ECU Health, local organizations, non-profits and other behavioral health and substance use groups came together on May 23 to host the 11th annual Mental Health Expo, which was in person for the first time since 2019.
Nearly 50 exhibitors saw groups and individuals come through as they answered questions and provided information about local mental health and substance use resources.
Glenn Simpson, ECU Health system service line administrator for Behavioral Health, said the opportunity to come back together in person was crucial for the event to connect with community members face-to-face.
“Most of us become accustomed to Zoom meetings and masking and not having that interpersonal relationship. As humans, interpersonal relationships are extremely important,” Simpson said. “Technology helped us with this event the last couple years but to be able to actually see people shake people’s hands, talk to them directly is really exciting.”
The event also included speakers presenting on a few different topics, including: “Mind Over Matter: Using Mindfulness to Assist with Treatment of Depression and Anxiety,” “Lay Responder Naloxone Training: When and How to use NARCAN Nasal Spray” and “Human Trafficking: Building Protective Factors for Prevention and Resiliency.”
Simpson said these “mini workshops” were helpful to give community members more information on topics that may be important to them.
Simpson also shared that this event would not be possible without the support of the community and the many organizations that came together to share information with eastern North Carolinians.
“There is help out there, you just kind of have to figure out how to get it,” Simpson said. “This event brings the exhibitors, agencies and the public together to share all of this information. I’ve already talked to a few people and realized I didn’t even know the agency existed and I’ve been doing this for a long time. It’s a real cool opportunity to learn what’s out there and I know the communities we collectively serve really benefit from that.”
The Walter B. Jones Center, located in Greenville, was one of nearly 50 exhibitors on hand for the Mental Health Expo. Team members from the center said the partnership with ECU Health is crucial and the opportunity to connect with community members in person is invaluable.
“It’s great to get the word out and to let people know what we do and let folks know how to get into treatment and get help when they need it,” Jade Butler, counseling supervisor at Walter B. Jones Center, said. “I think we have the same vision and goal in mind as ECU Health, to help as many people as we can with mental health and substance use issues. Having ECU Health Medical Center right here and us just down the road, I think we’re able to collaborate and be able to serve as many people as we can.”
Simpson said the event was also a great opportunity to help promote the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline as well, which offers 24/7 access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing mental health-related distress.
The lifeline is available nationwide and connects callers with a trained professional in the state from which they are calling. North Carolina residents contacting the 988 services are connected to a team in Greenville. The lifeline offers free and confidential support and can also help callers connect with nearby services.
Access to care was a frequent topic during the Mental Health Expo and Simpson shared that Medicaid expansion is an exciting development for those seeking behavioral health care. He added that the upcoming behavioral health hospital, slated to open in Greenville in spring 2025, is a major step in improving access for eastern North Carolina.
“We’re very excited to partner with Acadia,” Simpson said. “It’s going to be a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital that will serve all ages. That’s all on top of what we’re already able to do today so it will be from children to senior citizens that need that level of care.”
ECU Health team members were on hand to share information on family services and important topics, like setting up a Psychiatric Advance Directive. The ECU Health team also shared information on MyChart and ECU HealthNow.
At ECU Health, the support team members provide to each other makes a difference – not only to those team members but also to the patients we serve across eastern North Carolina.
Recently, three ECU Health nurses were inducted into the East Carolina University (ECU) College of Nursing Hall of Fame while another earned a scholarship as she pursues her doctorate in nursing. These four ECU Health nurses each said the support of fellow nurses has uplifted them throughout their careers and the scholarship and inductions into the Hall of Fame is a reflection of that support.
Learn more about the honorees below.
Amy Campbell, quality nurse specialist at ECU Health, has been with the system for about 18 years over two separate stops.
Campbell started at ECU Health Medical Center as an associate degree nurse in pediatrics and said she was quickly encouraged and supported by fellow nurses and leaders to join the HomeGrown program, which helps team members go back to school and balance their work and school responsibilities, and she received her bachelor’s degree from ECU in 2001. Campbell left ECU Health to teach at Pitt Community College and ultimately returned to the health system with a master’s degree. During her second stop at ECU Health, she said she was once again supported to further her education and pursue a doctorate degree, which she completed in 2020.
“A lot of executives were so encouraging for me to get my Ph.D. and I was HomeGrown and I was able to do my research here so they really were supportive all along,” Campbell said. “I also went through the Ph.D. program with a lot of my colleagues here so that was really great, too. I couldn’t have done it if people hadn’t given me time to do my research and to go to school.”
Campbell is a Williamston native and she said the rural aspect of the care ECU Health provides for the region is close to her heart.
The close-knit communities of eastern North Carolina transfer over to the hospital setting where Campbell said it’s a family atmosphere for team members and the patients they serve.
