Category Archives: Brody

Clinton’s lead surgeon returns to Brody for lecture

The chest surgeon who led the team that once operated on former President Bill Clinton gave a lecture at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

The surgeon, Dr. Joshua Sonett, graduated with honors from East Carolina University’s medical school in 1988. He is chief of general thoracic surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, professor of surgical oncology at CUMC, and the director of the The Price Family Center for Comprehensive Chest Care and the Lung and Esophageal Center.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25.

Dr. Joshua Sonett gives a lecture titled “Thymectomy in Myasthenia Gravis: Surgical Evolution and Proof in Benign and Malignant Disease” at the East Carolina Heart Institute on April 25. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

In the 2005 surgery on Clinton, Sonett and his colleagues removed scar tissue that built up following Clinton’s quadruple bypass operation earlier that year.

“That was a privilege to get to know and treat President Clinton, and it was just like every other patient, believe it or not,” Sonett said. “I like going to my patients’ bedside and chatting about things, getting to know them as a person, and it was the same with Clinton. He did talk about the Middle East maybe more than other patients,” he added with a chuckle.

The importance of getting to know his patients was instilled in him at Brody. Sonett recalled having to write pages of patients’ social histories as a medical student.

“It was just as important to get to know them as it was to know their health needs,” he said.

Now, he loves being close with his patients.

Sonett’s lecture was part of the Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences grand rounds, which are weekly topic-and case-based presentations by members of the faculty providing up-to-date knowledge about timely issues in medicine. In it, he described his involvement in a 10-year study on a disease called myasthenia gravis that can make it hard for people to breathe and walk around.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

Brody School of Medicine’s cardiovascular sciences faculty attend Dr. Joshua Sonett’s lecture on April 25.

“Surgeons for years had been taking out the thymus, although it wasn’t clear if that surgery improved the patients’ lives,” Sonett said. “This study definitively proved that the surgery helped. That’s one of the highlights of my career that I was involved in that.”

Although Sonett now works for a different medical school, he said he is thankful for his education from Brody.

“There are so many good med schools around the country, and I think I was blessed to come to ECU. It was a very young med school at the time…it was a great learning environment. There’s no limits to what you can do here, graduating from here.”


Related: Clinton’s lead surgeon is ECU medical school graduate 


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Dr. Emmanuel Zervos named to Raab Professorship

Mary Raab presented Emmanuel Zervos with the Raab Professorship of Adult Oncology at a celebration Thursday. (Photos by Candace Darden)

Mary Raab presented Emmanuel Zervos with the Raab Professorship of Adult Oncology at a celebration Thursday. (Photos by Candace Darden)

After years of preparation, an endowed professorship through the East Carolina University Medical & Health Sciences Foundation was conferred on its first recipient Thursday at the East Carolina Heart Institute in Greenville.

Dr. Emmanuel Zervos was named the inaugural Raab Professor of Adult Oncology. Zervos is a surgical oncologist at the Brody School of Medicine, the vice chair of academic affairs for ECU’s Department of Surgery, and chief of surgical oncology at Vidant Medical Center. Dr. Zervos has dedicated his career to the study and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

The professorship is named for Drs. Mary and Spencer Raab, who played a pivotal role in establishing the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center and remain iconic figures in the fight against cancer for patients in eastern North Carolina. Mary Raab joined the ECU oncology department in 1977, eventually becoming the first female chief of medical staff at what is now Vidant Medical Center. Spencer Raab led the first Division of Hematology/Oncology until his death from cancer in 1993. The Raab professorship was established that same year, but was not awarded to anyone until this week.

“We’ve been waiting for the right time and this is absolutely the right time, because of Dr. Zervos,” Mary Raab said. “He truly exemplifies the individual we wanted to fulfil the professorship in many ways through his dedication to patient care, his teaching, his mentoring and his research.”

Emmanuel Zervos accepts the Raab Professorship at a celebration at the East Carolina Heart Institute Thursday. 

Emmanuel Zervos accepts the Raab Professorship at a celebration at the East Carolina Heart Institute Thursday.

Being named to a professorship is both an honor to the named holder of the appointment and also an enduring tribute to the donor who establishes it. The Raab Professorship is conferred upon a Brody School of Medicine faculty member who works closely with and has both adult clinical and research duties associated with the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center. Appointments are made by the Dean of the Brody School of Medicine in consultation with the director of the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center and the chair of the department of oncology. Professors are appointed to a five-year term with the ability to renew the professorship for one or more successive terms.

