ECU students use music therapy to help Vidant Medical Center patients

ECU music therapy students Amanda Bernstein and Emily Selitto help patients at Vidant Medical Center with music. (Contributed photo)

ECU music therapy students and Emily Selitto, left, and Amanda Bernstein help patients at Vidant Medical Center with music. Not pictured are Madaline Logan and Emily Margagliotti. (Contributed photo)


“The girls and their music made it much easier for him to go on to glory,” Brenda Daniels said. Her husband, Noah Daniels, passed away in January at Vidant Medical Center. She said she is eternally grateful for two East Carolina University music therapy students who spent time singing and playing music for her husband and family.

For more than 45 years, the East Carolina University Music Therapy program has been training students to help people through the power of music. This semester, four of those students have brought their talents to Vidant Medical Center, to work with patients on a weekly basis.

Noah Daniels was just one of the patients who benefited from their work. “He was having a hard time, but when those girls walked in, we were elated,” his wife said. “I could see by the look in his eyes and the expression on his face, how the music lifted his spirits.”

Each Thursday, ECU seniors and music therapy majors, Amanda Bernstein and Emily Selitto visit Vidant Medical Center and go room to room singing and playing instruments for some of the sickest patients. “It’s a very humbling and rewarding experience,” Bernstein said. “We aren’t just singing and playing music for ourselves, music therapy is so much more than that; we are using our talents to help people.”

Music therapy students are required to complete a 12 hour practicum each semester in order to graduate. “Our main goal is to help patients use music to complete tasks that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to,” said Selitto. “If we can be a distraction, lift their spirits, and help relax them, if only for a few minutes at a time, then we are successful.”

Dr. Michelle Hairston, professor and chair of music education and music therapy department at ECU explained that a music therapist is constantly assessing the responses of the patient and uses his or her training to formulate a goal– and then work on it immediately. “Music is the powerful tool that reaches the soul of every individual. It is nonthreatening and inviting,” said Dr. Hairston. “Music engages patients immediately, and the personal connection of the music therapist keeps that connection going. The power of the music, the human contact (by the music therapist) and the goal-directed interaction of the two, is what makes music therapy work.”

Patricia Rice, a physician assistant at Vidant Medical Center, has been a practicum mentor for the music therapy students for the last three years. “The influence that these students have with the patients is remarkable,” Rice said. “They have a way of using music to help the patients with pain management, relaxation, and increasing physical activity which helps the patients reengage into life.”

Their influence is especially true in regards to the Daniels family. Brenda Daniels was so impressed and inspired by Bernstein and Selitto, that she asked if they would perform at her husband’s funeral. The girls obliged and sang several hymns, including Amazing Grace. “I wish that I could repay them, for what they gave to me and my husband with their music,” Daniels said. “I’ve never experienced anything like that in my entire life.”

For more information about the ECU Music Therapy program, please contact Dr. Michelle Hairston at

Courtesy of Vidant Health Corporate Communications


Annual Brody tradition features student service

Brody School of Medicine students, eft to right, Nikitah Goel, Akilah Grimes, Cierra Piggott and Bailee Gilchrist participate in the Brody Day of Service. (Photos by Gretchen Baugh)

Brody School of Medicine students, eft to right, Nikitah Goel, Akilah Grimes, Cierra Piggott and Bailee Gilchrist participate in the Brody Day of Service. (Photos by Gretchen Baugh)

One week before they found out where they were headed to complete residency as doctors-in-training, the Brody School of Medicine’s Class of 2015 had only others’ futures on their minds.

Approximately 75 students participated March 13 in the “Day of Service” – an annual event for each Brody graduating class.

ECU medical students Jack Yazbeck, Amna Ahmed, Ryan Phillips and Dmitri Zouev, left ot right, sort food as part of the Brody Day of Service.

ECU medical students Jack Yazbeck, Amna Ahmed, Ryan Phillips and Dmitri Zouev, left ot right, sort food as part of the Brody Day of Service.

Many members spent time at the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC’s Greenville branch, where several tons of potatoes were sorted to be distributed to needy families. Two groups of students worked to clean and organize student-led free clinics: the Greenville Community Shelter Clinic and Grimesland Clinic. Another group painted the inside of Third Street Community Center and other students assisted the Ronald McDonald House with its Sport-A-Shirt, Share-A-Night fundraiser.

“While every student has a specific passion and area of service that they have committed to as a student at Brody, these five projects provided a final chance for the Class of 2015 to enjoy giving back to the community together,” explained Elizabeth Sibrack, fourth-year student and class representative. “The community has been integral in our medical education by allowing us the opportunity to learn from them as our patients at ECU and Vidant.”

She said service enhances classroom and clinical education by allowing for greater understanding about their patients, community resources and obstacles to care.