“I believe that at ECU Health we really do rise by lifting others and people really try to make sure others get time in the spotlight, even though, if you ask any of the four of us, we really don’t like this spotlight,” Campbell said. “But for me, I’m able to embrace it because I want all those people who supported me to have their moment with me. I’m a single mom, I’ve been a single mom for 19 years, but I’ve had a wonderful family here. Everyone has always been so good and supportive of school or whatever I was going through to help me be successful.”
Angela Still, senior administrator of Women’s Services at ECU Health Medical Center, said she was humbled to join her colleagues who have been inducted into the ECU College of Nursing Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2023.
Still has been with the health system for 36 years and is a 1986 graduate of ECU. As a Greenville native, Still said the opportunity to care for and support women in eastern North Carolina is special to her.
“The needs of the patients and families in our region, the disparities, and the social determinants of health are so different from what the rest of the state deals with every day,” Still said. “Our 29 counties are comparable to the size of some states but it’s rural. Access to care, access to healthy food, these are unique needs. At this point in my career I am not impacting the individual patient and family, I’m working to impact the region. It’s a population of mothers and babies that we want to be healthier because they are our future in the region.”
Still said that during her time at ECU Health, she’s been the beneficiary of great leadership and mentors and she’s been happy to give that back to the next generation of nurses as they rise through the system and across the state.
She said it’s crucial to invest time and energy into mentorship as it will make a difference for the individual, those they mentor in the future and the patients they serve.
“The opportunity to mentor people through my career has been just really amazing. I have people across the state I mentored that are not with the system anymore and they still call me to ask questions or just look for guidance,” Still said. “So just being able to make an impact on the people that are going to care for others is very special to me. We’re all eventually going to retire, so being able to mentor and guide folks that are going to be here long after I’ve left and are going to continue to carry that torch and make a difference for our communities, it’s a big deal.”
Georgia Perry is the nurse manager on 2 North Medicine and 2 North Progressive Care at ECU Health Medical Center and was also inducted into the ECU College of Nursing Hall of Fame this year.
Perry said the night of the induction into the Hall of Fame was special for her as she had a chance to look into the crowd gathered and see mentors, some of whom nominated Perry for the recognition.
Perry earned her bachelor’s degree from ECU in 2010 and began working at ECU Health as part of the very first New Grad Nurse Residency Program class. She started working on 2 South, became an assistant nurse manager, and eventually became the nurse manager on her current unit. She received her master’s degree in 2015 and said the backing of fellow nurses and leaders alike made going back to school a manageable task.
“I tell people all the time, if you can dream it, you can do it here,” Perry said. “I truly feel like the support system is really what makes it easy to go back to school to be able to juggle it all. There’s a wealth of mentors here, you can pick up the phone and call anybody and it doesn’t matter if it’s across service lines.”
Perry is a Newton Grove native and said working in rural medicine is important to her because she grew up in a rural area.
“I think it’s wonderful that we have such great access to really all specialties right down the road,” Perry said. “My family actually will travel and get to ECU Health Duplin Hospital and then have access to the tertiary center, so we live it. I’m really grateful for what we have here at ECU Health and I’m glad to be a piece of the impact we have on this region.”
She added that the team around her keeps her going while the patients they serve inspire her to bring her best each day.
Inductees into the Hall of Fame help fund a scholarship for ECU College of Nursing students. Lauren Nichols, a staff nurse on the Cardiac Intermediate Unit at ECU Health Medical Center, earned a scholarship from the fund for this year.
Nichols, who has been working at ECU Health for seven years, is pursuing a doctorate in nursing with a family nurse practitioner specialty at ECU.
Nichols is from Edgecombe County and said she chose to work at ECU Health and continue her education at ECU because of the health system’s commitment to rural health care and eastern North Carolina.
“ECU Health’s mission really resonates with me,” Nichols said. “Growing up in such a rural community makes me want to do my part to help improve the health of the people of eastern North Carolina.”
She said she never doubted her decision to go back to school because of the support she has received, especially from nursing leadership.
Join the Team
ECU Health nurses make an incredible impact every day across eastern North Carolina. Learn more about opportunities to work alongside these amazing nurses and so many others here.
When Lauren Moore, a fourth-year student at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, begins her residency training at ECU Health Medical Center in July it will mark the beginning of a new chapter in her deeply personal family medicine journey. With a love for health care passed down from her parents, including her late mother, Moore’s next step is another toward her ultimate goal: making a difference in the lives of countless eastern North Carolina community members.
Moore’s experience with health care goes far beyond her medical school training. Her father is a physician’s assistant and she was naturally drawn to the connections he made in the community. Growing up in Farmville and attending school in Greenville, she recalls countless instances where he was stopped in places like the grocery store, catching up with a long-time patient or offering helpful advice.
“Growing up, people would come up to us and be like, ‘Mr. Eddie, how are you doing?’ I’d ask, ‘Dad, who is that?’ He’d say, ‘Oh, a patient that I’ve had for ten years now.’ I would think, ‘That is amazing,’” Moore said. “And even recently, ever since I’ve matched at ECU Health, just within the past few weeks, I’ve had several people from my Bible study at my church that have said, ‘You know, I’ve been needing to get a primary care doctor.’ And I’m like, ‘I’m your person!’ It just feels good that they trust me enough to one day be their doctor and to have those personal connections and be able to serve them to make sure their health is taken care of.”