Recognizing the continued contributions of senior-level faculty as well as providing funds to push the frontiers of their scholarship are key functions of the endowed positions. The funds can propel research, extend outreach and support future faculty achievements.

Zervos said he was surprised to be named to the professorship but was “extremely humble and grateful to the Raab family.”

“It’s a singular honor for any academic,” he added.

Zervos said he has no plans on how he will use his professorship funds yet, but hopes it will help enhance the educational mission of the cancer program as well as the facilitation of patient care.

Endowed professorships are also crucial for recruiting and retaining the highest-quality faculty, Mary Raab said, thus ensuring ECU has the best minds that in turn attract the best students. It’s also a way to acknowledge the years of effort that she and Spencer Raab put in to advance cancer treatments in North Carolina.

“I hope that people will recognize my and Spencer’s contributions over the years,and I just want people to know that where we are today depends on what so many other people did in the past,” she said. “I hope it will be a reminder to everybody that the hard work paid off and we can continue to build on what we have and hopefully in the future have more professorships.”


-by Erin Shaw, University Communications

Study finds people with diabetes visit the dentist less frequently

A study led by researchers at East Carolina University and New York University showed that adults with diabetes are less likely to visit the dentist than people with prediabetes or without diabetes, even though they are at increased risk for periodontal disease.

The study, published by The Journal of the American Dental Association, used data from 2004 to 2014 that showed an overall decline in dental visits among adults with and without diabetes. People with diabetes were consistently the least likely to obtain oral health care.

Dr. Huabin Luo worked with researchers at ECU and NYU on a study that revealed a concerning trend in dental care among people with diabetes. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

Dr. Huabin Luo worked with researchers at ECU and NYU on a study that revealed a concerning trend in dental care among people with diabetes. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

“The pattern is concerning, given that dental care is essential for good oral health,” said Dr. Huabin Luo of ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. “Those who need dental care the most seem to be the least likely to have it.”

In addition to Luo, the study’s authors include Brody’s Dr. Ronny Bell, Dr. Wanda Wright of the ECU School of Dental Medicine, Dr. Qiang Wu of the ECU Department of Biostatistics, and Dr. Bei Wu of the NYU Rory Meyers College of Nursing.

Research has shown a two-way relationship between diabetes and oral health. People with diabetes are at an increased risk for periodontal disease, a chronic inflammation of the gums and surrounding tissue and bone, which has an adverse effect on blood glucose control.

Dr. Huabin Luo is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health in ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.

Dr. Huabin Luo is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health in ECU’s Brody School of Medicine.

“For people living with diabetes, regular dental checkups – supplemented with proactive dental and diabetes self-care – are important for maintaining good oral health,” Luo said. “Regular dental visits provide opportunities for prevention, early detection and treatment of periodontal disease, which can potentially help with blood glucose control and preventing complications of diabetes.”

ECU’s School of Dental Medicine and its eight Community Service Learning Centers are actively engaged in the screening, counseling and referral of patients with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, said Dr. David Paquette of the School of Dental Medicine. “With our clinical and educational model, we try to communicate that oral health is part of overall health and well-being of patients. Collectively, we aim to partner with other health professionals in tackling these important chronic diseases affecting our population.”


-Contact: Jules Norwood, ECU News Services,, 252-328-2836

Brody School of Medicine names vice dean of operations

East Carolina University (ECU) has named a new vice dean of operations for the Brody School of Medicine.

Dr. Peter Schmidt will begin serving as Brody’s second in command on May 29, supporting Dean Dr. Mark Stacy in the operational aspects of the school’s activities – financial, academic, clinical, strategic and administrative – as well as in faculty affairs and institutional programs.

The position was held by Dr. Nicholas Benson from 2007 until his retirement in December 2017.

Schmidt comes to ECU from the Parkinson’s Foundation where – as the senior vice president and chief research and clinical officer – he oversaw research, education, and outreach initiatives. He led a redesign of the foundation’s Centers of Excellence program, managed scientific grant programs, and served as principal investigator for the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project. That project is the largest clinical study ever conducted in Parkinson’s disease and aims to establish optimal standards of care and actively researches diverse clinical areas in the disease.

Dr. Peter Schmidt (contributed photo)

Dr. Peter Schmidt (Contributed photo)

In addition to his work in Parkinson’s, Schmidt has recent or current advisory engagements in Huntington’s disease, Glut1 deficiency syndrome, cystic fibrosis, inpatient rehabilitation, wearable sensors and telemedicine.

