Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine
THE PHONE IN DONALD WILSON'S OFFICE at the State University of New York's Health Science Center at Brooklyn just wouldn't stop ringing. It was May 1991, and Wilson had reservations about taking a job as dean at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
"The curriculum was outdated, there was no resident base, and there was a very poor organizational structure—and there was this enormous inferiority complex with the 'other' medical school," he recalls recently, alluding to a certain Johns Hopkins University. "It was palpable."
But word of Wilson's name, as one of the nation's most revered African-American academic physicians, had spread like wildfire at a time when the School of Medicine desperately needed him. Even Baltimore's then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke was among those trying to recruit him. Finally, Wilson took a call from Professor J. Tyson Tilden.
Wilson relented to Tilden's powers of persuasion. "But I told him that I would hold him personally responsible if anything bad happened," says Wilson, who announced his retirement this past September.
Not much did, of course: Over the following 15 years, Wilson, the first African-American dean of a predominantly white medical school, transformed the School of Medicine into one of the foremost medical and academic research institutions in the country.
Research funding soared to $350 million from $77 million, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine now ranks in the top 10 of all public U.S. medical schools. The number of African-American faculty members, meanwhile, has since tripled, and the university currently boasts one of the most racially diverse student bodies anywhere.
Dr. Wilson's story begins in Massachussets in 1944 when a local doctor paid his family a house call. Wilson, then age 8, was sick and the physician gave him a dose of penicillin. Wilson was enthralled. "It was funny, in a way, because if I had been allergic to penicillin, it could have killed me," Wilson, now 70, surmises. "But right then and there, I decided that I wanted to be a doctor, and I never wavered from that point on."
As he progressed through high school and on to Harvard University, Wilson doggedly cast aside prevalent, pre-conceived attitudes about race from more privileged classmates and instructors alike through his dedication and sharpness.
"Not being white meant that I was not part of the 'Old Boys' club'—meaning that people looked out for you, and when you were ready to move on, you were put forward—and I didn't have anybody to do that for me," he says.
After further study at Tufts University Medical School, Wilson became the youngest full professor in the history of the University of Illinois at Chicago, before becoming head of the department of medicine there. He did his residency at the Boston Veterans' Administration Hospital before becoming chairman of the department of medicine at SUNY Brooklyn.
Once there, he was shocked by what he saw. "Ninety-five pecent of the interns were not graduates of U.S. medical schools," Wilson says, "and there was one African-American member on the faculty of medicine." That changed, however: By the time he left, there were 10 black faculty members, and 90 percent of graduates were trained at American medical schools.
Wilson's pragmatic attitude toward coupling diversity with academic excellence has endeared him to many among the faculty and staff at the School of Medicine. Claudia Baquet, deputy director at the Center for Health Disparities, says she first joined the institution while on sabbatical. But after meeting Wilson and watching his leadership, she decided to stay permanently. "I liked his vision," she says. "You can't do the kinds of things I do if you don't have a good boss." —BY JOSEPH KIRSCHKE
Drs. Joseph Gall & Carol Greider
Lasker Award Winners
JOSEPH GALL AND CAROL Greider became biologists for different reasons and at different times. Gall, 78, was driven by curiosity. "I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in nature," he says.
Greider, 45, was driven by the chal-lenge. "Research involves a lot of hard work," she says. "But the challenge of solving puzzles is fun."
In September, the two North Baltimore residents joined an elite fraternity when each won an Albert Lasker Medical Research Award—considered America's version of the Nobel Prize. The award comes with a $100,000 honorarium and a promising statistic—71 Lasker winners have subsequently won the real Nobel Prize.
Gall, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution's Department of Embryology, on San Martin Drive near the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, was presented with a lifetime achievement award, fitting for a man who constantly read science books as a child and got his first microscope when he was 14.
Greider, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, along with research partners Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco and Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School, won the basic research award for discovering the enzyme telomerase, which scientists believe one day could be harnessed to stop the spread of cancer.
Both began their careers with one simple goal in mind: They wanted to learn more about chromosomes. But their research took them in two very different directions.