She also experienced the health care profession from the patient perspective through her mother’s cancer journey. When Moore was seven years old, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time and was declared cancer free after about a year of treatment.
Then, six years later, she was re-diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, which spread to her liver and brain. Moore’s mother passed in June of 2010. She reflected on the care her mom received and how the care teams went above and beyond for patients and families alike. Moore learned what it meant to be a compassionate care giver and she said she’s prepared to bring that same compassion to her future patients.
“Seeing her go through that and seeing the way that her physicians were able to play such a vital role in not only her life, but also my family’s life and making sure that we were OK even after the fact,” Moore said. “If my dad was walking through the hospital, my mom’s physicians would check in on him and ask how he was doing and if he needed anything. So it wasn’t that they were just taking care of my mom as a patient, but they were also taking care of the rest of her life, too. That had such a tremendous impact on me. My goal is not only to care for my patients the same way my dad does, but also to make the families feel the same way that those physicians made me feel.”
Moore is one of 77 Brody medical students poised to begin their residency at hospitals across the country, following an emotional Match Day ceremony in March and commencement in May. For Moore, who wants to practice family medicine in the region in which she grew up, matching to ECU Health Medical Center was always the goal.
“Being a medical student at Brody and seeing the patient population that we have here, I think that’s really what drew me to ECU Health,” said Moore. “The fact that it serves patients throughout the 29 counties in eastern North Carolina who otherwise wouldn’t have a primary care provider or a Level I trauma center if it wasn’t for us. I was drawn to the educational opportunities given the uniqueness of our patients and everybody in the residency program is just so welcoming and nice. I know it’s family medicine, but it is also like a family there.”
Match Day at Brody marked a milestone for the Class of 2023, whose medical school journey included the historic events of learning through the COVID-19 pandemic and the integration of Brody and then-Vidant Health, which became ECU Health in 2022.
Match Day is arguably the pinnacle of medical school, when students discover where they will train during their residency, surrounded by friends, family and Brody faculty and staff who have guided them over the years.
The Class of 2023 is a snapshot of Brody’s mission to serve the state. The 77 members of the graduating class represent more than 25 North Carolina counties, from Buncombe in the west to Pasquotank in the northeast.
ECU Health Medical Center had an excellent Match Day, according to Dr. Herb Garrison, associate dean for Graduate Medical Education, with 98 medical students matching into the 12 main residency programs. Twenty-six of the students, or 27%, will graduate from North Carolina medical schools, including 16 students from ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. Brody’s most recent class features the most medical students who will begin their residency at ECU Health Medical Center in July.
“We’re thrilled for this class to start their residencies across the country and we’re especially excited about how many will be staying with us at ECU Health Medical Center,” Dr. Garrison said. “This group had their first year of medical school disrupted by the start of COVID and I’m so proud of the way they supported each other through that experience. I’m just excited, as I am every year, to see these skilled and highly trained students start their careers and share everything they’ve learned here with the rest of the world.”
A Rural Legacy
Dr. Mott Blair’s journey to his post as a physician at ECU Health Family Medicine – Wallace is not totally unlike Moore’s. Dr. Blair’s father was a doctor in Duplin County beginning in 1949.
Dr. Blair shared that his father was a primary care physician who also took up obstetrics and did home deliveries for many families. Seeing his father’s connection with patients and families in his home town lead him directly to his own career in medicine.
He attended the Brody School of Medicine – then called ECU School of Medicine – and graduated in 1987, alongside his brother. He matched with ECU Health Medical Center – then called Pitt County Memorial Hospital – and began practicing in Wallace after his three-year residency. He said his decisions to attend Brody, make Greenville his first choice for residency, establish a practice in his rural hometown and eventually partner with the ECU Health system have all been rewarding for himself and beneficial for the patients he serves.
“I feel like the mission of the medical school was a mission that I wanted to take on and I think I’ve been successful in doing that,” Dr. Blair said. “I think the credit in being able to do that goes to the medical school and now the medical center as well. I really think that what we’re doing now, particularly as we support practices across the eastern region of the state, is a crucial thing to put in place, because health care in rural North Carolina is so difficult and we need to have true rural primary care.”
Dr. Blair said that he knows his time at Brody prepared him well for the challenges of residency and he has seen the same for other Brody graduates whom he’s connected with as residents.
For first year residents, he said it’s a new kind of challenge and learning curve, just like those experienced in the first year of medical school and the first year of rotations, but sticking to the same habits that got residents where they are will make all the difference.