“Dr. Schmidt brings an exceptional level of clinical, administrative, research and outreach experience to the role of vice dean of operations,” Stacy said. “His experience and keen problem-solving abilities will be invaluable as we work to expand the impact Brody has on our region’s health status, our state’s physician workforce, and the world’s knowledge base about certain diseases.”

Schmidt serves as an advisor to several government, industry and foundation initiatives, as well as a member of the Neurology Steering Committee of the National Quality Forum and U.S. Department of Defense’s Parkinson’s Research Program, both of which are national committees based in Washington, D.C.

He completed his master’s and doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering at Cornell University’s Sibley School of Mechanical Engineering in Ithaca, New York, in 1995 and 1999, respectively. He received his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1992.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to join the team at the Brody School of Medicine under the leadership of Dean Stacy,” Schmidt said. “Through the Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence program, I focused on how the academic medical center can lead and coordinate the care for everyone in a community. I hope to work with the excellent Brody faculty to drive health care improvement for the people of eastern North Carolina, while training the next generation of physicians.”


-by Rob Spahr, University Communications

Kickoff event set for regional program to provide better health data at lower cost

Representatives for dozens of not-for-profit hospitals and county health departments will be on hand March 6 for the kickoff of a regional program aiming to provide its participants with better health data at a lower cost.

The Office of Health Access in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, working with the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation in Cary, secured a $320,000 award from The Duke Endowment last year to help establish a standardized regional community health needs assessment process in eastern North Carolina.

To date, 23 hospitals and health departments representing 32 different counties have agreed to take part in the Eastern N.C. Regional CHNA program, which will help to streamline both the data collection and reporting aspects of the health needs assessments they must conduct.

Hospitals are currently required by the Internal Revenue Service to conduct these assessments every three years, while the state Division of Public Health requires local health departments to conduct essentially the same assessments every four years.

The new program, which standardizes the methodology and synchronizes the assessment process, will enable the participating entities to conduct the surveys on the same three-year cycles.

“It’s going to deliver better data and more consistent data, data that can be compared and contrasted across county lines. Never before have we really been able to do that,” said Al Delia, director of Brody’s Office of Health Access. “And in terms of the cost, the economy of scale and the centralizing of the process will save money overall and most of the counties and hospitals will see quite a significant cost savings.”

Tuesday’s kickoff event will also serve as the announcement of the private company that was awarded the contract to assist with the data collection, analysis and writing of the county-level reports.

The event starts at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 6 in the conference room of the Eastern AHEC building, located at 2600 W. Arlington Blvd. in Greenville.

Kickoff Agenda


-Contact: Rob Spahr, ECU Health Sciences Communications,, 252-744-2482

Social determinants of obesity, diabetes addressed at ECU symposium

Does where you live or your level of education make you more prone to obesity and diabetes?

These and other social determinants of obesity and diabetes, which are disproportionally affecting eastern North Carolina, were addressed during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU on Friday.

ECU student discusses her project

ECU senior kinesiology student Mackenzie Brown discusses her project during the 14th annual Jean Mills Health Symposium at ECU on Feb. 2. (Photos by Rob Spahr)

During the event, local, regional and national experts in obesity and diabetes, as well as community leaders and ECU faculty, staff and students, were challenged to address the social causes of the diseases.

The social factors discussed included cultural beliefs, gender roles, access to health care and patient-provider communications, economic stability, community infrastructure, educational attainment and role models.

Dr. Leandris Liburd speaks

Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during the symposium.

This year’s featured speaker was Dr. Leandris Liburd, associate director for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Liburd is an expert on the social determinants of health and has been successful in identifying intervention strategies to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

“Our health is our greatest resource, it affects everything. … (But) it’s something that I think we typically take for granted until we don’t have it anymore. And then we get up and say ‘OK, now I need to pay attention,’” Liburd said. “In public health, we try to get to people in the front end of that. And while we can’t prevent everything, there are things that we can delay and that we can minimize.”

Liburd said physicians come with high levels of authority and respect, which they can lend to help sway public policies and make significant positive impacts in leveling out some of the social health discrepancies.

“We don’t expect that doctors will go out and take on all of these issues. But we do think that it’s reasonable, as a beginning, that they will lend their influence to the efforts that others are trying to put forth to help make them successful,” Liburd said. “We have to find our place in this and where we can contribute the most.”

The symposia are presented by the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences in collaboration with ECU’s Department of Public Health, the Brody School of Medicine and the ECU Medical & Health Sciences Foundation.

