Volume 8 | January 5, 2018
Surgical Notes
From the Chair

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and is ready to tackle the new year. We have a lot of great plans for 2018. I thank you for your continued support and participation as we continue to strengthen and grow the Department of Surgery at VCU. Here's to a very happy near year!

Sincerely ,
Vigneshwar Kasirajan, MD
Project Empower: Breaking the Silence
Imagine waking up in a hospital room having been assaulted by someone you trusted most. The doctors have seen you, your wounds - at least the physical ones - are attended to, and now you’re free to go. But where do you go? To whom do you turn? Who can you trust? Will you be safe?

That’s exactly what happened to patient Nakisha Spellman, that is until the staff with Project Empower stepped in.

Project Empower, a sexual and domestic violence program under the Department of Surgery’s Injury and Violence Prevention, is an advocacy program that provides counseling, case management, court advocacy, and a variety of other services to victims of intimate partner violence. Maria Altonen, Project Empower Coordinator, states, “Project Empower allows us to come into contact with victims in a unique way, allowing us to be there for people at their most critical moments.”

On the evening of Spellman’s assault, where she was beaten, strangled, dragged, stabbed, and then thrown down the stairs into her own front yard, she hobbled to her neighbor’s house. The next morning, in such severe pain that she was unable to even stand, she decided to come to VCU Health. Once in the Emergency Department, the Project Empower staff were called in. And they never left her side.

Altonen and intern Dionne Greenhill quickly evaluated the situation and provided the support needed those first few hours as they planned Spellman’s next steps to ensure safety and protection. Early the next morning however, when it became known that Spellman’s assailant had been booked but released, the plan quickly changed. Our staff devised a new plan to get Spellman, escorted by VCU Police, to a protective shelter where she and her children would stay for the next few weeks.

There, Starshema (Star) Myles, another Project Empower advocate and a survivor of attempted homicide herself, purchased food, clothing, gift cards and a much-needed journal to help with emotional healing. She attended court proceedings and helped find Ms. Spellman, who had been 15 weeks pregnant at the time of the attack, a source for continued prenatal care. When the time at the shelter came to an end, Project Empower assisted Spellman with finding a safe and permanent place to live. She was also able to find a job.

Though the court visits and trials are still ongoing, Spellman already feels more positive about her life. “I am truly grateful for all of them,” she states. “I wouldn’t have gotten through this without [Project Empower] … they provided the shelter, protection, and emotional and mental support I needed to rebuild myself.”

Sadly, Nakisha’s story is not unique. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately 1.5 million women are raped or physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year, which includes more than 324,000 who were pregnant at the time of the abuse. 1 In fact, murder is the second most common cause of injury-related death for pregnant females. 1

Since January 1, 2017, Project Empower has seen over 200 patients. But for other medical centers without such programs, the care stops where the medical intervention ends, which is why programs like Project Empower are so important. But sadly, there are very few in existence, especially in the state of Virginia where ours here at VCU Health is the only one. And the funding that helps ensure shelter, food, and clothing for victims in crisis, is quite limited. Project Empower receives funding through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), but relies heavily on donations like those received during the annual Shining Knight Gala for continued operations as well.

As for Nakisha, she still regularly meets with the Project Empower team who all excitedly await the arrival of her newest little girl. “We will remain in contact and continue our advocacy, in court and out, until the patient feels comfortable and safe again,” states Altonen.

For those currently facing sexual or domestic violence, our team has advice: “Be brave enough to reach out,” states Dionne Greenhill, intern and Master of Social Work student at Norfolk State University. “That’s step one in getting to live life as you dream.” Star agrees stating, “Being a survivor myself has helped me in my role with Project Empower… I can most times feel and see the pain my patients are suffering without them having to say one word to me. Even though we each have a different story, our abusers/perpetrators all seem to have the same traits and process they follow which gets worse over time and that’s something we have to end… For those going through (or having been through) domestic violence, firstly I want to say you are not alone. If you are experiencing any form of abuse, please don’t be afraid to reach out. Years ago I had no idea of all the resources we have due to being closed in from everything. We want to help you… Project Empower is here to help.”