“Work hard, study hard. Getting through residency the first year is a lot of hard work,” Dr. Blair said. “So enjoy it and it will go by fast and it will seem like a distant memory pretty quickly. Coming out of Brody, you’ll be well prepared. I found the preparation for me was excellent. You have to be patient with the pace in medicine. It changes rapidly and has really changed a lot since I’ve been in practice and continues to do so.”
In line with the Brody School of Medicine’s mission to increase the number of primary care physicians who serve North Carolina, 52% of the 2023 Brody class matched into primary care residencies — including obstetrics and gynecology — and 44% matched to residency programs in North Carolina.
Moore and Dr. Blair are just two examples of the importance of the Brody School of Medicine and ECU Health connection. Developing high-quality, compassionate physicians for a region in need helps meet the organizations’ combined mission to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.
“Developing great primary care providers for rural areas is at the core of what we do at Brody and within ECU Health” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health and dean of Brody. “Working as rural health care professionals is hard but we’re working together to train doctors that will care for the whole patient, their physical and emotional health, and I think we’ve been successful in doing that. We have students, professors, residents and doctors that really understand that side of health care and their work in that space leaves a legacy that we can all be proud of.”
For more than 25 years, the Pediatric Asthma Program at the Maynard Children’s Hospital at ECU Health Medical Center has worked to help patients and families living with asthma lead healthy lives.
Jeanine Sharpe, social work care manager for the Pediatric Asthma Program, said the goal of the program has always been to decrease emergency department visits, reduce school absences due to asthma, provide education and improve quality of life for patients and families.
“Currently, there are about 5.1 million children under the age of 18 that have asthma in the U.S. and it’s the leading chronic disease for children,” Sharpe said. “Just for our service area last year, we had 1,687 pediatric asthma patient referrals. It’s the number one reason for school absences and the number two reason for hospital admissions for children. But we know that asthma is a controllable disease. What we find is that a lot of times the missing piece is just education.”
Sharpe said the program has touched many families over the years, whether it’s just one interaction or years of working on a family’s case. One family that has seen the impact of the program recently is the Carr family.
Dalton Carr III was diagnosed with asthma three years ago and struggled with wheezing, coughing and attacks in the years since.
Dalton III’s mother, Shanika said she was scared when her son was first diagnosed and she wasn’t sure how to handle certain situations. This past December, Dalton had an incident and was seen in the emergency department for his asthma.
“That’s when I met Ms. Sharpe,” Shanika said. “I was confused at the time, but ever since I met Ms. Sharpe, it’s been easier to learn things. I was confused with the things different doctors were telling me and I really didn’t understand how serious it was.”
Dalton III’s father, Dalton Jr., said it has been a great experience working with Sharpe and the Pediatric Asthma Program team.
He said the education and support offered have helped their son be confident and join in the everyday activities of other children his age. While he used to struggle, today he does not wheeze, cough or have flare ups from his asthma. Dalton Jr. credited the work with the Pediatric Asthma Program for this turnaround.
“She got us in a good routine for him. Ever since we’ve gotten Dalton on a consistent routine, he hasn’t had any problems,” Dalton Jr. said. “It’s even to the point where he can tell us when he needs his pump. He might say, ‘Mom or dad, I need my pump’ or ‘I’m good.’ He plays football and he’s running and tackling and it’s a lot but with Ms. Sharpe being in our lives these last few months, it’s just helped a lot.”
Dalton Jr. encouraged families to reach out for help and to learn what might work best for their child’s asthma.
Malorie Whitaker, respiratory care manager at ECU Health Medical Center, said the program is designed to help patients from one to 18 years of age feel more comfortable while they manage their asthma and participate in normal childhood activities.
She also said the program is set up to meet children where they are and eliminate barriers to care.
“Sometimes they’ll come into our office to do different testing or do some education, but usually we meet them,” Whitaker said. “So we’ll get into the homes, we’ll go into the schools, into the clinic, wherever they are. Some of these kids that we see don’t have transportation or transportation is difficult for them, so that’s why we like to go into the school or into the homes to help them.”
To learn more, or to speak with someone close to you, visit the Pediatric Asthma page or call one of the ECU Health locations offering pediatric asthma services.
- ECU Health Bertie Hospital: 252-833-2861
- ECU Health Chowan Hospital: 252-833-2861
- ECU Health Edgecombe Hospital: 252-641-7382
- ECU Health Medical Center: 252-847-6835
- ECU Health Roanoke-Chowan Hospital: 252-209-3117
Wildwood Park in Greenville served as the perfect setting for “Emergency Medicine Wilderness Day” as ECU Health emergency medicine residents practiced assessing and treating a variety of common outdoor ailments including altitude sickness, lightning strikes, falls from trees and more.
On March 29, approximately 20 emergency medicine residents attended training and worked in small groups to run through simulated injury scenarios with real people. From knowing how to stabilize an injured person, to assessing injuries and helping get them to safety, emergency residents worked together to treat the injuries under the watchful eye of experienced faculty members from the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Residents received real-time instruction and feedback from faculty as they worked through their training.