In the 1960s, Gall began work on devising a way to locate individual genes in a cell. The technique he developed, in situ hybridization, is now widely used as a tool to identify genetic defects in fetuses and diagnose Hepatitis C, among other applications.
He chose not to patent the technique, and in the process, missed a chance to make millions of dollars from licensing fees.
"It would never have crossed his mind that he would want to make money off a scientific contribution," says Joan Steitz, a biophysics and biochemistry professor at Yale and former student and lab assistant of Gall's. "He's incredibly modest, incredibly interested in science, and interested in sharing science with others."
His interest in sharing knowledge also led him to be one of the first scientists to admit women into biology labs.
By the time Greider entered graduate school at the University of California at Berkeley in 1983, women in science were seen as no big thing. Working under the guidance of Blackburn, Greider discovered telomerase, paving the way for even more discoveries.
They found that there are buffers at the ends of chromosomes called telomeres, which Greider likened to the plastic ends on the tips of shoelaces that keep them from unraveling. When a cell becomes cancerous, those tips lengthen.
The research, Greider says, has led to a groundbreaking discovery: "If you have something that inhibits telomerase, you can slow cancer."
As a result, a number of private biotech firms are developing treatments that they hope will do just that.
Although Gall and Greider have never worked together, they do share one common bond: Gall supervised Blackburn's post-doctoral work.
Says Gall: "You might say it's all in the family." —BRAD NELSON
Col. William Bernhard
AT AGE 76, COLONEL WILLIAM BERNHARD M.D. could be spending his retirement at his home in Perryville enjoying some of his favorite pastimes: fishing off his dock, boating, hunting. Instead, Bernhard is at Camp Black Horse in Afghanistan, providing medical care to soldiers amid the daily hazards of suicide bombers and sweltering heat. And that makes the oft-retired surgeon the oldest U.S. soldier serving overseas.
Inspired by his father, a flight surgeon in the Army Air Corps, Bernhard grew up as a consummate patriot. "My husband wanted so badly to be a soldier, he joined the marines right after graduating from high school," says his wife, M.P. He was medically discharged, which he describes as a "huge disappointment," but was undeterred. He went through college and medical school just so he could get back into the service, this time through the U.S. Navy Reserve. He served two years with Naval hospitals during the Vietnam era and went on to deployments in Honduras, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and Italy (during the NATO mission in Bosnia). He served as chief of trauma anesthesia at the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center, and kept his skills sharp working with the Maryland Army National Guard in Edgewood, conducting physicals for the aviation division. In 2005, he called the National Guard Bureau in Washington and volunteered to go to Iraq.
"I rejoined the military in the Army because I missed working with dedicated military professionals in the medical department," says Bernhard, commun-icating via e-mail from Afghanistan. "The Guard is short of experienced physicians, especially in trauma. With my trauma experience and long military experience, they took me back."
He's been technically retired more than once, starting six years ago, but has always managed to talk himself back into service. When he returned from Iraq, he "retired" again. But not for long. In 2006, he was reactivated and sent to Afghanistan, where he'd served previously as part of President Hamid Karzai's protection detail in 2003. "He knows how hard it is for young doctors [in the Guard and Reserves] to leave their practices when they're building them up and when they have children," his wife explains. "And the young guys aren't going to sign up if they know they aren't going to get good medical care."
Bernhard's patients are a combination of traumas and sick calls. Daily life includes donning 40 pounds of body armor, dodg-ing roadside bombs, and withstanding temperatures over 100 degrees.
While men half his age might not be able to keep up, Bernhard works out five times a week and frequently runs for over an hour.
"He's like the Energizer Bunny," says Master Sgt. Patrice Dewitt, who works with Bernhard at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. Dewitt says Bernhard has a near-encyclopedic knowledge of military regulations and an endless supply of energy. "We don't see his age, we just see him as he is. Everyone is proud to say our flight surgeon is over there. Those people are very lucky to have him."
Considering his age, Bernhard says he's glad he can actively participate in the war on terrorism. "It is an honor for me to provide medical care to America's finest men and women," he states. "They make me proud to be an American soldier again and again and again."