“Over the past decade and a half, the Mills symposium has invited distinguished national and international experts to address the health and health care issues that affect minority populations, especially our communities right here in eastern North Carolina,” said Robert Orlikoff, dean of ECU’s College of Allied Health Sciences.

“This is not an academic seminar and this is not a town meeting,” Orlikoff added. “It’s a rare opportunity for us to come together, educate ourselves and work together to reach real and long-standing solutions.”

Jean Mills, who died from breast cancer in October 2000, was an ECU alumna with a passion for community health and health equity. Her brother, Amos T. Mills III, established the symposium in her honor.


-by Rob Spahr, University Communications

Health care quality improvement projects showcased at symposium

More than 150 people filled the auditorium of the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU on Wednesday to discuss, and reward, projects aimed at improving health care practices in eastern North Carolina and beyond.

The 2nd Annual Unified Quality Improvement Symposium – co-hosted by the Brody School of Medicine REACH Initiative and the Vidant Health Quality Office – featured more than 40 presenters. Their topics ranged from reducing rates of newborn hypothermia and improving HIV treatment adherence, to improving discharge processes in inpatient rehabilitation centers and limiting physician sleep interruptions.

Student presents project

Second-year ECU Brody School of Medicine student Noopur Doshi discusses her project during the 2nd Annual Unified Quality Improvement Symposium, which was held in the East Carolina Heart Institute at ECU on Jan. 31, 2018. (Photos by Rob Spahr)

Second-year medical students Rebecca Jones and Reena Patel worked as nurses in neonatal intensive care and labor and delivery, respectively, prior to medical school.

For their symposium presentation, they discussed how they were working with a local OB-GYN to address the high infant mortality rate and maternal health disparities in Pitt County.

Students discuss their project

Omar Taha and Dr. Ahmed Hamed, left, discuss their project.

“We have a longitudinal program for mothers looking at having healthier pregnancies, reducing smoking, increasing breastfeeding and then also infant safety and CPR,” Jones said.

Patel said the program resulted in an overall decrease in anxiety for the mothers-to-be, as well as increased confidence in breastfeeding, CPR and choking rescue.

“We also compared longitudinal lifestyle changes and found that a number of people made significant beneficial lifestyle changes throughout the program,” Patel said. “As a result, we are implementing a portion of the program, the infant CPR portion, into Vidant hospital’s perinatal educational curriculum, as a medical student-run program.”

Student discusses his project

Second-year ECU Brody School of Medicine student Bennett Mack discusses his project.

This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Julie Freischlag, chief executive officer of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, stressed the importance of health care professionals having integrity and being brave.

“Igniting success as health care providers, you need to be compassionate, you need to be innovative and bold,” Freischlag said. “Seize opportunities, take chances, be brave. You be the one to start the momentum, even if it’s controversial or uncomfortable.”

The following participants earned awards for podium presentations:

  • 1st Place: Diana Layne, a Vidant Medical Center nurse, for a presentation on a collaborative approach to reducing central line associated blood stream infections.
  • 2nd Place: Pooja Sarin, a third-year medical student, for a presentation on reducing the rates of newborn hypothermia by maintaining delivery temperatures of 77 F during cesarean sections.
  • 3rd Place: Kate Gitzinger, a Vidant Medical Center nurse, for the presentation “Interprofessional Education: A Powerful Tool for Improving Delivery Room Care and Competency.”

These participants received awards for their poster presentations, which were displayed in the ECHI lobby throughout the event:

  • 1st Place: Meera Patel, a second-year medical student, for a presentation on reducing the rate of contaminated blood draws coming from the ED to the microbiology laboratory at Vidant Medical Center.
  • 2nd Place: Taj Nasser, a fourth-year medical student, for the presentation “From Bits to Bytes to Reality: Reduction in Patients who Leave Without Treatment in the Emergency Department by using Computer Simulation to Redesign Nurse Staffing.”
  • 3rd Place: Sujitha Nandi, a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at Brody, for a presentation on a challenge to discharge ECU general internal medicine inpatients before noon.

For more information about the REACH program visit


-by Rob Spahr, University Communications

ECU medical faculty member honored with international educator award

Dr. Jill Sutton

Dr. Jill Sutton

An ECU Brody School of Medicine OB-GYN professor has been recognized by an international organization for her outstanding performance as an educator.

Dr. Jill Sutton was recently awarded the 2018 William N.P. Herbert, MD, Promising Educator Award by the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics (APGO).

