VCU Department Of Neurology
December 2020 | 3rd Edition
Message from the Chair
As we say a not-so-fond farewell to 2020, it is a good time to reflect on our experiences of the past year and our path forward together. In 1932, Charles de Gaulle wrote in The Edge of the Sword that "Faced with crisis, the man of character falls back on himself. He imposes his own stamp of action, takes responsibility for it, makes it his own." This book was published 8 years before de Gaulle was forced to flee occupied France for England in June of 1940, where he sought to rally the French people to resist the Nazi occupation. In the beginning, he had trivial support, but in time, he played a critical (if also controversial) role in defeating the Nazis.

Over the past year, VCU has been confronted with the most significant public health crisis of our time. As a Department, you have faced this crisis, taken responsibility, and made it your own. In March, you acted decisively and proactively (and before others) to redeploy staff and learners to safe environments and shift >90% of ambulatory visits to a virtual format (in less than one week).

Your education team rapidly developed effective strategies to continue to teach students and residents virtually (and, in doing so, actually saw an improvement in learner examination performance). The Department added 9 new faculty during the pandemic (5 of whom have already started) and is actively recruiting for 7 positions, several of which are nearing the offer stage.

Residency recruitment is going extremely well, and by the end of January, we will have interviewed nearly twice the number of applicants than in years past. Dr. Snider and Coronda Lee have partnered with our residents in continuing the residency redesign effort and addressing numerous opportunities to further enhance the training experience.

Perhaps most importantly, you came together as a team, as did our larger University and Health System. As a direct result of your strength of character and your resolute actions, lives were saved and VCU weathered this storm better than nearly any other major academic health center in America. While there is no escaping the tragedy of the pandemic that is evident in the empty chairs around our holiday tables, the painful loss of family and colleagues, and the immeasurable personal and financial suffering endured, you have risen to the occasion and inspired so many people (me among them).

We have grown stronger when confronted with crisis, and I truly believe that in years to come, we will look back at 2020 and consider it our ‘finest hour’. Best wishes for a happy and safe Holiday season and Happy New Year. 


A. Gordon Smith, MD FAAN
Professor and Chair of Neurology
Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research (Neurology)
Robin Boisseau Pays Tribute to Husband in RVA Brain Tumor 5K
Sanford Boisseau, affectionately known as ‘Coach’ by his players, friends and family because of his passion for baseball and basketball, was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) in March of 2016. Sanford would lose his battle with brain cancer after 13 months of fighting bravely. He passed away peacefully at the age of 67 on May 21, 2017.
Sanford was no stranger to this particular disease since his brother had previously died from the same illness at age 27. Equipped with personal familiarity and now with first-hand experience, Sanford had an idea of what to expect upon his first consultation at VCU with Mark G. Malkin, MD, Professor and Chair of the Division of Neuro-Oncology within the Department of Neurology.
His wife, Robin Boisseau, remembers him saying to Dr. Malkin, “I know I probably am not going to live through this, but I want you to find something in me that can eventually help save someone else from this disease.” True to his character, Sanford faced his illness and strived to overcome it while never fearing or complaining about his more
Stroke Survivor Paints with Purpose
“The most compelling thing about watching Sara Anderson paint with her left hand at the kitchen counter in her Richmond home isn’t that she’s actually right-handed.
It isn’t even that these left-handed paintings she’s been working on for months have raised more than $2,000 for the VCU Health Comprehensive Stroke Center.
What’s so impressive about this scene is that only 10 months ago, Sara could barely move her arm or hold a paintbrush...”

To continue reading this story from the MCV Foundation, click here.
Main Street Homes Continues to Support Harper's Hope Fund for ALS
Main Street Homes continues to be a leader in supporting ALS research, care, and family support in Central Virginia and beyond.

Following the company’s annual charity golf tournament this fall, Main Street Homes presented $45,000 checks to both the Harper’s Hope Fund for ALS at VCU Health and Team Quinn VA.

To date, Main Street Homes has raised more than $300,000 to fight ALS. Thank you to Main Street Homes, and thank you to everyone who has participated in their fundraising events!
Nicholas Johnson, MD Co-Leads Study on Myotonic Dystrophy Type 1
Nicholas Johnson, MD, Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Neurology, is co-leading an international study to understand myotonic dystrophy type 1, the most common form of muscular dystrophy, which has no cure. “Prior drug studies have been limited by a lack of understanding of the disease, preventing the ability to truly test whether these therapies are effective. This study will allow for the optimization of clinical trials in myotonic dystrophy and a better understanding of the disorder overall."