ECU thoracic surgeon honored for teaching, mentoring

Dr. Mark Iannettoni, professor and chief of general thoracic surgery for East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine and director of the new thoracic surgery residency program at Vidant Medical Center, has been honored nationally for his work with resident physicians.



The 2015 Socrates Award was presented to Iannettoni by the Thoracic Surgery Residents Association during the annual Society of Thoracic Surgeons conference in January. The award recognizes, “an outstanding cardiothoracic surgery faculty member for his or her commitment to resident education and mentorship.”

Residents are physicians who are receiving additional training in specific areas of medicine; thoracic surgery refers to operations done on organs within the chest, such as the lungs.

Iannettoni joined the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences and the East Carolina Heart Institute in 2014. He is professor and chief of general thoracic surgery and organized the thoracic surgery residency program here. His clinical areas of expertise include benign and malignant esophageal disease and new therapies for lung cancer.

“We congratulate Dr. Iannettoni on this very prestigious award. We are extremely pleased to have him here in Greenville to direct our new thoracic surgery residency program,” said Dr. Herb Garrison, associate dean for graduate medical education at VMC and ECU and an ECU professor of emergency medicine. “We are already hearing great things about him from our resident physicians, providers and patients.”

“This was a complete surprise to receive this award,” said Iannettoni. “It is a true honor for me to be recognized by the residents as well as the STS and program directors for something I love to do.

“The key to the success of the new thoracic surgery residency program here at ECU/Vidant Medical Center will be the faculty participation in educating the next generation of thoracic surgeons,” Iannettoni added. “We have a great group of surgeons here ready to participate, and I am fortunate to have the support from Vidant to make this happen here in eastern North Carolina where the need is so great.”


Mills Symposium set for Feb. 6

The 11th Jean Elaine Mills Annual Health Symposium, which focuses on health concerns and health equity issues plaguing minorities in eastern North Carolina, is set for Feb. 6 at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University.

This year’s event will address new models for empowering personal and community health and will feature a presentation by Dr. L. Allen Dobson Jr., president and CEO of Community Care of North Carolina, the comprehensive network that manages health care delivery for the state’s Medicaid recipients and low-income insured residents.

The day-long symposium will also include sessions on creating community partnerships focused on the behavioral causes of obesity, improving outcomes among African- American women with Type 2 diabetes, innovative approaches to mental health issues for minority adolescents, community partnerships as portals to access, improving health through community engaged dental education and new models for empowering community and minority health.

Mills was an ECU alumna who died of breast cancer in 2000. Her brother, Amos T. Mills III, created the annual event to keep her spirit of discovery and community outreach alive.

The symposium is presented by the College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation, Inc. Health care providers, community leaders and representatives from faith-based organizations, as well as interested students, faculty and community residents are all invited to attend. To register visit



Medical & Health Sciences Foundation welcomes new leadership

East Carolina University recently named a new president for its Medical & Health Sciences Foundation – the organization which seeks and manages charitable giving for the Division of Health Sciences.



Dr. Mark A. Notestine began his tenure as foundation president and associate vice chancellor for health sciences development and alumni affairs in December.

His responsibilities include serving as the foundation’s chief operating officer and leading all fundraising activities for the Division of Health Sciences, including The Brody School of Medicine, the College of Nursing, the College of Allied Health Sciences, the School of Dental Medicine, William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library and affiliated entities. He works in close collaboration with ECU Advancement leadership to engage, cultivate, solicit and steward alumni and friends for philanthropic support for the university, its programs and strategic priorities.

“I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to work closely with East Carolina University and foundation leadership to provide essential resources to ensure student and faculty success, and to work with our community partners to transform health care in our region and state,” Notestine said.

Prior to his arrival in Greenville, he served as the associate dean of advancement at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College and the associate vice president of development at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

He earned his bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Tennessee and his PhD at Ohio University.

The East Carolina University Medical & Health Sciences Foundation Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization whose purpose is to seek and acquire charitable gift support from individuals, businesses, organizations, corporations, and foundations to support ECU’s Division of Health Sciences. Funds received and managed by the Medical & Health Sciences Foundation are designed to enhance education, teaching, research and service.



Medical student banquet set for Jan. 24

The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University will hold its 31st annual Andrew A. Best M.D. Senior Recognition Banquet to celebrate graduating minority medical students Jan. 24 at City Hotel and Bistro.

The event speaker will be Dr. Brenda Latham-Sadler, associate dean of medical education at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

The event is organized by the ECU chapter of the Student National Medical Association in honor of Best, Greenville’s first black physician and contributor to the advancement of minorities in medical education throughout eastern North Carolina. Best died in 2005.

The deadline to buy tickets is Fri., Jan. 16. For tickets, sponsorship information or event details, contact Vanessa Dorismond at


Retired professor reflects on changes in medical education, research

Dr. Phillip Pekala, recently retired chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, said he saw many changes in medical education during his 33-year career with the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.