When his wife asked him if this was the last time he'd serve overseas, she said his response was that he'd no longer return to Iraq or Afghanistan. "But he said, 'Bosnia. I might go back there.'"
Dr. Douglas Kerr
Johns Hopkins Researcher
DR. DOUGLAS KERR, AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR of neurology, molecular biology, and immunology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, as well as director of its "Project Restore" and Transverse Myelitis Center, is used to the limelight.
As the debate over federal funding of embryonic human stem-cell research raged on Capitol Hill this summer, Kerr's work with paralyzed mice—which could herald cures for Lou Gehrig's Disease and other paralyzing disorders—was cited no less than 43 times by lawmakers such as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Then there were the periodic calls from the late actor Christopher Reeve. Best known for playing Superman, Reeve had been paralyzed from the neck down following a horse-riding accident in 1995. Reeve succumbed to heart failure stemming from an infection in 2004. "He would call and say, 'What do you have?'" Kerr recalls. "He was a top-notch guy—he was also a brilliant scientist."
Others have expressed different views. Maryland State Sen. Andrew Harris denounced the researcher and physician as a "genocidal Nazi" following Kerr's testimony in Annapolis last year that presaged the Maryland Stem Cell Act of 2005, which designates $15 million a year for such research. Harassing phone calls and e-mails have been a constant and, in August, a letter to the editor in The Towson Times called for Kerr to be "dismembered."
All this stems from the unprecedented breakthrough that Kerr calls the "Holy Grail of Paralysis"—the partial restoration of movement in paralyzed mice. Kerr and his team purposely immobilized 150 mice with a virus, and then randomly injected 15 of them with embryonic stem cells of other mice.
Gradually, these foreign cells stimulated the "axons," or molecular wires which connected the spines to the muscles of the rodents. Before long, all 15 regained roughly 40 percent of their motor function. "This is the first time that's ever been done," he said.
This means that cures for conditions ranging from Lou Gehrig's Disease to spinal muscular atrophy, a genetically inherited paralysis, could be just around the corner. "I'm convinced that if we proceed ahead, we'll be able to restore function to humans in the next 5 to 10 years," says Kerr.
Next, Kerr, who has been at Hopkins since 1996, seeks to use embryonic stem cells on paralyzed pigs. After that, he wants to work with adults and children who suffer from paralysis, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
There is another, far greater obstacle, however: President Bush's recent veto of a bill that would have expanded federal funding for scientific experiments that use embryonic human stem cells.
And since as much as 90 percent of such research depends on federal funding, this leaves Kerr and other scientists with experiments on hold, despite the availability of state money. "It's not being driven by biology, it's being driven by politics," he says. "Now we're losing ground to countries like Taiwan, China, and Sweden."
Most Americans, Kerr says, support the goal that he and dozens of other dedicated scientists have—to alleviate the suffering of more than 50,000 people afflicted by paralysis nationwide.
"It's a vocal, rabid, and often uninformed minority—and they're the ones who are concerned," said the mild-mannered 40-year-old, who holds a degree in molecular biology from Princeton University. His medical degree and Ph.D. are from Jefferson Medical College Philadelphia.
It is the 400 paralyzed patients Kerr sees annually that weigh most heavily on his mind when he pulls his largely 15-hour days. "The people I see are incredibly courageous," he says. "Many of them are young people—they want more, they just want to return to their normal functions."
Cody Unser, a 19-year-old college student from New Mexico, is a case in point. In 1999, she suffered from an auto-immune disorder that has left her paralyzed from the waist down ever since. "A lot of physicians were treating me like a disease rather than a patient," she says. "Doctor Kerr is the most compassionate doctor I've ever seen—and his work is going to go down in history." —J.K.
Olympic Figure Skater
IN THE WINTER OF 1994, following a major storm, sheets of ice had canvassed the Baltimore area, closing schools, offices, and businesses and bringing much of the region to a standstill. Outside a house in Bel Air, meanwhile, 6-year-old Kimmie Meissner watched with intense curiosity as her older brother Adam laced his skates, set up a goal post, and began playing hockey with some friends.