To continue reading this story from VCU News, click here.
Amy Harper, MD Elected Co-Chair of CINRG

Dr. Amy Harper, Associate Professor for the Division of Child Neurology, was elected co-chair of The Cooperative International Neuromuscular Research Group (CINRG) Publications Subcommittee. The CINRG is a consortium of investigators from academic and research centers across the world who share the common goal of positively impacting the lives of patients with neuromuscular disorders by conducting high-quality clinical studies.

The CINRG publications committee is responsible for reviewing and approving study-related articles that are being submitted for publication by any researcher using CINRG data. Dr. Harper will serve for two years as co-chair and then as chair in her third year on the subcommittee.
Daniel Falcao, DO and PGY-3 Resident, Usaamah Khan, Publish COVID-19 Article

Daniel Falcao, DO, Director of the Joint Commission certified VCU Comprehensive Stroke Center and Division Chair (interim) and Assistant Professor within the Division of Vascular and Critical Care Neurology, and Usaamah Khan, MD, current PGY-3 Neurology resident, had their article, “COVID-19 and Stroke: Perspectives and Concerns” published in the Health Sciences Journal. Their article, co-written with Marco Aurelio M. Freire, highlights the noticeable decline in the number of patients seeking hospital care for acute stroke during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the COVID-19 quarantine efforts went into place across the country, there was a significant 37% decrease in patients admitted for possible stroke, compared to the previous year.

Fear of COVID-19 infection may be causing people to avoid seeking the medical help that they need. Falcao and Khan’s study seeks to determine the changes in stroke presentations after COVID-19. In addition, they hope to help develop screening parameters for primary care doctors to screen at-risk patients who may have missed subtle signs and symptoms of a stroke.
Department Highlights
Sarah Nowell Nominated for Year of the Nurse
Sarah Nowell, MS, RN, NE-BC, Nurse Manager at the NOW Center for VCU Health was a nominee for Year of the Nurse by the Virginia Nurses Association. Sarah has been recognized for serving with integrity, collaboration and compassion with patients and staff. Congratulations, Sarah! This nomination is well deserved.
Catherine Ham, MD Certified in Headache Medicine
Catherine Ham, MD, Assistant Professor for the Division of Multiple Sclerosis and General Neurology and director of the Headache Clinic, passed the United Council for Neurologic Subspecialties (UCNS) Headache Board Exam earlier this fall and is officially certified in Headache Medicine. Great work, Dr. Ham!
Victor Gonzalez-Montoya, MD & PGY-3 Residents Present at AES 2020
Victor Gonzalez-Montoya, MD, Division Chair (interim) and Assistant Professor within the Division of Epilepsy, along with PGY-3 residents, Usaamah Khan, MD and Matthew Anderson, DO, presented at the virtual American Epilepsy Society Annual Conference 2020 (based in Seattle, WA) on the topic, “Limbic Encephalitis Presenting with Faciobrachial Dystonic Seizures after History of Successfully Treated Thymoma Type B-3 with Excellent Neurocognitive Outcome with Early Immunotherapy." Thank you for representing the department so well, Dr. Gonzalez-Montoya, Dr. Khan, and Dr. Anderson!
Fellowship Placements
Congratulations to our current PGY-4 residents for securing fellowship placements!

Neil Bhathela, DO
University of California, Los Angeles
Sports Neurology

Alex Dworetz, DO
Emory University
Sleep Medicine

Christina Graley, MD
Johns Hopkins University

Mejgan Mukhtarzada, DO
University of Miami

Adil Niaz, DO
VCU Health
Clinical Neurophysiology

Justin Nowell, MD
University of California San Diego
Movement Disorders
New Faculty Welcome
Gerard D. Santos
Assistant Professor
Gerard D. Santos, MD specializes in internal medicine and is working as an assistant professor under the Sleep Medicine Division of the Neurology Department. Santos joined us on November 15, 2020. He previously practiced sleep medicine in Richmond for 9 years and is happy to return to Richmond after a 3-year hiatus at the Somnus Sleep Center in Waldorf, Maryland

Dr. Santos obtained his medical degree from the University of the East Medical Center in Quezon City, Philippines, and his internal medicine residency from Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn, New more 
Welcome New Team Members
Administrative Staff
Christine Rucker
Administrative Assistant for the Division of Child Neurology
Research Staff
Rachel Young
Lab Technician (Johnson Lab)

Anarosa Rezeq
Research Assistant (Johnson Lab)

Alison Potter
Research Assistant (Johnson Lab)

Pranay Vissa
Clinical Research Coordinator (Neuromuscular Division)

Ruby Langeslay
Sr. Clinical Research Coordinator (Johnson Lab)

LaVon Smith
RN Clinical Research Coordinator (Neuromuscular Division)
Advanced Practice Providers
Kelly Mitchell
General Neurology/Inpatient

Are you a member of the Neurology Department and have an accomplishment or story that you would like to have shared? Please email and we will feature you in a future issue! Everyone is invited to participate!