that houses numerous portraits of medical school leaders dating from the 19th century through today.

“Medicine is changing,” reflects Bilal Butt, a third-year medical student of Puerto Rican and Pakistani descent, when asked to comment on the traditional imagery in Weiskotten Hall. “For a long time, doctors didn’t reflect the population of America.“

Butt was one of a number of students who wanted a change in the visual environment of  the academic building. There was a desire for imagery that was contemporary and reflective of the diversity of the student population.

“A lot of students walk these hallways,” notes Ryan Schiedo, medical student and president of student government. “We needed something that expressed our pride and a sense of community.”

The challenge was to design something that appealed to current students, most of whom were born in the 1990s, while ensuring that the pieces were in keeping with the style of the historic building, which was built in 1936.

The answer?

Utilize the existing color scheme of the building’s interior — the dark brown of walnut doors, the yellow ochre of the wainscoating, and the cream color of the walls. Add brick-red accents to match the building’s exterior. To integrate new images into the historic environment, turn color photos into sepia prints to give them uniformity and a sense of timelessness.

A new plaque of Anesthesiology Chairman Sebastian Thomas, MD, was hung in Weiskotten Hall by Jason Tyre of Image Press.

A new sepia and yellow ochre plaque of chairman Sebastian Thomas, MD, hangs in Weiskotten Hall alongside colleagues and students.

Temporarily remove the color portraits of the current chairpersons of the academic departments — 25 in all — and reinstall in sepia tones to match the existing décor and the new student-focused displays.

To show campus life, sort through hundreds of current photographs of students, at work and play. Select 56 photos representing students from all four colleges. Create sepia-toned collages and include statements of Upstate’s values such as “we drive innovation and discovery,” “we serve our community” and “we respect people.”

Make sure the student panels are the same height as the faculty portraits, thereby communicating mutual respect and equality.

Medical student Jordana Gilman is pleased with the new display in Weiskotten Hall. “It shows all sorts of activities that represent the life of a SUNY Upstate student,” she explains. “It’s visually appealing, reflective of my classmates and me, and sends a positive message about who can be a chairman and who can be a doctor.”

Dear Upstate…

A hallway on the second floor of the downtown hospital has posters of employees who have been praised, in writing, by patients and family members.

A hospital hallway showcases employees who have been praised by patients and family members.

In Upstate’s downtown hospital, a second-floor hallway celebrates caregivers. On the walls are eleven posters featuring 21 nurses and physicians, all of whom have been praised, in writing, by patients and family members. Each poster reads “Dear Upstate” and has an excerpt from a letter. One of the most poignant reads, “Autumn McCann was the angel Mom needed at the end of her life.”

This display, located in the hallway that leads to the east tower and children’s hospital, is a component of the Human Resources Department’s ongoing employee recognition project.

“We love our patients”

A third location — Upstate’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center, the 4,735 sq. ft. clinic at Upstate Health Care Center in downtown Syracuse — has had a makeover. Walls have been painted, new signs installed, and a series of “Busytown-style” murals hung to entertain young patients. The final feature, a series of posters of young patients with their doctors and nurses, resulted from listening to medical director Steven Blatt, MD, say, “We love our patients.” Photographer Susan Kahn spent a day shooting portraits of patients with staff to give visual expression to Blatt’s sentiment.

Inspirational quotes such as “you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” and “the most precious jewels you will ever wear around your neck are the arms of your children” were added to give an extra dimension of warmth to the portraits.

The results? Lots of little patients looking at the posters, smiling and saying, “There’s my doctor!”

Kelly Dawn admires a new poster of patients Awi and Ali with Steven Blatt MD, medical director of Upstate’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center.

Dawn Kelly admires a new poster of patients Awi and Ali with Steven Blatt MD, medical director of Upstate’s Pediatric and Adolescent Center.

Posted in community, education, Golisano, health care, history, hospital, human resources, medical student, patient stories | 1 Comment

Good sports: Medical student arranges hat donations for young cancer patients

Medical student Shunqing Zhang lets cancer patient Connor Stanton, 10, choose from a collection of New Era hats. The youngster (son of Rebecca Quilty of Whitney Point) was especially pleased to find one for his favorite NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)

Medical student Shunqing Zhang lets cancer patient Connor Stanton, 10, choose from a collection of New Era hats. The youngster (son of Rebecca Quilty of Whitney Point) was especially pleased to find one for his favorite NFL team, the Seattle Seahawks. (PHOTO BY JIM McKEEVER)


It started with a simple, two-word compliment.

Upstate second-year medical student Shunqing Zhang was volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House last summer when he saw an adolescent boy wearing a cap with the logo of the Cleveland Cavaliers professional basketball team.

“Nice cap!” Zhang told him.

Zhang learned that the boy was being treated at the Upstate Cancer Center. The cap had been a gift from the staff, who would regularly purchase caps for sports-minded patients who lose their hair from chemotherapy. The center receives many donations of toys and gifts appropriate for cheering up little kids – but few things that appeal to older kids.

With guidance from a child life specialist at the center, Zhang reached out to a woman he met while working on his master’s degree at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. The woman, a Syracuse University graduate, works for New Era Cap Co.

As Zhang describes, his request was well received. Now, a box of three or four dozen caps representing a variety of professional and college teams arrives every month. The company sends warm hats, instead of caps, as the weather turns cold. Cancer Center staff enjoy being able to present a patient with head coverings that promote his or her favorite team.

Zhang, who is from China, plans to specialize in oncology, partly because his grandfather died from the disease. He got his bachelor’s degree in biology from Cornell University and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary science at Roswell Park before starting medical school at Upstate.

He keeps his perspective by spending time with children and their parents at the Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging to families during children’s medical treatment. While the patients are grateful for the caps to cover their heads, it’s Zhang who is grateful for New Era’s generosity.

Layout 1This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine. 

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