Standardized patients from Brody’s Office of Clinical Skills Assessment and Education acted as the patients in each scenario. Standardized patients are trained to mimic real patients so that students can learn. Their role is to help prepare future health care professionals for a variety of patient interfaces.
“There are a number of practical applications for this type of training, especially for our medical residents who get to test their knowledge in the field,” said Dr. Jennifer Bennett, an emergency medicine physician at ECU Health and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brody. “These scenarios are the types of things that we, as emergency medicine physicians, address somewhat commonly. We can apply the knowledge and skills learned out here to patient care.”
The day was a success, according to Dr. Bennett, who helped create the simulation Emergency Medicine Wilderness Day training event last year alongside Dr. Jennifer Parker-Cote, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brody. Both doctors helped organize the Wilderness Day, coming up with unique patient scenarios, including the altitude sickness training station which featured a standardized patient acting as a distressed hiker. The residents removed a fake snake from the area, asked the patient questions about their medications and medical history, moved the patient to a lower area and helped get them to further medical care.
“It’s always nice to get outdoors instead of sitting in a lecture hall,” said emergency medicine resident Tyler Ruchti, DO. “When you’re in the hospital, you have all of your tools and all of your equipment and know where it is, and when we come out here and do things like this it’s a change of scenery. You have to think outside the box.”
The training is another example of the valued partnership between ECU Health and Brody. Residents at an academic health system like ECU Health have support and resources for continued education from faculty and the Interprofessional Clinical Simulation Program at Brody, enriching their clinical training experience. Residents are able to participate in trainings like this to prepare for real situations with real patients both behind the walls of the hospital and out in the community.
“This training was partially about simulating complex medical issues that you may encounter in the wilderness as well as providing a little wellness for our residents,” said Dr. Parker-Cote. “This is a fun way to test knowledge and work together as a team. When it comes to education, there are different modalities for teaching. Learning in this type of environment provides us another way of reinforcing the knowledge they have learned throughout their residency, and it prepares them to help their fellow community members no matter the situation.”
Patient-centered care is a term often used in health care to describe a collaborative relationship between care teams, patients and families. It is the goal of many health care providers, the type of relationship that occurs only when trust is fully developed.
For medical students learning the trade, there are right and wrong answers to most of the questions they encounter. These symptoms match that disorder, or this medication cannot be given to that type of patient. While there is much to learn about the science of medicine from the pages of a textbook or within the walls of the classroom, it is hard to replicate the hands-on experience gained during direct patient care. Often times, the best lessons come from long days and nights spent compassionately caring for patients, listening to feedback, patiently answering questions and validating the feelings of those they care for.
“It’s one of those things that you’re taught in medical school to listen to patients and their families because it really is shared decision making,” said third-year Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University student Jennifer McMains. “But then when you get in the moment, there’s so much going on and it’s very easy to think that you know medically what’s best. But that’s not the way we practice medicine. If the family feels strongly, then listen because they’re with their loved one every single day, every minute.”
McMains learned firsthand the importance of patient-centered care when she met Carnie and Melody Hedgepeth in June 2022 during one of the most difficult periods of their lives.
Carnie, who serves as the director of emergency services for Beaufort County and as a pastor at Arthur Christian Church, was out for a summer ride on his motorcycle when he was involved in a serious accident. He was hit by an oncoming driver and thrown from his bike, eventually landing on the roof of the car. Despite wearing a helmet, the accident left him with multiple facial injuries and a brain bleed that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. With Melody by his side, Carnie spent more than a month in ECU Health Medical Center where they quickly found an expansive support system.
“A lot of people in the (emergency room) know him and people surrounded us with love and prayers,” said Melody. “We got through that first night thanks to everyone in the ER.”
It was in the ER during her surgery rotation where McMains would first meet the Hedgepeths.
“We would go in as a team of doctors to check and provide updates on the plan,” McMains recalled. “Melody was constantly asking ‘Can we be doing anything more?’ or ‘Are there better ways for us to position his feet?’ Things like that seem small but she was always looking at the six-months, one-year outcome and always believing that he would recover. That showed me a lot because I would go into the next person’s room and there wouldn’t be a person to advocate.”
For the Hedgepeths, the attention and care they received left a lasting impression.
“From my standpoint, that’s the most important thing, knowing that the person who is calling the shots cares,” said Carnie. “It means so much when you know that the person cares.”
Carnie, Melody and McMains were reunited April 6 at the Hilton in Greenville during the Legacy Teachers Celebration, a tradition presented by Brody and ECU Health that gives students a chance to honor a patient they met during third-year rotations who taught lessons about care, compassion and communication they will take with them into their careers as physicians.
In total, 20 third-year medical students shared their stories at the luncheon, which featured gift baskets, a photo station and remarks from ECU Health and Brody leaders. At the end, legacy teachers placed custom pins on the students’ white coats to commemorate the significance of the occasion and serve as a reminder of the lessons learned – lessons that they will carry with them through their medical careers.