Inspired, she tried it herself. For hours and hours, she skated all around her family's garage. To Meissner, the sensation was nothing short of exhilarating: The coolness of the ice beneath her feet and the ease with which she was able to move lightly, and gracefully, from one end of her backyard to the other had her hooked. "I've always loved skating," she says.
It wasn't exactly obvious at the time, but a star had been born. Meissner's journey over the following decade led to a transformation of a young girl with a passion for gliding on ice to an Olympic skater whose performances have captivated thousands across the country and around the world.
Meissner's talent is the fruit of her own initiative, says her mother, Judy. "It was definitely her pushing us," she says. "It was not so much that she excelled—it was that she loved it."
To Meissner, however, it has hardly been a one-way street. "They said: 'Whatever you want to do, go for it,'" recalls Meissner, now 17, loosening her skates after a recent practice session at Ice World, the rink in Abingdon where she spends hours each week. "A lot of times, I drag them to the rink."
Meissner's first formal lessons began at Baltimore's Mt. Pleasant Ice Arena. By age 8, she had begun to practice regularly at the University of Delaware's Ice Skating Science Development Center. She then went on to perform in competitions across the country, and in Europe.
One of the first things skaters learn, notes Meissner, is how to fall. From there, she moved on to basic jumps and rotations, or spins—and on to dual, triple, and multiple rotations. "It takes a long time to get all these moves together," she says, noting the "crash pads" affixed to her elbows and knees. "You take a lot of falls, but over time, you feel yourself progressing."
One of the biggest highlights of her career took place in a 4-minute-and-10-second performance with the U.S. Olympic Team in the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, earlier this year. "I was very nervous—but also very excited," she says.
In the end, she came in at an impressive sixth place in the ladies' figure skating category. Upon returning home, Meissner's hard work was celebrated by nothing less than a full homecoming parade in Bel Air. Previously, in 2004, she had also been ranked first in the State Farm U.S. Championships as a junior and, in 2006, second place as a senior.
Despite her rise to stardom, Meissner has been low-key about her accomplishments among her classmates at Fallston High School. In fact, until very recently, few students had any clue as to why she had been leaving school early on so many occasions. "My school's been great with everything that's been going on," she says. —J.K.
Executive Director, Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts
ARTSCAPE. THE BALTIMORE BOOK FESTIVAL. The Baltimore Farmer’s Market. New Year’s Eve fireworks. A dozen different ethnic festivals. Chances are, where there’s fun to be had in Baltimore—particularly of the cultural sort—Bill Gilmore had something to do with it.
During his 26-year tenure at the non-profit Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA)—of which he has served as executive director since 1990—Gilmore, 52, has worked tirelessly to produce special events that will draw locals and visitors to Baltimore, and to bring the arts to all members of the community.
His biggest coup of 2006: The Cross Keys resident helped spearhead Free Fall Baltimore, a line-up of more than 200 cultural events including film, dance, theatre, and lectures held at some 75 different venues during October and November—and all of them are free.
“We wanted to target October as the kickoff because it’s arts and humanities month nationwide,” explains Gilmore. “We wanted to celebrate in a really big way.”
The program was funded by a $750,000 grant from the city, which had supported the agency’s initiatives in the past. In 2005, BOPA had received another $750,000 in surplus money from Mayor O’Malley, says Gilmore. “We called that program the Creative Baltimore Fund and distributed it to about 60 cultural organizations targeting youth and families.” BOPA approached the city again in 2006 to fund Free Fall Baltimore.
“We wanted to mimic the BMA and the Walters in using the program to develop audiences and create access to these various institutions and performing groups,” says Gilmore. “In other words, to get new people through the door and increase diversity. That’s sort of everyone’s mantra for sustaining arts and culture throughout the community.”
“What’s wonderful about Bill is that he has in mind always what’s best for the arts community and what’s best for the city,” says BMA Director Doreen Bolger. “It makes him able to bring disparate forces and people together and find a common ground. It was a wonderful idea of his to make [Free Fall Baltimore] a city-wide event.”
