While supporting her younger sister through a number of severe illnesses over four decades, Dr. Laura Gantt witnessed both the best and the worst in health care.
Her experiences taught her that one thing distinguishes exceptional care: compassion – or as Gantt puts it, “truly caring about patients and their families.”
Gantt’s sister, Madeline, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 14 and developed a series of chronic illnesses as an adult. When her health declined severely in 2010, Madeline moved to Greenville to live with Gantt, associate dean for nursing support services in the College of Nursing at East Carolina University.
It was then that Dr. Michael Lang, a clinical associate professor in ECU’s Brody School of Medicine who is board-certified in both psychiatry and internal medicine, took over Madeline’s care and the Gantt family found a level of support they hadn’t known previously.
“He was both her primary care physician and her psychiatrist,” Gantt explained. “I would have been in a much more horrible place without him because he helped me manage things really well.”
Lang oversaw Madeline’s care until she passed away from cancer at age 57 in June 2016.
Shortly after her sister’s passing, Gantt honored the compassion she and her family had experienced by making a planned gift to establish the Madeline S. Gantt Endowed Professorship in Psychiatry. She also created the Madeline Gantt Endowment to support continuing education for the ECU Internal Medicine-Psychiatry Residency Program, which Lang directs.
“This gift is going to provide ongoing education on arguably the most important aspect of care,” said Lang, “which is how the patient and the patient’s family improve with what we’re doing and making sure they partner in the patient’s recovery.”
The endowment also supports the new Department of Internal Medicine Compassion in Medicine Awards Luncheon. The goal of the event is to help new physicians learn to keep the needs of patients and families at the center of their practice. Together the gifts will total more than $430,000.
“Compassion in care and providing patients with a compassionate medical home is a top priority for us at ECU,” said Dr. Paul Bolin, professor and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. “This gift enables us to emphasize that and keep it central in our training of young physicians.”
Addressing about 100 physicians at the inaugural Compassion in Medicine event on April 28, internist/psychiatrist Dr. Jim Peden, Brody’s associate dean for admissions, spoke about his experiences as a two-time cancer survivor. In 2001, Peden was diagnosed with a myxoid liposarcoma – a rare kind of cancer that grows in connective tissue, most often in the limbs – in his right lower leg. He underwent multiple surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy before experiencing a recurrence that led to an above-the-knee amputation in 2004.
In his address, Peden discussed the anxiety he experienced during periods of uncertainty, how sharing his situation openly with friends and colleagues resulted in added support, and how he used humor to cope with treatment and a new disability. He also recounted the different ways his doctors relayed troubling information.
“Having bad news broken to me a lot informed the way I break bad news,” he said, describing examples of both upsetting and reassuring approaches he experienced.
Also at the event, Johnathan Polak, a second-year internal medicine resident, received the first Madeline S. Gantt Endowed Resident Physician Award. Gantt relayed how Polak, who assisted with Madeline’s care, insisted on giving her sister the best care possible at the end of her life.
The award recognizes a resident who provides exemplary care to patients and provides funds for the recipient to attend a professional development opportunity of their choosing.
“It’s easy to fall into the training impulse ‘if this, then that,’” Polak said. “There’s so much more to medicine, really to being human, if we could all just take a moment and think about the other perspectives, the world would be a better place.”
To learn more about how gifts to the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation can express appreciation for excellent medical care, contact Kathy Brown, senior advancement officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-by Elizabeth Willy, University Communication