Lastly, look out for the signs. “A person can be sweet in the beginning but then totally change,” says Spellman. “Just be careful and take care of yourself.”

For more information about Project Empower, contact Maria Altonen at (804)628-4603. To donate to this incredible program, contact Amy Vincent, Assistant Director of IVPP at amy.vincent@vcuhealth.org .

The Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Actions Alliance hotline can be reached 24/7/365 at 1(800)838-8238. Chat and text options are available as well. 


1 The Public Policy Office of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Pregnancy and Domestic Violence Facts . Washington, DC: NCADV Public Policy Office. Retrieved from: https://www.uua.org/sites/live-new.uua.org/files/documents/ncadv/dv_pregnancy.pdf
Level 1 Trauma Center Reverification
After the formal site visit last November, the VCU Trauma Center , led by Dr. Michel Aboutanos , has been reverified as a Level 1 Trauma Center by the American College of Surgeons's Committee on Trauma and Verification Review Committee.

According to the American Trauma Society , "a Level 1 Trauma Center is capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury - from prevention through rehabilitation."

VCU Medical Center is the only comprehensive Level 1 trauma center in the state of Virginia that is verified in adult, pediatric, and burn trauma care. This reverification lasts for 3 years at which point a new review will be conducted.

Congratulations, team!
Hume-Lee Anniversary Gala
On Saturday December 2nd, faculty, staff and the community joined together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center . With speeches from Department and Center leadership, three transplant recipients were honored as well: Robert Clay, a heart recipient; Marilyn Coleman, an islet cell autotransplant patient; and Bethany Sandone, a liver recipient.

In addition to our own faculty and staff, family members of our honored namesakes were in attendance as well including Susan Hume Atkinson, daughter of Dr. David Hume , as well as Dr. Hyung Mo Lee 's widow and children.

For pictures and a full write up of the event, click here .
Oral Surgeon Tackles Addiction
Dr. A. Omar Abubaker , Professor and S. Elmer Bear Endowed Chair of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery, has made waves in the news with his new-found dedication to addressing opioid addiction.

After losing his son to an overdose, Dr. Abubaker made it a personal mission to increase awareness and address the chronic over-prescription of opioids through education (he received a postgraduate degree in addiction studies) and research. Now a "zealous advocate against overprescribing," he trains other faculty (internal and external), residents, and medical students about the dangers of addiction and how prescriptions play into it through presentations and lectures.

He states, "It's difficult to change patterns and behaviors of people who practice for five or 10 years. But I'm optimistic we weill graduate a generation of dentists way ahead of where we are today."

To read more of this incredible story, click here .
Panamerican Trauma Society Congress 2017
The Panamerican Trauma Society congress in Mexico City was a great success with 48 international speakers representing 14 countries, and more than 80 scientific abstracts presented with impressive performance by VCU faculty, providers, and students.

VCU gave 11 oral presentations, 2 plenary sessions, and 2 special sessions; directed/chaired the inauguration of 2 international courses ( Ferrada ); directed/chaired the Essential Trauma Care course ( Rodas ) and an international student forum (Nehal Neik, VCU PGY4); and presented the summary of the PTS retreat to the Board of managers and the Genral assembly ( Ferrada ).

In addition, VCU won the second place award in the Student International Research Competition (Michael Rains, Daniel Reece Critchfield, Jessica Patton); Dr. Feldman was nominated to the PTS Board of Managers; Dr. Goldberg was nominated as the new Chair of the Injury Prevention Committee; Dr. Feldman chaired the first Burn Committee as the new Co-chair of the Burn Committee; Dr. Ferrada was re-nominated for a second term to the Board of managers, Chair of the Education and research committee; and Helen Nobel (PGY2) was nominated co-Chair of the International Student Committee, and nominated to the PTS board of managers.