“As physicians, these stories fuel our hearts and purpose for servant leadership in our pursuit of medicine,” said Dr. Christina Bowen, ECU Health chief well-being officer. “The connections we make with patients help us learn the art of practicing medicine. We’re here to honor these sacred relationships and celebrate our legacy teachers.”
Third-year Brody student Karen Semaan shared her experience with former patient Aidan Mummert and his grandparents. Semaan got to know them well while on the pediatric hematology-oncology rotation. At first, the care team was unsure of the cause of Mummert’s illness. They visited Mummert and his family often to ask more questions and run more tests. Despite the uncertainty, the family and care team developed a light-hearted and fun relationship. When doctors finally determined the cause of the infection, the care team celebrated with joy alongside the family during Mummert’s discharge.
Semaan said the relationship she developed with Mummert and his family was a reminder of her “why” as a future physician.
“Talking with Aidan and his grandmother reminded me, even though medicine and medical school is hard, even though you’re tired and your emotional reserves are low, you can get energy from people,” Semaan said. “You can get love and compassion from them that you can then give back and share with other patients that you see that day.”
The Legacy Teachers Celebration is an important partnership between ECU Health and Brody. The education that medical students receive at Brody, combined with the experiences gained within the ECU Health clinical setting, provides a full spectrum of knowledge that prepares them to deliver compassionate care to the patients they will serve.
“Today is one of the greatest days because we get to celebrate the relationship between our student doctors and their patients,” said Dr. Amanda Higginson, associate dean for student affairs at Brody. “Together, Brody and ECU Health have a shared responsibility to provide both healing and learning. Our legacy teachers help us do that in ways that go beyond just the classroom setting.”
Dr. David Eldridge, senior associate dean for academic affairs at Brody and Brian Floyd, chief operating office at ECU Health and president of ECU Health Medical Center, provided remarks at the event. Like the students, they shared their deeply personal stories of important lessons they learned as students. The speakers shared common themes, especially around the importance of positive, trusting relationships between patients and care teams.
“All across health care, and especially here at ECU Health, there incredible people gathered around others who are in-need of care,” said Floyd. “We’ve chosen this work because it is so meaningful. We are able to make a difference in the lives of so many because of the beautiful relationship between these students and these patients. Today is a reminder of why we do what we do.”
On Wednesday, ECU Health Medical Center partnered with Honorbridge to celebrate National Donate Life Month and recognize organ and tissue donors, their families, those who are waiting for life-saving and life-changing donations, and recipients of organ and tissue donations.
The occasion was marked at 10:08 a.m. as the Donate Life flag was raised in front of ECU Health Medical Center, followed by a 30-second moment of silence. These two numbers are significant as the time symbolizes that one donor can save eight lives while the moment of silence recognizes the 3,000 North Carolinians waiting for an organ donation.
Dr. Walter Pofahl, chief medical officer for ECU Health Medical Center, said eastern North Carolina is home to a disproportionately high number of those 3,000 in North Carolina. Dr. Pofahl shared that last year ECU Health Medical Center had 31 organ donors, transplanted 90 organs while 18 were sent out for research. It also had 56 tissue donors with 141 tissues recovered and 90 eye donors with 84 corneas transplanted and 21 placed for research.
A daughter’s gift
During Wednesday’s event, Darice Fonville shared her inspiring story of donating her kidney to her mother in February.
Fonville said her mother had suffered from chronic kidney disease for about 20 years and as she began to struggle more, they learned she would need to find a donor or start dialysis. She knew that dialysis can be very difficult for patients, and she wanted to help her mother any way she could. So Darice decided to get tested to see if she would be a match.
“I was actually at work when I got the call, and they let me know we were a match,” Fonville said. “As soon as I got that call, everybody in the office already knew how excited I was. I put work on pause to go call my mom. She already knew, and she was nervous. I was excited. I knew it was a done deal. We were just going to go through with it.”
She said she never had any hesitation when she knew she could give something back to her mother and improve her life. She said the transplant team at ECU Health Medical Center put everyone at ease and allowed Fonville and her mother to be together shortly before surgery to spend time with one another.
How to give
Dr. Pofahl said while it is important to identify as an organ donor when you receive your driver’s license or state identification card, it’s just as important to share your wishes with those close to you.
“It’s not always easy, but having that discussion is important,” Dr. Pofahl said. “In that critical time when decisions are being made around donation, if your loved ones understand what your wishes are upfront and ahead of time, that makes the process a lot easier.”
While only about 50 percent of adults in North Carolina are registered organ donors, there are 3,000 people waiting for organ and tissue donations in North Carolina and more than 100,000 waiting for a donation across the country.
Learn more about how to become an organ donor and the impact you can make as a donor on Donate Life’s website.
ECU Health Transplant Services
Survivors of stroke and brain injury had an opportunity to artistically express their journey during a recent Unmasking Brain Injury event at ECU Health Medical Center.