Looking to the future, Gilmore also knew that through Free Fall Baltimore, he could foster partnerships with arts groups throughout the city. That much became clear when 130 potential grantees showed up for a workshop on how to participate in the program, says Gilmore.
“If you take a look at the end result, it’s done exactly what we wanted, which was to bring various and diverse groups together to create a new program,” Gilmore says.
For now, Gilmore’s attention has turned to his latest project: The Bromo-Seltzer Arts Tower, slated to open in March 2007. One of downtown’s most prominent landmarks, the city-owned Bromo-Seltzer Tower, a faux Florentine structure used to house the headquarters of a headache-powder company, but has stood vacant since 2002. Three years ago, BOPA proposed converting the building into artists’ studios. Funding for the $1.5 million project came from the city, the Baltimore Development Corporation, and local arts philanthropists Eddie and Sylvia Brown. At press time, BOPA was just beginning to accept applications for studio space.
“We want to make sure we have a diverse mix of artists,” says Gilmore. “We want the building to be open to the public a few times a month to tour studios, meet the artists, and hopefully buy the work.” —ABIGAIL GREEN
Co-founder, After School AKAdemy
WHEN GWENDOLYN ROOKS WELCOMED the first group of middle school girls to the After School AKAdemy she helped found, she asked them a simple question: "What is your life like?" The girls described stepping over drug addicts on the way to school and adult men harrassing them on a daily basis.
But Rooks always remembers an adage she saw six years ago taped to a Towson University hallway: "It's not your environment, it is you," she recounts. "The quality of your mind, the integrity of your soul, the dedication of your will is what will make your life."
"I would say this to them every day, and they would repeat it," she says. "After a while, they started believing it." Rooks, a retired Baltimore City principal, runs circles around many folks half her age (which she won't reveal, but she retired in 1989). She's usually out of her house in Ten Hills before 9 a.m., and isn't back until 8 or 9 p.m. As long as there are girls to take care of, Rooks has work to do, and she does it without pay.
The after-school program—made possible by a partnership between the Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland and the Rho Xi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority—serves students from Booker T. Washington, Midtown Academy, and Mount Royal middle schools.
Monday through Friday, the 40-50 girls gather at West Baltimore's Arena Playhouse for arts-based programming along with computer training, tutoring, life skills and goal-setting discussions, one-on-one mentoring with Rho Xi Omega members, or Friday field trips.
Hailing from neighborhoods with low per-capita incomes and high rates of teen pregnancy, program graduates not only successfully complete high school—more than 80 percent with honor-roll status—but attend college as well. Perhaps most importantly, though, the girls develop a strong sense of self-esteem that has them announ-cing ambitions to be a scientist or a professional dancer before they even reach ninth grade.
Rooks coordinates and sits in on parent-teacher meetings, arranges scholarships, organizes weekend trips to Broadway, and mothers not only the girls but their parents as well, many of them single mothers. If one needs a ride to a job interview (or a snappy suit to wear), Rooks is right there for her—car engine revving, classy duds in tow.
"The mothers are my children, and the girls are my grandchildren," she says.
"Gwen is the queen of emerging adoles-cents," says Stan Levi, executive director of Family and Children's Services of Central Maryland. "She's wonderful. She's like the pied piper with these kids. I think they just feel her caring, her warmth. She's a lady, and they respond to that."
Retirement was never something that was going to keep Rooks from guiding children as she once did in school hallways.
"This is something she believes in so strongly. I think that's why she does it," Levi adds. "She really wants to see these girls have a positive future, and she feels it all the way down to her toes."
Teenagers from the first two years of the program, now high school seniors and college freshmen, can't say enough wonder-ful things about Rooks.
"She looks about for everybody," gushes Charmaine Eason, a freshman biology major at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. "She becomes part of the family. She actually joins the family. I look at her as a second grandmother."
Shanae Smith, 17, is attending pres-tigious Bryn Mawr School thanks to encourage-ment—and scholarships—pro-vided by Rooks. "She's completely selfless," says the senior earnestly. "I don't think she considers helping people as work. More people should think like that. They shouldn't think that being nice is a job."
