Blind athlete finds reassurance to keep running after visit to VCU RUN LAB

Charlie Plaskon runs tests at the VCU RUN LAB.

Charlie Plaskon runs tests at the VCU RUN LAB.

Charlie Plaskon has never acted his age and at 72 years old he has no plans to start. The legally blind, retired teacher began running at the age of 55 and hasn’t looked back, competing in more than 45 marathons and triathlons, including the grueling Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in 2007.

Nothing could slow Plaskon down until he suffered a back injury in 2015 that put his running career on hold. He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the vertebral canal that compresses the spinal nerves and can cause leg pain and difficulty walking. After a successful laminectomy, or decompression surgery, followed by a rigorous rehabilitation with a physical therapist, he was ready to start running, swimming and biking again.

Plaskon enlisted the help of D.S. Blaise Williams III, Ph.D., director of the VCU RUN LAB, with the goal of competing again. Williams specializes in 3-D biomechanics as it relates to injury and recovery from running and landing injuries. The VCU RUN LAB is a collaboration involving the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The main reason for Plaskon’s visit to the VCU RUN LAB, a national leader in running analysis, was to see if it was possible for him to continue running long distances. He would like to compete in full marathons while posting times under five hours, as he had before his injury. His ultimate goal is to compete in a full Ironman competition once again.

“I don’t like doing half-marathons because half means I didn’t do the other half,” Plaskon said. “That’s why I’m here. I want to see what the next level is. Can I compete like I used to? I want to find out exactly what’s left after 72 years.”

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Two VCU programs ranked No. 1, Arts rises to No. 2 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings

overheadSeveral graduate programs at Virginia Commonwealth University are ranked among the top 50 of the nation’s best in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released on March 16.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2017 edition, the School of the Arts is tied for the No. 2 overall fine arts ranking in the nation. Also, the School of Pharmacy is tied for No. 17, the School of Social Work is tied for No. 22, the School of Education is ranked No. 33 and the School of Medicine is tied for No. 40 for best primary care.

Within the School of the Arts, a number of fine arts graduate programs are ranked: Sculpture is ranked No. 1, ceramics is tied at No. 9, glass is No. 3, graphic design is No. 3, painting and drawing is No. 7 and printmaking is tied at No. 10.

Several graduate programs in the School of Allied Health Professions also fared particularly well in the report. In their categories, nurse anesthesia is ranked No. 1 in the nation, health care management tied for No. 3, rehabilitation counseling tied for No. 4, occupational therapy tied for No. 17 and physical therapy tied for No. 20.

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HCA chief medical officer elected to National Academy of Medicine

Jonathan Perlin

Jonathan B. Perlin

Jonathan B. Perlin, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, FACMI (Ph.D.’91/M; M.D.’92/M; H.S.’96/M; M.S.H.A.’97/AHP), president of clinical services and chief medical officer at Nashville, Tennessee-based HCA, was elected to membership in the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, at the organization’s 45th annual meeting.

Election to NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. New members are elected by current active members through a selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.

“Dr. Perlin is a leader in advancing patient safety and driving clinical excellence, not just at HCA but throughout healthcare,” said HCA Chairman and CEO Milton Johnson. “His election to this esteemed organization is a significant honor for HCA and recognition of Dr. Perlin’s contributions to improving patient outcomes.”

Perlin provides leadership for clinical services at 168 HCA-affiliated hospitals. Current activities include advancing electronic health records for learning health care, continuous improvement and identifying opportunities through data science and advanced analytics that lead to better patient outcomes. Under Perlin’s leadership, HCA has participated in landmark research, including the REDUCE MRSA study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and identified clinical practices that reduced bloodstream infections including MRSA by 44 percent. Another study conducted at HCA-affiliated hospitals found that babies born electively at 39 weeks are healthier than babies born electively at 37 and 38 weeks and led to renewed focus on preventing early elective deliveries.

“The National Academy of Medicine is the nation’s authority on the health sciences, and it has been a privilege to serve as a volunteer member of an IOM Roundtable on Value and Science-Driven Healthcare,” Perlin said. “I look forward to continuing to contribute to the NAM’s critical work in advancing health, care and value.”

Perlin is the 2015 chairman of the American Hospital Association. He also serves as chair of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Special Medical Advisory Group and on the board of Meharry Medical College. He has served previously on numerous boards and commissions, including the National Quality Forum, The Joint Commission and the National Patient Safety Foundation. Perlin was the inaugural chair of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health IT Standards Committee.

Before joining HCA in 2006, Perlin led the Veterans Health Administration. He holds adjunct professorships in the Department of Health Administration in VCU’s School of Allied Health Professions and in Medicine and Biomedical Informatics at Vanderbilt University.