The Brain Injury Association of North Carolina sponsored the Unmasking Brain Injury workshop. This event provides blank face masks and supplies to decorate the masks. Unmasking Brain Injury is an organization that aims to bring awareness to the prevalence of brain injuries and give survivors a voice and the means to educate others of what it’s like to live and recover with a brain injury. The event was the first of its kind in the ECU Health system.
Michele Horvath, stroke navigator at ECU Health Medical Center, helped run the event and said it was a wonderful moment to share with survivors.
“Everybody was really engaged and it was an emotional time for survivors because it made them artistically express their stroke or their traumatic brain injury and some of them are still in recovery,” Horvath said. “They’re really excited to share their story and it was really heartfelt. We’re hoping to bring community awareness to some of these brain injuries.”
Along with a support person, each attendee, many of them members of ECU Health’s Stroke Support Network, decorated a mask to represent their journey and recovery process from their stroke or brain injury.
Molly Twiss, marketing coordinator at the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina, said it was the first Unmasking Brain Injury event she’d helped coordinate and she felt inspired after the event. She explained that the masks could be anything attendees wanted, not just their brain injury or stroke, but about themselves as a whole.
“The masks are a look inside of them, what they’re feeling, what they’ve gone through, what they hope for the future,” Twiss said. “Some can be as small as their favorite TV show, their favorite color or something about what their life was like before their injury. So if they were a skier beforehand and their accident was a ski accident, they can have it ski related. The mask could represent just something to get their mind off of having this invisible injury.”
Discovering New Passions
Wendy Gardner had her first child in 2000. Ten days after her son was born in Wilson, she suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, which has affected the left side of her body.
About a year ago, Gardner joined the Stroke Support Network at ECU Health and she said she’s enjoyed connecting with people in eastern North Carolina who have had similar experiences. She said the Unmasking Brain Injury event was a positive experience for everyone and she hopes for similar events through the support group in the future.
Gardner’s mask was painted red white and blue and adorned with a gold medal, representative of her new found passion — and talent — for archery.
About three years ago, Gardner stumbled upon archery as a sport she could participate in. Today, Gardner is a member of the USA Para Archery World team.
“I hadn’t been able to find a sport that I can do because my whole left side of my body is affected,” Gardner said. “So I can’t run and I really can’t swim and do the usual activities. So I’d kind of given up actually finding something that I could do. We happened to go to a big archery competition because our daughter was interested in it. I saw a guy who has no arms and shoots with his feet and his name is Matt Stutzman. He’s on our team. That is what got me inspired. I thought, if he can do it with no arms and I have one arm I could use, we could find some way for me to do this.”
Wendy and her husband went to work on figuring out some adaptive equipment to help her hone her new craft. She said there are not many resources available to help people with making adaptive archery equipment so they went through a “trial and error” process.
Once the Gardner family got a handle on making adaptive equipment and realized how expensive it could be for others to create their own equipment, they started a nonprofit called GX4 Adaptive Archery.
Her attitude since first suffering her stroke has made all the difference. She said she never expected to be involved in something like the USA Archery Team, and through her determination to try new things—coupled with her relentless effort—Gardner now travels the world doing something she loves.
This includes trips to the United Arab Emirates, Chile and Czech Republic with the team, and she hopes to be in France next summer for the 2024 Paralympic Games.
“I’m always like, ‘Why not me?’ And I would never have done anything like this if this had not happened to me,” Gardner said. “So I always tell people, go try something new. The main thing is show up, you’ve got to show up and don’t be afraid to look foolish doing it. Because sometimes, as someone with a physical disability, you will. But just show up and try and do your best.”
Stroke Support Network – Upcoming Events
Brain Injury Support Group – Upcoming Events
Students at A.G. Cox Middle School in Winterville learned about the dangers of vaping tobacco or other substances and drug use during an event hosted at the school on Feb. 28.
Pitt County School nurses, ECU Health team members and volunteers, and local high school students acted out two different scenarios for the A.G. Cox students, who are in grades 6-8, to show how quickly things can go wrong.
In one scenario, a student at a party takes a gummy from a friend, which turns out to be laced with drugs. The student then falls critically ill from the effects of the drugs.
In another, a student is taken to the hospital after using a vape they were told did not have tobacco in it, but instead was filled with an unknown drug.
Emerson Fipps, a senior at South Central High School in Winterville, helped act out the first scenario with another student and an ECU Health volunteer. She said she’s proud to support events where she can help other young people set themselves up to make positive decisions.
“Middle school is really where everything starts to come up,” Fipps said. “Teenagers are just trying to find themselves so they’re getting into things that they shouldn’t. They’re not really fully educated about everything these destructive decisions could affect. It’s really good for them to start hearing about it young because when they’re in these situations, they’ll already have the information.”
