A selection of doctors, many of whom have been honored as Top 100 Irish Americans by this magazine, who are working to understand the pressing topics of our time.
“This is such a hopeful time — a hopeful era for MS. We’ve seen this disease become a treatable disease in the last decade. But clearly the current therapies need to be started as soon as possible to minimize the ongoing damage, to really control it, to keep people intact.”
Dr. Patricia K. Coyle, M.D., is known internationally for her expertise in Multiple Sclerosis (MS), neuroimmunology, and neurological infectious disease (in particular Lyme disease).
In addition to lecturing around the country on MS and other neurological topics, Dr. Coyle has a busy clinical practice and also maintains a research laboratory. She is a professor and vice chair of neurology and the director of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at the Stony Brook University Medical Center, Stony Brook, New York. Currently, she is involved in many therapeutic trials testing new immunotherapies for MS and says, “The most important thing is to emphasize how critical early diagnosis of MS is. Our current therapies have the most impact if they’re used very early. Some of the signs of MS include an unexplained neurological problem such as unexpected loss of vision in one eye or sustained double vision or pins and needles or numbness on a body part that’s lasting more than a day, weakness of arms and legs that comes on fairly abruptly over hours to a day or two, or unsteady gait that may occur. A critical diagnostic test should include an MRI brain scan, and/or spinal scan, and analysis of spinal fluid via a spinal tap may be extremely helpful in diagnosis.”
Dr. Coyle received a BS degree with highest honors from Fordham University, Bronx, New York, and got her medical training at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is the oldest of six children and grew up in a lively Irish household (lots of parties and cousins) in the Bronx. All four of her grandparents emigrated from Ireland and she has roots in Counties Donegal, Leitrim and Clare. Family names include Coyle and Dowd on her father’s side, and Conboy and Tuohy on her mother’s.
Grandmother Kate Tuohy lived with the family in their five-room apartment throughout Coyle’s childhood, and Coyle told Irish America that she remembers her as “a strong, dominant force.”
“Evidence has been gathering that nearly all Nsaids pose some cardiovascular risks in heavy users. The real challenge is to manage the risk while treating the patient.”
Dr. Garret FitzGerald, was the first to predict that Vioxx and other popular drugs used to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis could cause heart attack and stroke. (Merck withdrew Vioxx in 2004.)
Back in 1999, FitzGerald, who chairs the Department of Pharmacology directs the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that the use of the popular arthritis drugs were a time bomb waiting to happen. A recent new analysis, as reported in the New York Times, confirmed FitzGerald’s conclusion “that people who take high doses of NSAIDs daily increase their cardiovascular risk by as much as a third. The one exception is naproxen (Aleve), which may actually have a protective effect against heart attacks.”
FitzGerald, who was born in Dublin, has also conducted studies on the molecular clock and its relevance to cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative disease. He studied medicine at University College Dublin. He has worked in the UK, Germany and Nashville and from 1991-94 he served as Chairman, Department of Medicine and Experimental Therapeutics, UCD, before accepting his post at UPenn.
A fellow of the Royal Society, FitzGerald is the recipient of many honors for his work, including an honorary degree (D.Sc.) from UCD and the Irish Times/ RDS Boyle medal.
“Surgical care of the injured athlete is an important part of what we do, but as orthopedic surgeons, we need to remain involved in all aspects of the treatment of our athletes.”
Dr. Jo Hannafin, M.D., Ph.D., an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City, has been named the first female president of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). She will begin her term as president of the 3,042-member organization in July 2014.
“Non surgical care and prevention of sports-related injury remain a critical part of our mission as sports medicine physicians. If you’re a worker who has an injury, people know what to do. Some of what we’ve learned from athletes to get them back to competition faster now helps the rest of the population,” said Hannafin. In a recent interview, she pointed out that “studies of muscle movement also have guided designers of office furniture and equipment to reduce injury risk from repetitive motion, and in the next five to ten years, we’ll learn more about the effects of physical activity on the risk of developing progressive diseases. We’ll learn more about the effects of changes in exercise and fitness patterns, together with changes in other lifestyles and their roles in [the] prevention or delay of recurrent or extended disease.”
In March, 2013, Dr. Hannafin was honored as Physician of the Year by Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., at a dinner at the Pierre Hotel, New York City. She is currently head team physician for the Women’s National Basketball Association New York Liberty. A lifelong rower – she was a three-time national rowing champion and silver medalist at the 1984 World Championships – she serves as a team physician for the United States rowing team. She is the co-author, with Marian Betancourt, of the book Say Goodbye to Knee Pain.
Dr. Hannafin’s great-grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s side immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland. She traces her roots to counties Kerry and Cork.