Next in line: Legacy students forge fresh paths at VCU


For some parents and other family members who attend Virginia Commonwealth University’s Family Weekend Oct. 23-25, they won’t be visiting campus for the second or third or even fourth time — they’ll be coming home. That’s because many VCU students follow in the footsteps of other relatives who attended VCU before them and make their own memories on their family members’ old stomping grounds.

Legacy students often bond with their relatives through their shared experiences at VCU — all while experiencing the university in their own unique way. Below are a few of their stories.

The Etiennes

Darice Etienne is the sixth member of her family to attend VCU, a tradition that goes back three generations and five decades. The legacy began with Darice’s grandmother, Carol Belton-Bynum, who studied education at what was then the Richmond Professional Institute in 1966, followed by Darice’s mother, Sheronda Bynum, who graduated with a degree in fashion and merchandising in 1999. “Actually, my mother had me while she was going to school here,” says Darice. “I even remember going to her graduation when I was 4 years old.”

Darice’s father and uncle, twin brothers Derrick and Darrell Etienne, studied mass communications and played soccer for VCU from 1995 to 1997 before starting professional soccer careers, while her aunt on her mother’s side, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, graduated with a B.S. in political science in 2010.

You might say Darice was destined to be a Ram, but she wasn’t convinced until her mother gave her the grand tour of campus. On her one-woman guided tour, Sheronda pointed out the highlights that remained from her time at VCU in the ’90s, such as the Pollak Building where she studied and John Chandler and Kat Farley’s Mobile Munchies campus food kiosk. But she also noted the array of new buildings to show her daughter how VCU had developed in the past 20 years.

Read more about the Etiennes and other legacy families.

Student investigates marijuana ingredients as potential HIV treatment

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Molly Long studied how the ingredients in marijuana could protect the brain from the spread of the HIV virus.

Molly Long spent her final summer as a Virginia Commonwealth University student surrounded by psychoactive drugs, but the 22-year-old wasn’t getting high. She was helping to develop a treatment for people who have late-stage HIV and AIDS.

From May through August, Long studied how the ingredients in marijuana could protect the brain from the spread of the HIV virus. “It’s not a cure to HIV or AIDS,” the clinical laboratory sciences major said. “It’s just a form of treatment for cognitive issues.”

The work was done under an undergraduate research and creative scholarship summer fellowship that is administered through the undergraduate research opportunities program and the VCU Office of Research and Innovation.

Molly learned a lot of laboratory techniques through this fellowship that she didn’t get as a student,” said Melissa Jamerson, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, VCU School of Allied Health Professions, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, VCU School of Medicine. Jamerson mentored Long through the fellowship, which allows faculty members and students to partner on funded research in their fields. The idea behind the fellowship is to give undergraduates early hands-on experience under the guidance of faculty members with the goal of making significant progress throughout the summer on formal, structured research.

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VCU physician, a diehard cycling fan, subs as race starter for the Worlds

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VCU’s Lisa Brath, M.D., serves as a starter during the men’s under-23 individual time trial race Monday. Photo by Eric Futterman.

Lisa Brath, M.D. (H.S.’96/M), received what seemed like a random phone call at about 10:45 a.m. on Monday, but the call proved to be tailor-made just for her.

The caller was Alexa Warner (M.H.A.’14/AHP), associate director of marketing strategy for Virginia Commonwealth University Health, and she wanted to know what Brath was doing that morning. She had an opportunity for Brath related to the UCI Road World Championships, which would soon be starting its men’s under-23 individual time trial race.

“She says, ‘You want to come drop the flag before the race?’” said Brath, a VCU physician. “I said, ‘Really? Are you kidding? Yes!’”

And so, just 45 minutes later, as cyclist Sean MacKinnon of Canada waited poised on a raised partition on 3rd Street, Brath waved the white, UCI-labeled flag to signal the start of the men’s under-23 world championship race.

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Charting a healthy course for bikers, spectators

The wheels are racing in Robin Manke’s mind, making sleep difficult. With 1,000 cyclists headed to Richmond next week for the UCI Road World Championships, Manke, director of emergency management and telecommunications at VCU Health, is charged with coordinating everything from first-aid tents to patient transport to medical provisions.

“I wake up drawing incident command structures in my mind,” she says. “But I feel very comfortable. I think we have it.”

Those complicated logistics are designed to ensure that racers and an estimated 450,000 spectators have immediate access to medical treatment. The matrix includes a mass casualty plan and traffic flow diagrams that designate the quickest routes to the medical center. It addresses parking issues and the feeding of health care workers. No area of operations is untouched.