"What we wanted to do is to give these kids a new life," Rooks says. "The motto of the program is 'dare to dream' and that's what they do."
Lt. Col. John Skinner
Founder, Safe Zone Project
BALTIMORE'S WESTERN POLICE DISTRICT is small, just about three square miles. But it is one of the city's most violent areas, with about 48 murders a year. Most of the violence stems from open-air drug markets, where dealers and buyers infiltrate neighborhoods, bringing with them crime that makes residents veritable prisoners in their own homes.
"We were using a lot of different enforcement techniques, but it was not stabilizing the neighborhood quickly enough, in my opinion," says Lt. Col. John Skinner, previously the Western District commander and a 14-year veteran of the force. "I felt that we were never getting ahead."
Skinner's frustration led him to try something different—shut down the markets, he reasoned, and you shut out the dealers. In 2005, he led the first Community Safe Zone Project, wherein for four weeks, non-residential traffic within a 10-square block radius was directed away from a neighborhood by barricades during the neighborhood's most vulnerable times for crime: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. "We felt if the drug buyers couldn't get into the neighborhood to buy drugs, then it would dry up the market," says Skinner. "It worked better than we expected. Literally, the drug markets in those areas dried up overnight."
The results were staggering. In 2005, Safe Zones were deployed in five neighborhoods: In the six months after the four-week shutdown, shootings in those areas decreased 86 percent compared to the previous six months. This year, Safe Zones were implemented citywide in 25 neighborhoods. "The redirection of traffic provided the initial stability, but it was everything we did afterward that really made the difference," says Skinner.
In addition to redirecting traffic, the project calls for increased foot patrols in the neighborhood, with so-called "community relations officers" going door to door to chat with residents about starting community-watch programs. City resources flood the areas, helping to board up vacant homes, clean up trash, and fix streetlights. Social outreach teams beat the pavement too, educating residents about lead-paint testing, drug treatment, and child mentoring programs. At the same time, the police department hosts community events such as a job resource fair and a youth night. The police also implement a violence intervention program, linking officers with at-risk youth in the neighborhood.
Proponents say the Safe Zone project, recently named one of seven finalists from around the world for an award from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, restores a sense of neighborhood pride that remains long after the barricades come down.
"Skinner got the police department to make the connection that keeping neighborhoods safe is more than just law enforcement; it's about services and reaching out to people," says Virginia Geckler of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. "He is willing to take risks and bring a new, holistic approach to policing."
"The reality," says Skinner, "is that, nationally, we are under some incredible policing challenges, and as a law enforcement community we have to be innovative in our approaches." —C.M.
Billy H. Stanfield
Founder, New Vision Youth Services
A MONTH BEFORE HE WAS SHOT, Billy H. Stanfield's mother and aunt told him to move, that they sensed he wasn't safe. Then his nightmares started: Men—all blood-hungry, all without faces—were out to kill him. His was the life of drug dealer.
On September 21, 1993, Stanfield's nightmares came true. As he was entering his Glen Burnie home, the one-time All-American high school basketball player was jumped by two masked men and shot in each leg. He escaped with his life—he maintains now it was divine intervention—and learned to walk again only after a two-month hospital stay.
Despite all that, he returned to dealing, and by spring of the next year was serving six years for drug trafficking.
The arrest and prison sentence changed his life: He began studying the Bible, and decided that God had spared him for a reason—to stop Baltimore's young people from making the same mistakes he did.
"God put me back together and gave me a calling in life," Stanfield, 37, says. "I've paid my debt to the Lord, and I'm trying to pay my debt back to society."
Now an ordained minister and founder of New Vision Youth Services, Stanfield and fellow mentors, including a few ex-drug dealers (background checks weed out murderers or sex offenders), go into some of Baltimore's toughest inner-city high schools, as well as neighborhood after-school programs, to prevent teenagers from making the same mistakes they did.