The biggest: “Technology entered the classroom,” he said. “When I began teaching, I wrote lectures on a blackboard. Now students have the PowerPoint presentations two weeks before the lectures begin.”

The world of medical research also changed dramatically during that time, according to Pekala. During the three decades he spent studying the manipulation of fat cell metabolism, he said he witnessed “molecular medicine coming into vogue.

“There have been more advances in the past 30 years than there were in the previous 200 years,” he said. “When students in the current medical class graduate, they will look at patients’ DNA to diagnose them. It’s exciting to have been a part of that.”

Pekala joined Brody’s faculty in 1981 and served as chair of the biochemistry department from 2006 until his retirement in December 2014. During his tenure at ECU, he was the recipient of many teaching recognition awards, including the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Pekala employed a Socratic teaching style, favoring small groups and interactive experiences in both the classroom and the laboratory.

“My method was to provide a wealth of background information to my students, then allow them to pull out individual facts by giving them the right set of questions to get the bigger picture,” he said. “I wanted them to think on their feet.”

Pekala said he also learned from his medical and graduate students. “They taught me to appreciate and enjoy the privilege of figuring out how nature works,” he said.

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pekala earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania, his master’s in chemistry from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and his doctorate in biochemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in biological chemistry at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1981 before coming to Brody “for the chance to build something new and exciting.”

His immediate retirement plans include spending time with family and lots of skiing, he said.

“With Dr. Pekala’s retirement, the Brody School of Medicine has reached another milestone in its maturity,” said Dr. Paul Cunningham, dean and senior associate vice chancellor for medical affairs at Brody. “He faithfully served the mission of the Brody School for over thirty years. His contributions have been nothing less than outstanding.”

Dr. Joseph Chalovich, who has been with Brody’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology since 1984, will serve as interim chair.

– Amy Adam Ellis


Forum addresses hypertension

American Heart Association volunteer Tiffany King shares nutrition information with forum attendees. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

American Heart Association volunteer Tiffany King shares nutrition information with forum attendees. (Photo by Gretchen Baugh)

By Marla Vacek Broadfoot
Freelance science writer, NC TraCS

Hypertension – and the need to take action to prevent, treat, and control it, especially among those most vulnerable – was the subject of a day-long event held at the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University Dec. 12. The Evidence Academy on Hypertension brought together over 100 researchers, health professionals and community leaders to discuss ways to address the number one risk factor for premature death worldwide.

Throughout the day, clinicians, practitioners, researchers, community leaders and local officials discussed a broad set of evidence-based approaches to the issue, always with an eye on their possible impacts on local communities. The schedule included a series of large-group and smaller breakout scientific presentations in policy, treatment and practice tracks, with extended opportunities for participants to discuss research findings and model programs.

Following the Evidence Academy, a small group of 8 to 12 individuals known as the Action Learning Cohort will take what was gained from the meeting and collectively identify and develop ways to engage in action to address hypertension from policy, practice and research perspectives. The effort will be led by Lori Carter-Edwards, principal investigator of the Evidence Academy on Hypertension. The ALC group will meet for approximately six months, with the end goal of producing a product such as updated policy recommendations or a new pilot grant, which can then be shared with the wider community.

“My hope is that we can use the synergy and momentum from the Evidence Academy to promote efforts that help improve hypertension prevention and management in Eastern North Carolina,” said Carter-Edwards, who is also evaluator for the Public Health Leadership Program and a research associate professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The event was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, and the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute. Additional support came from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Mid-Atlantic Affiliate, and Vidant Health. Partners included the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, Eastern Area Health Education Center (EAHEC), the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.


Medical students assist with Belhaven health clinic

Several students from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University spent a recent Saturday providing free health screenings and services to Beaufort County residents.

First year medical student Ismail Kassim works with a patient at the Belhaven health clinic. (Contributed photos)

First year medical student Ismail Kassim works with a patient at the Belhaven health clinic. (Contributed photos)

Dr. Ari Mwachofi, a professor in the Department of Public Health, coordinated their involvement in the Belhaven Community Health Fair, which took place Oct. 25.

“I am a strong believer in experiential learning,” Mwachofi said. “The students will understand health issues of poor, underserved communities better by getting involved in such communities. I am meeting with the students to do a debriefing about their experience, perceptions and what they learned.”

The students assisted by assessing blood pressure, measuring blood glucose, administering rapid HIV testing, cholesterol screening, giving flu vaccines, and distributing literature on various health topics.

The students also interpreted for Spanish-speaking patients and translated health brochures into Spanish.

Mwachofi hopes the involvement of Brody medical students in this health fair will become an annual occurrence.

The participating first-year medical students were (pictured below, left to right) Mary Ashleigh Craver, Lily Trout and Daiysha Smith, and Zachary Sutton, Alexander Almeida Larrea, Wooten Jones and Ismail Kassim. Austin Rice, a candidate for a master’s in public health from Brody, also assisted with the event.