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Health Care Heroes Awards honor health leaders, physicians

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Holly Korschun

The Atlanta Business Chronicle has selected Wright Caughman, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and Emory executive vice president for health affairs, as Lifetime Achievement Award winner in its 2015 Health Care Heroes Awards competition.

In selecting Caughman, the Business Chronicle noted that on his watch at Emory, many good things have happened to benefit both Emory and its constituents: Two of Emory's hospitals were named by the University Health System Consortium as being in the top 10 nationally for quality. Emory clinicians successfully treated the first Ebola patients to receive care in the U.S. Emory's research funding continued its upward trajectory, despite a challenging economic environment. Each of Emory's three health sciences schools grew in educational offerings and slots available to students. And Emory provided a record amount of charity care, $85.3 million, in 2014.

Caughman has served in his current position since 2010. He began his career as a high school English teacher then pursued a medical career, receiving his MD from the University of South Carolina and becoming chief resident in dermatology at Harvard. After serving as medical officer and principal investigator in the dermatology branch of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, he joined Emory's dermatology faculty in 1990. He became director of the Emory Clinic and vice president for clinical integration in 2004.

Although Caughman is stepping down from his leadership role at WHSC and as executive vice president of health affairs, he plans to continue his work on Emory's dermatology faculty.

Other Emory award winners and finalists are:

Mike Davis, PhD, winner in the Rising Star category, is conducting research to help children who suffer from congenital heart defects. As director of the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University Heart Research and Outcomes Center (HeRO), Davis has been a catalyst for pediatric heart research in Atlanta. His work centers on cardiac injury and efforts to repair these injuries through the use of cardiac stem cells and targeted delivery of molecules to injured heart tissues using nanoparticles. Improvements in pediatric heart surgery mean many more infants can survive, but they often develop additional problems. Davis is doing research aimed at extracting "reserve" cells when a patient is a baby then re-injecting these cells later to overcome injuries in heart tissue. He is also associate professor of biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory.

William Mahle and Thomas Burns, winners in the Health Care Innovation category, have taken a multidisciplinary approach to determine the effects of congenital heart disease on a child's brain. Their research collaboration among Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University, was the first to show evidence of congenital heart disease on the brains of teenagers. Their work confirmed a link between microstructural white matter disruptions and cognition. More children with congenital heart disease are surviving into adulthood, and physicians believe if they can intervene early they can correct some deficiencies in memory and organization skills. Mahle is chief of the Sibley Heart Center and professor of pediatrics in Emory School of Medicine, and Burns is chief of the psychology section and practice director for neuropsychology at Children's.

Bruce Ribner, winner in the Physician category, is professor of medicine (infectious diseases) at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit (SCDU) in Emory University Hospital. The SCDU, under Ribner's leadership and in collaboration with the Emory Ebola Operations Team, was responsible for successfully caring for the first two people to be treated for Ebola virus disease in the United States, as well as two additional patients. Ribner and his team worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2002 to establish Emory's special isolation unit. Because of their successful experience, Ribner and his colleagues have been sought after nationally and internationally for their expertise in preparedness, safety protocols and clinical knowledge. They continue to consult with other physicians, researchers, and health systems and with the CDC to train and educate other health care teams on how to successfully and safely treat patients with serious infectious diseases.

Grady EMS Biosafety Transport Team, winner in the Allied Health category, includes Medical Director Alex Isakov and a four-member crew of highly trained paramedics. Isakov is an associate professor of emergency medicine in Emory School of Medicine and executive director of the Emory Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR). The transport team had trained for 12 years before Aug. 2, 2014, when they transported the first American patient in the U.S. with Ebola virus disease to Emory University Hospital. The team had run many missions before with patients diagnosed with or suspected of having highly contagious illnesses, but never before had anyone transported an Ebola patient in the U.S.  The team later safely transported three more patients with Ebola virus disease to Emory University Hospital.

Hope Bussenius, finalist in the Innovation category, is a clinical assistant professor and family nurse practitioner in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. She developed a free mobile app called Pedia BP, which simplifies and speeds up the detection of hypertension in children and adolescents. The app saves precious time, allowing clinicians to spend more time with their patients. Bussenius came up with the idea for Pedia BP while working on her doctor of nursing practice degree under the guidance of Donald Batisky, director of the Pediatric Hypertension Program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Sheryl Heron, finalist in the Physician category, was selected for her contributions to domestic violence injury diagnosis and prevention. An associate professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, Heron is also Emory's assistant dean for medical education and student affairs at Grady Health System, where she has worked for 20 years, and associate director of education and training for the Emory Center for Injury Control. As one of the top experts on domestic violence, Heron has educated hundreds of physicians, nurses, medical students and residents and has impacted the Grady and Emory community and health providers nationwide.

Anne Spaulding, finalist in the Community Outreach category, is a physician and associate professor of epidemiology at the Rollins School of Public Health. Concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS in prison populations, Spaulding led a project to add voluntary rapid HIV testing to the medical intake process at Atlanta's Fulton County Jail. She also developed a program to connect inmates to community HIV/AIDS treatment centers upon their release from jail. Through this project, case managers also work with inmates to help them find jobs, housing, and rejoin their families.

Toni Thomas, finalist in the Allied Health Category, is program manager for adult services at the Emory Autism Center. She leads myLife, an initiative to help adults with autism spectrum disorder learn and practice life skills. "Studies show that people with autism spectrum disorder learn more about life when interacting with people their own age who do not have the same challenges," says Thomas. myLife provides opportunities for young adults with autism to address issues that are important for independent living, including interaction with other people, communicating everyday needs, participating in community events, engaging in health-related activities, and getting around on public transportation.

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