Dr. Michel Aboutanos was asked to serve on the New Program Committee for the 2018 congress in Cartegena, Colombia.
Fort Lee Partnership Award
As mentioned in the previous newsletter, the Center for Trauma and Critical Care Education 's Paramedic Program was recognized at the Pentagon for its outstanding partnership with Fort Lee.

Click here to read the follow-up story from the event as published in VCU News.

Well done, team! And congratulations!
Kyle Asay, Administrative Intern and DOS Rockstar
If you've been in Surgery's administrative suite, chances are you've met one of our newest additions, Kyle Asay.
A former resident of Salt Lake City, Kyle moved to Richmond to tackle VCU's Master of Health Administration program, for which he hopes to graduate in May 2020. He joined our team to further his experience and gain a better understanding of the administrative operations of a clinical academic department. "My biggest reward has been the opportunity to be a part of a service-oriented team," states Asay. "The experience, mentorship, and culture... have been incredible. I learn something new at work every day, which has provided me with the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve my career goals."
Those career goals? To land a position with a non-profit or academic health system as an executive leader. In the meantime, you can spot him here in Surgery, donned in his signature suit and tie, solving all sorts of administrative challenges. His advice to future Surgery administrative interns: "Go for it! There are so many opportunities to learn and get a taste of health care leadership. It is challenging work, but also rewarding on a daily basis."
Cinterandes Foundation Mobile Surgery Program
"In April 2017," writes Nina Wickramaratne, General Surgery Resident, "I had the opportunity to travel with my mentor, Dr. Edgar Rodas, to Ecuador, where I participated in the Cinterandes Foundation’s Mobile Surgery Program . The Cinterandes Foundation is dedicated to delivering surgical care to all reaches of the country via their Mobile Surgical Unit, an operating room constructed in the back of a truck. Based in Cuenca, Ecuador, the mobile team travels to remote areas that have minimal access to hospitals. For this trip, our team consisted of an anesthesiologist, a general practitioner, a urologist, a nurse/scrub tech, an OR tech, the driver, two medical students from Cuenca, two medical students from the UK, Dr. Rodas, and myself. We spent the first day traveling to the small coastal town of Palmar, where we met up with the local medical team – a nun and several volunteers who provided primary care in the town..."

To r ead more of Dr. Wickramaratne's incredible trip to Ecuador, click here.
Call for Abstracts
Research Day will be held April 26, 2018 from 7am to noon.

General Surgery, Plastic, Oral & Maxillofacial, and Urology residents are invited to submit abstracts, as well as fellows in subspecialty training. 

Please submit your abstracts to Amanda Jabri by March 1, 2018. 

The Research Committee will review the submissions and select abstracts to be presented in Clinical Science and Basic Science.
Upcoming Events
Humera Weekend
April 27 - 29, 2018
The Tides Inn
Irvington, Virginia


Meeting registration and payment information forthcoming!

Hotel rooms may be booked in advance by calling The Tides Inn directly at (855)420-9316. Reference Humera for the discounted rate.

Contact Jessica Carey with questions!
Research Day!
April 26, 2018
7:00am - 12:00pm

Dr. Jennifer Lawton, Professor and Chief Division of Cardiac Surgery at Johns Hopkins University will be the visiting judge.

Dr. Lawton will present at Grand Rounds at 7:00 AM.
Research presentations will begin at 9:00 am. Continental breakfast provided.
Upcoming Guest Lectures

March 29, 2018
Dr. Nancy Asher
H.M. Lee Transplant Visiting Professor
Professor & Chair, Department of Surgery
University of California - San Francisco

June 21, 2018
Dr. L. Scott Levin
Theogarah Plastic Surgery Visiting Professor
Paul B. Mangnuson Professor of Bone & Joint Surgery
Chairman, Orthopedic Surgery, Penn Medicine
Have a story to tell? Contact jessica.carey@vcuhealth.org
Department of Surgery | Virginia Commonwealth University | (804)828-7874 | surgweb@vcu.edu