Traumatic Brain Injury
“Recovery from brain injury varies by individual and degree of damage. Although little can be done to reverse the initial damage, immediate medical treatment is essential for stabilizing, preventing further damage, and beginning physical and mental rehabilitation.”
Dr. James P. Kelly, a neurologist and one of America’s top experts on treating concussions, serves the director of The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), which opened in 2010 and is located on the campus of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
The center was built and equipped through the philanthropy of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, Fisher Foundation and other individuals and groups, in answer to the increasing number of soldier who suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). According to military reports about 230,000 troops – 10 percent of those deployed – have suffered combat related traumatic brain injuries and related psychological health conditions.
When service members with severe TBI fail to respond to conventional medical treatment, they often are referred to NICoE’s program, which finds the best methods to treat their conditions on an individual basis. The patients must also have a co-existing psychological health issue, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or anxiety. “If you add together all of those things in a person, that’s a very complex human condition,” Dr. Kelly said. “It is our job to characterize that complex condition … and its effects on the brain, and look at what works to help them.”
While serving as the NICoE’s Director, Kelly is professor of neurosurgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. He has also served as director of the Brain Injury Program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and was the neurological consultant for the Chicago Bears football team. He was the first chairman of the Defense Health Board’s Traumatic Brain Injury External Advisory Subcommittee for Military Clinical Care, Research and Education.
Kelly, who is Irish on his father’s side, explained: “My father, William A. Kelly, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the seventh of eight children of second-generation Irish immigrants who left Ireland around the time of the potato famine. He was 11 years-old when the family moved to Chicago where his father, Dennis Kelly, had found work at the Pullman Standard Railroad Car Company. My father married my mother, Lorraine (nee Sweeney, in Chicago where I was born their sixth (and last) child in 1952.”
After attaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from Western Michigan University, Kelly graduated from medical school at Northwestern University and completed his neurology residency and behavioral neurology fellowship at the University of Colorado. He co-authored the sports concussion guidelines of the American Academy of Neurology and the Standardized Assessment of Concussion that is widely used in athletic and military settings.
Dr. John Kennedy, born in Dublin and educated at Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons, is a surgeon at New York Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Kennedy met Flip Mullen, a retired NYPD and FDNY officer, six years ago at Irish America’s Top 100 awards dinner. Both were being honored for their work helping others: Kennedy for performing orthopedic surgeries free of charge in Santo Domingo, and Mullen for his work with the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides programs and assistance to wounded veterans and their families. The two met and began to talk, and out of their conversation a new partnership was born.
Mullen and other members of the Wounded Warrior Project counsel injured soldiers to consult Dr. Kennedy, for a second opinion. In turn, Dr. Kennedy and his associate, Dr. Austin Fragomen, meet with the wounded soldiers, look at their injuries, and have in certain cases performed surgeries that have saved soldiers from amputation. Mullen and his wife, Rita, house the soldiers and their families while they are in New York. With the increased survival rate from battlefield injuries, the collaboration of Mullen and Dr. Kennedy is ever more important to wounded veterans.
Dr. Kennedy is currently the clinical director of the running clinic at the Hospital for Special Surgery. His interest in sports medicine of the lower limbs is generated by a long personal history in sports, where he competed at national and international levels in track, rugby, fencing, and water skiing.
Making House Calls
Dr. Joseph Mulvehill. For those who are tired of waiting around for a doctor or have a mortal fear of hospital emergency rooms, Dr. Joseph Mulvehill, a New York-based physician, offers “Concierge Medicine.” In other words, patients enjoy 24/7 direct cell phone access to Dr. Mulvehill, unhurried visits (in office or home) and a promise that the patient will never waste their valuable time in a waiting room again.
Many of the county’s premier families and top executives entrust their health to Dr. Mulvehill, who deals with all medical issues, including travel medicine, and efficiently coordinates and monitors additional medical specialists as required. He graduated with a BS in biochemistry from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and earned his medical degree from SUNY Stony Brook in Stony Brook, NY. He completed his residency at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, and is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine on the staff of Mount Sinai Medical Center and an Attending Physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and is a member of The New York County Medical Society, The American Medical Association, The American College of Physicians, The International Society of Travel Medicine, and The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Dr. Mulvehill is from County Westmeath, Ireland.
“Physicians have a very limited amount of time, so we are putting the same trusted and critical information from our journals at their fingertips, on-demand. All of the journals’ content an resources can be immediately retrieved wherever they are!”
Dr. Martin ‘Marty” Murphy is founding chairman and CEO of AlphaMed Consulting, Inc., a company that provides strategic support for academic cancer centers and cancer drug development programs of global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. As chief executive officer of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, he is a prominent proponent for cancer research on the international scene. He is also the founding executive director of The Oncologist, a top-tier clinical cancer research journal published in the United States; the founding executive editor of both Stem Cells, a journal of stem cell biology; and of the journal Stem Cells Regenerative Medicine.