Tiffany Thigpen, the Region 10 tobacco prevention and control coordinator for the Pitt County Health Department, said schools across the country are seeing an increase of students vaping and using gummies and other drug-infused edibles.
The National Poison Data System reported 3,054 cases of pediatric edible cannabis consumption in 2021, a large increase from 207 cases in 2017.
Thigpen said one of the most important things parents can do to keep their children safe from tobacco and drugs is talk to them.
“Talk to your children, let them know that these things are not safe,” Thigpen said. “Let them know that it is OK to say no. Talk to them about refusal skills and ways to say no to their peers. Let them know they can talk to you about what they’re experiencing. If they do use these products, share the dangers with them and ways to stop.”
Thigpen said the county is working to get as much information as they can into the hands of students about the dangers of drugs and vaping to help stop addictions before they begin.
Laurie Reed, manager of school health services at ECU Health, said partnerships make all the difference for events like the one hosted at A.G. Cox Middle School.
“Our school board and our school health advisory committee are very supportive of programs like this in our school system,” Reed said. “We just hope we’ll be able to offer more of them. It’s a great collaborative effort and it takes a lot of effort on the part of our school nurses, Injury Prevention, our health department, but it’s a great collaborative opportunity for our community.”
Student perseverance and community and industry partnerships were highlighted in special presentations at the East Carolina University Board of Trustees’ February meeting.
The board also welcomed Brandon Frye, vice chancellor for student affairs, who officially joined ECU this week.
On Thursday, four students spoke during the University Affairs Committee meeting about their struggles and how ECU programs helped them continue to move forward. The students and the programs are: George Cherry Jr., Students’ Treasure Chest; Nellyana Cordero-Cisnero, Pirate Promise; Adam Harrison, Pirate Academic Success Center; and Iyaira Williams, Purple Pantry. Chris Stansbury, associate vice chancellor and senior operating officer for student affairs, moderated the panel.
In introducing the students, Provost Robin Coger said earning a degree requires students to persevere even when faced with challenges. ECU provides a range of support for student success. “Ultimately they come out of ECU ready for successful careers, but there are a lot of steps in between,” she said.
Cherry, who is earning three degrees and plans to attend medical school, put 24,000 miles on his car driving to class last year from his Bertie County home, where he helps take care of his younger sister. He was able to get help from the Students’ Treasure Chest when his car needed repairs. He is working to give back to the university through service and his involvement in different organizations, including the Student Government Association.
Cordero-Cisnero is a first-generation student from Raleigh who attended community college before transferring to ECU for a degree in elementary education. She said an ECU alum introduced her to Pirate Promise, which gave her a path to a four-year degree. “It opened a new door for me,” she said.
Harrison said he commuted from his home in Williamston his first year, and the connections he made at the Pirate Academic Success Center helped him become a stronger student. He now is a mentor to other students at the center.
Williams, from Raleigh, has volunteered at the Purple Pantry since her freshman year. As an ambassador, she helped the organization win a collegiate hunger challenge and $10,000, and she continues to work with the pantry to combat food insecurity. A recent partnership with the SGA has yielded almost 90 meals donated from unused meal swipes. The SGA also provided funding to purchase a freezer for the pantry to provide frozen meals.
The panel encouraged trustees to continue hearing from students and provide opportunities for conversation. They also suggested continuing to bring awareness to the resources that ECU offers.
In another committee Thursday, the trustee’s Committee on Strategy and Innovation heard an industry workforce panel discuss how partnerships can lead to innovation and economic prosperity in eastern North Carolina and beyond. Participants included representatives from ECU Health, Fly Exclusive and MrBeast. Topics ranged from the importance of building and strengthening partnerships and pathways to identifying ECU student and graduate talent to recruit to their businesses.
Panelist Julie Oehlert, chief experience and brand officer at ECU Health, said both the university and the health system can benefit from working more closely to integrate student experiences into education in a wide variety of disciplines in health care and beyond.
“We share a community, we share learners that we both love deeply, in a variety of settings,” she said. “We share the responsibility of caring for eastern North Carolina; for educating eastern North Carolina and for advancing all the people that live in eastern North Carolina in their learning and in their health. That’s why we are ECU Health now; never before has the imperative for a strong partnership been more relevant or more necessary.”
The panelists and committee discussed ways to encourage partnerships based on innovation and thinking outside the box that will push students to create real-world solutions in situations that prepare them to enter the workforce with concrete foundational experience.
The committee also adopted a resolution on freedom of expression for faculty and students, which was unanimously approved by the full board on Friday. The resolution reaffirms the Board of Trustees’ commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression in which faculty and students can “teach, learn, seek and speak the truth” in an environment where “academic freedom flourishes” and the campus community is given “the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn except insofar as limitations to that freedom are necessary to the function of the university.”
Trustees also received an update on refreshing the university’s strategic plan. Committee co-chair Sharon Paynter presented a list of internal and external strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities that impact university initiatives and ways ECU leadership, faculty, staff and students continue to navigate them.
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