Herbert, a former APGO president, created this award in 2007 to recognize promising junior faculty who have demonstrated accomplishments in women’s health education.

“I am incredibly honored to have received this award,” said Sutton. “Teaching medical students how to care for women is work I absolutely love to do.”

Sutton earned her undergraduate degree in biology from Wake Forest University. She completed her medical degree and residency training at Brody before joining the faculty as a clinical assistant professor in 2010. Sutton has served as Brody’s clerkship director since 2014, overseeing the clinical education of students during their third and fourth years of medical school.

“Jill’s impact as an educator is locally noted by the awards she has received from her students,” said Dr. Elizabeth Baxley, senior associate dean for academic affairs. “She was recognized in May of 2017 by the third-year class with the Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is routinely sought out by students for teaching, mentoring, sharing stories from her life in medicine, and even to help recruit future Brody students.”

Sutton was also a recipient of Brody’s Clinical Teaching Faculty of the Year award in 2015, the Excellence in Teaching Award from the Class of 2016, and the Dr. Katherine Bray-Strickland Young Alumni Award in 2016 for her dedication to medical student education.

“Dr. Sutton’s passion and energy for educating medical students and other learners about women’s health is infectious,” said Dr. Cal Hayslip, chairman of Brody’s OB-GYN department. “She always comes to work with a bubbly positive attitude, and any time you are around her, she makes you smile. This award is well deserved.”

“Despite her hectic schedule, Dr. Sutton agreed to serve as my Albert Schweitzer Fellowship academic mentor,” said Rebecca Jones, a second-year medical student. “She has provided invaluable insight, constant encouragement and unwavering support. When our project has faced obstacles, she has always offered patient and thoughtful assistance despite her numerous obligations. Her concern for the community and commitment to service is evident in the sacrifices she makes to assist others.”

“Dr. Sutton is one of the most inspiring educators I have encountered in my time at Brody,” said Reena Patel, another second-year medical student. “She has a unique passion for sharing her knowledge, while also effectively supporting, motivating and communicating with her students. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to call her a mentor and educator.”

APGO represents academic OB-GYNs throughout the United States and Canada. It provides contemporary teaching tools to physician-educators and learning mechanisms for faculty, students and residents, with the ultimate goal of providing optimum health care to women. Sutton graduated from APGO’s Academic Scholars and Leaders Program in 2017.


-Angela Todd, University Communications

Student-designed brochure outlines dangers of e-cigs

Second-year Brody School of Medicine students Whitney Green and Radhika Kothadia have designed a brochure to educate middle and high school students about e-cigarettes.

The effort comes on the heels of new 2017 data from Monitoring the Future, funded by the National Institutes of Health, said Dr. Vivek Anand, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at East Carolina University.Front of e-cigarette brochure

“During the past year, 19 percent of 12th grade, 16 percent of 10th grade and 8 percent of eighth-grade students, respectively, reported vaping nicotine,” Anand said. “These numbers can be higher for tobacco-growing areas like eastern North Carolina.”

Public health and tobacco control advocates are concerned about teen use of e-cigarettes because studies have shown that it goes hand in hand with the use of cigarettes and other drugs, he said. “And we still really don’t know how e-cigarettes affect the developing lungs and other organ systems.”

For several years, Anand has conducted research aimed at pinpointing the mechanisms behind smoking behavior.

Kothadia said she has become increasingly interested in patient education and preventative health care, and her interest in the effects of tobacco products began in high school when she volunteered with Tobacco Reality Unfiltered, an initiative of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Our goal was to educate people of all ages about the harmful effects of tobacco,” she said.

Kothadia and Green helped format and edit the educational brochure and are working with J.H. Rose High School to arrange presentations in health classes about e-cigarettes. At least 25,000 brochures will be printed and distributed through the ECU Psychiatry Outpatient Center, ECU Family Medicine Center, ECU pediatrics clinics, Vidant, RHA and PORT health clinics in New Bern, and other community clinics throughout February.

“I grew up with pretty powerful advertising from anti-tobacco campaigns in the early 2000s that targeted young people and revealed the truth about the harmful effects of cigarette smoke,” Green said. “Now the trend has shifted over to vaping, and I don’t think enough information is out there to show teenagers the association between vaping and tobacco or how it all affects their health.”

With as many as one in five high school students reporting the use of e-cigarettes, Anand said continued research and educational efforts about their effects are critical.


-by Jules Norwood, ECU News Services

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