Their first stop was Southwestern High School in February 2005. Although students were suspicious at first, Stanfield and his crew won them over. "We had to show them a lot of love, a lot of respect," he recounts. "Our children have been hurt, they've been abused. It takes a while to gain their trust. They've been hurt by adults and let down by the system."
Now, suspensions are down and the school has fewer security guards, Stanfield says. The organization has had similar results in Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, Frederick Douglass High School, and Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts High School.
"Because of the lack of positive influences in their community and homes, the lack of family structure or of fathers in homes, the students are frustrated," and that leads to dangerous choices, Stanfield says. "The streets become their homes and gang members become family. They start looking up to [popular rappers] as father figures."
"I really believe the students came to listen to them because of their consistency," says Darline Lyles, principal of Frederick Douglass High School, who was the principal at Southwestern High School when Stanfield approached her about launching his new program. Her students' lives are filled with broken promises from adults, she says. "That didn't happen with New Vision. They were there every day, with the same demeanor every day. They weren't there to browbeat on the kids. They were there for support."
"Our vision is to go in as many schools as we can," says Stanfield, who's now looking for funding to go into middle schools.
Blinking blue cameras around the city aren't the way to stop crime, Stanfield explains. "You've got to change their mindsets," he says. "And cameras can't do that."
Dr. Rhonda Fishel
Surgeon, Sinai Hospital
WHEN DR. RHONDA FISHEL WAS A MEDICAL STUDENT in the 1970s, there were no courses on how to deliver bad news to patients. Fishel, associate chief of surgery and director of surgical critical care at Sinai Hospital, had to learn on the job how to tell a patient he had cancer, or how to break the news to a patient's family that their loved one had died.
Then in 2001, the now-51-year-old Owings Mills resident was on the receiving end of devastating news: Her life partner, Michaela "Mickey" Barron, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fishel sat in on Barron's discussions with the oncologist. "One of the things that struck me very acutely was that when you tell someone they have breast cancer, they just stop for a couple of moments," says Fishel. "Their mind is someplace different. Some people have told me their mind was on their funerals, or what's going to happen to their kids."
In November 2005, Fishel received even more bad news: She herself had a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer. She underwent a hysterectomy, then removal of a metastasis to her lung, followed by 18 weeks of chemotherapy.
Fishel, who comes across as pragmatic and not prone to self-pity, admits that her cancer diagnosis shook her sense of self.
"I'm a regular exerciser, I don't smoke, I don't drink, I consider myself awfully healthy and have minimal cancer in my family," she says. Even through the near-crippling fatigue from chemo, Fishel continued to work four 10-hour days a week and exercise regularly. "It was a question of who was going to win," she says, her or the cancer.
"I didn't really feel like I had too much to [complain] about. I've seen people with young kids or people in their 30s who have died of terrible, awful cancers. I've had 50 really, for the most part, good years."
Fishel's personal experiences gave her a better understanding of both delivering and receiving bad news in a healthcare setting. Young doctors, in particular, are often focused on the information they need to convey to patients, she notes. "But as important—probably even more important—is the response of the person receiving the news. You have to work off of cues that people give you—not just verbal cues, but also body language."
A talk Fishel gave on the subject at her nephew's medical school in Missouri in February, "Giving and Receiving Bad News: Lessons Learned," has taken on a life of its own. Over the past year, the surgeon has spoken to medical professionals, social workers, clergy, and others all over the country about how to deliver difficult news.
In her presentation, Fishel covers informing family members of a patient's sudden death, end-of-life issues, and frightening diagnoses. She also manages to add some humor and relays stories that people have shared with her.
"People have come up to me after talks and said, 'When I was told I had this, the doctor was horrible,' or 'the doctor was wonderful.' People remember not only the information, but the delivery of it."
For the past three months, Fishel's cancer has been in remission. Barron, also 51, has been cancer-free for four years. Fishel plans to continue her speaking engagements, is producing a DVD of her presentations (profits will go to Sinai), and now sometimes requests an honorarium to benefit Sinai's oncology center. But mostly she hopes that the talks will benefit her audiences.
"My hope is that if people come away from the talks being able to put themselves in the position of the person they're informing, that would be an extremely useful thing." —A.G.