Robin Manke speaks at the May 2015 Rao R. Ivatury Trauma Symposium.

The medical team was lucky to have had a dress rehearsal in May 2014: the CapTech USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championship. The dry run featured 400 athletes, about 50 of whom were treated for various bumps and bruises. The event convinced the staff to downgrade their catastrophic thinking for the Worlds and focus more on road rash and shoulder separations. It also pinpointed where services might be needed most along the route — high-crash areas such as the Libby Hill cobblestone climb.

“It showed us how important little things are, things you don’t really think about,” Manke says.

About 167 staff members from VCU Health, the exclusive medical sponsor for the event, will be working in tents, fan zones, congested spectator areas, anti-doping sites and vehicles that ride alongside the bikers at a brisk 50-mph clip. There also will be medical staff at the Greater Richmond Convention Center and at the starting lines at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Kings Dominion and the University of Richmond.

The exposure will be invaluable for VCU Health. The experience should be enjoyable for the staff.

“I’m encouraging people to go out on their lunch break and watch,” Manke says. “People will get to see it who don’t even know what a peloton is.”

Want to learn more about VCU’s involvement in the bike race? Watch to see how the university geared up to welcome the world.


Baby steps: Helping babies with neuromuscular disorders crawl and explore the world

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Peter Pidcoe, D.P.T., Ph.D., holds an early prototype of his Self-initiated Prone Progressive Crawler, or SIPPC. Today, the hardware and computer on the SIPPC are fractions of the size they once were.

Three years ago in Oklahoma a mother, playing with her 8-month-old twin daughters, placed a toy on the ground. One of the sisters pulled herself to the toy while the other focused on it and moved her arms and legs, but got nowhere.

The situation wasn’t new to the mother. She already was aware of the reason one of her daughters was unable to crawl: She had cerebral palsy.

In many cases, children with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders are challenged by lack of coordination or lack of strength, preventing them from executing a coordinated crawling motion.

Overcoming this obstacle is important because there is more happening in a crawling baby’s brain than some might think. When children first begin to scoot, pull, slide and tug themselves from one curiosity to the next, they are discovering and grasping for knowledge, thus driving and promoting very critical cognitive and intellectual development during this early expression of inquisitiveness.

“Kids who don’t explore and interact with their environments — who don’t go out and taste the objects and do all of the things that kids do — can have delayed cognitive development,” said Peter Pidcoe, D.P.T., Ph.D. (D.P.T.’06/AHP), an associate professor and assistant chair in the Department of Physical TherapyVirginia Commonwealth University School of Allied Health Professions. “There are age-critical benchmarks that need to be met in order to develop normally.”

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Alumnus selected to serve on national study section

Daniel Riddle, Ph.D.

Daniel Riddle, Ph.D.

Daniel Riddle, Ph.D. (M.S.’86/AHP; Ph.D.’87/E), the Otto D. Payton Professor and assistant chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in the VCU School of Allied Health Professions, was selected to serve as a member of the Neurological, Aging and Musculoskeletal Epidemiology Study Section of the Center for Scientific Review from July 2015 to June 2019.

The Center for Scientific Review serves as the central receipt point for all research and training grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health. The center’s key mission is to see that NIH grant applications receive fair, independent, expert and timely reviews — free from inappropriate influences — so NIH can fund the most promising research.

Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other scientific activities, achievements and honors. “Service on a study section also requires mature judgement and objectivity as well as the ability to work effectively in a group, qualities we believe Dr. Riddle will bring to this important task,” said Richard Nakamura, Ph.D., director of the Center for Scientific Review.

VCU receives $2.5 million grant for interprofessional geriatrics training

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Edward Ansello, Ph.D.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration recently awarded $2.5 million to Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions’ Virginia Center on Aging to fund initiatives that introduce geriatric health care into primary care settings. VCoA directs the Virginia Geriatric Education Center, a consortium of VCU, the University of Virginia, and Eastern Virginia Medical School. The funds will be used to improve the health and well-being of elders statewide, with a focus on regions that are medically underserved or face a shortage of health professionals.

The VGEC started in July 2010 with a $2.2 million HRSA grant meant to address the simultaneous aging of Virginia’s population and the shortage of health care professionals who are trained in geriatrics.

The current grant supports interprofessional geriatrics training for aspiring and practicing professionals with a focus on dementia care and falls prevention. Trainees include professional health care providers, residents, interns, students, academic faculty members, direct care workers, older adults and their families and caregivers.

The project staff includes faculty and staff from VCU’s Schools of Allied Health Professions, MedicineNursingPharmacy, and Social Work, as well as faculty and staff from these and other disciplines at UVA and EVMS.

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