Dr. Murphy championed the All Ireland Cancer Concord, a bilateral agreement focused on cancer research. For his his promotion of cross-border cancer research collaboration by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Queen’s University Cancer Center in Belfast and cancer centers in the Republic of Ireland, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University School of Medicine in Belfast, where he is a charter member of the International Review Board.
Co-founder of the Society for Translational Oncology, he is a member of the National Cancer Policy Forum of the Institute of Medicine of the United States National Academy of Sciences, a director of the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, a charter member and director of C-Change, founded by former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, and was recently named a fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Dr. Murphy was formerly CEO and president of the Hipple Cancer Research Center, which he founded in 1977 and led for 20 years. He is married to Dr. Ann Murphy, president of AlphaMed Press.They have five children and 10 grandchildren. In 2003, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern presented Dr. Murphy with his Irish citizenship. His ancestors are from Achill Island, County Mayo.
“Nothing changes in the life of a homeless person unless you can take the time to win their trust, be present — all the things that we don’t get a chance to do when you’re training in the health care system where you’ve got about seven minutes with each person or somebody’s going to be on you to move on to the next person.”
– Dr. Jim O’Connell talking to Sacha Pfeiffer of 90.9 WBUR
Dr. James Joseph O’Connell’s accomplishments cannot be adequately covered in just a few words. He is a brilliant physician, tireless philanthropist and conscientious advocate for the underprivileged.
Dr. O’Connell graduated Salutatorian in 1970 from the University of Notre Dame, and earned an MA in theology at St. John’s College, Cambridge, England in 1972. He then went on to study medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Upon completion of his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, he became one of the founding physicians of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP). Dr. O’Connell recalls that when he initially got involved with the BHCHP, he never thought it was going to be his career. He says at that time he was aided by his sense of “sixties social conscience” and thought of it as a temporary position. It has now blossomed into a $20 million a year program with equivalent programs popping up in major U.S. cities around the country. Besides being the President of the BHCHP, Dr. O’Connell is also a practicing physician at one of the program’s many clinics throughout Boston.
Dr. O’Connell has established respite care programs for the homeless and served as the National Program Director for the Homeless Families Program which is instrumental in placing families from shelters and the streets into permanent housing.
Dr. O’Connell has also taught medicine at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University. He holds seats on many health care boards and is a prolific author of books and journal articles. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, he was recently awarded the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism – past recipients include Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter.
Dr. O’Connell’s father’s family hails from the Dingle Bay in County Kerry while his mother’s family comes from Cork. Both sides immigrated after the Great Famine to Newport, RI, and it is in that city that Dr. O’Connell was born, raised, and which he “still thinks of as home.”
“The two key things are to find better screening methods for earlier detection [of pancreatic cancer] and to develop better treatment options. Perhaps the one that is likely to have the greatest impact is earlier identification of the disease.”
Dr. Eileen O’Reilly, Associate Member of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, received her medical degree at Trinity College, Dublin. She completed her fellowship training at MSKCC and has been a faculty member in the GI Oncology service at MSKCC since then. Pancreatic and biliary cancers are the major focus of her clinical and research activities. Research initiatives include integration of molecular-based therapies and novel therapeutics for the treatment of pancreatic cancer along with development of adjvuant and neoadjuvant therapy.
Pancreatic adenocarcinoma, remains one of the most challenging malignancies. Of 44,000 people diagnosed in 2012, 37,000 died from the disease. “To have a major impact in terms of outcomes, we need to be able to screen successfully and diagnose this disease earlier, and both of those are elusive challenges at the moment,” O’Reilly, who is Irish-born, said in an interview with Joe Cavallo. Research on the disease continues. “We have a number of clinical trials underway at MSKCC in pancreatic cancer. One area of particular interest is a study of BRCA-related pancreatic cancer. BRCA mutations affect a relatively small subset of patients with pancreas cancer (about 5-7%), but in the Northeast we see a somewhat higher frequency of BRCA-related pancreatic cancer because New York has a large Ashkenazi Jewish population, in which BRCA mutations are relatively frequently found. This subgroup of patients may have selectively increased benefit to platinum agents and PARP inhibitor drugs (experimental agents). In several ongoing clinical trials we are currently elucidating the benefit of this treatment approach and looking to understand mechanisms of resistance.
At a national level, Dr. O’Reilly is the Chair of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Pancreas Task Force, and a member of the Alliance Co-operative group Gastrointestinal core committee. Dr. O’Reilly is also an Associate Chair of the MSKCC IRB and Privacy Board, a member of Research Council and is the recent past president of the MSKCC medical staff.