LCOM & Department News

Catching a Flight: VT Team Effort Ensures COVID-19 Specimens Get to Mayo Clinic Lab

April 2, 2020 by Jennifer Nachbur

When commercial flight cancellations jeopardized the transport of COVID-19 specimens - and same-day test results for patients - from Burlington to Mayo Clinic Laboratories, a group of fast-acting health care administrators and business leaders sprang into action to find a solution.

L - R: Matt Kozlowski, president, Green Mountain Messenger, who delivered the sample boxes from the UVM Medical Center to the Heritage Flight hangar at Burlington Airport; Martii Matheson and Kirk Walters, co-owners, JV Air LLC. (Courtesy photo)

Getting COVID-19 test results as fast as possible ensures providers can make timely important clinical decisions for their patients – and patients can swiftly take steps for their health and the protection of people around them. When the daily commercial flights that transported COVID-19 specimens from Burlington to Mayo Clinic Laboratories in Rochester, Minn., started to be cancelled, a group of fast-acting health care administrators and business leaders sprang into action to find a solution.

In a demonstration of true community collaboration, members of the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center and Health Network, Vermont Department of Public Safety, Green Mountain Messenger, JV Air LLC, and Heritage Flight were able to secure a private jet to make the delivery. The flight left Burlington March 31 around 6:30 a.m. ET and landed in Rochester, Minn. at about 9:30 a.m. ET.

The chain of communication began with Lynn Bryan, manager of laboratory business systems and client services for UVM Health Network Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. When she learned that flight cancellations were delaying results by as much as 24 hours, she alerted Pathology and Laboratory Medicine leadership, who contacted Al Gobeille, UVM Health Network executive vice president for operations. He reached out to Mike Schirling, commissioner of public safety for the State of Vermont, who made the critical connection to JV Air LLC, a company whose plane is hangared at Heritage Flight and is involved in a variety of charitable endeavors for such organizations as Angel Flight Northeast, Patient Airlift Service, and now, the hospital laboratories within NECLA (North Eastern Community Lab Alliance) that serve all of Vermont.

“Within 45 minutes, we had a private jet to take specimens from across Vermont from BTV to Mayo,” says Bryan. “This is an amazing collaboration between the State of Vermont, JV Air, Green Mountain Messenger, Mayo and UVM Medical Center.”

Turnaround for COVID-19 tests has been a challenge nationally, says Debra Leonard, M.D., Ph.D., chief of pathology and laboratory medicine for the UVM Health Network and chair of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

“This allows us to reliably send up to 600 tests per day to Mayo Clinic Laboratories,” which is two to three times as many tests as Vermont had been previously sending," explains Leonard. “Mayo has been providing results to our hospitals and providers, as well as the Vermont Department of Health, on the same day as they have received our specimens,” and this has translated into better clinical care for patients.

Department Highlights

Dr. Debra Leonard, M.D., Ph. D., our department chairand the Genomic Medicine Team announce the start of the Genomic Population Health Initiative. A pilot project offering Genomic DNA Testing is now underway within the University of Vermont Health Network. Read more here... (2019)

Dr. William Pendlebury, M.D., professor emeritus of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, has been selected to receive the 2019 Vermont Medical Society’s (VMS) Founders’ Award. The award recognizes Pendlebury’s leadership role and advocacy in “the fight for the diagnosis and treatment of dementia in Vermont for the past 35 years.” He will receive the award November 2 at the VMS 206th Annual Meeting in Stowe, Vt.(2019)

Yvone Janssen-Heininger, Ph.D., Jos van der Velden, Ph.D. (both Pathology & Laboratory Medicine faculty) and senior author, Charles Irvin, Ph.D. (Medicine), published "The Effect of Flavored E-cigarettes on Murine Allergic Airways Disease" in Nature Scientific Reports. The study has been cited in stories by several news outlets: U.S. News & World Report/HealthDay; American Journal of Managed Care; Medical News Bulletin; and Medical Daily. (2019)

Dr. Mark Fung, M.D, Ph.D., professor and vice chair for Population Health, was recently named to the board of directors for the Project Santa Fe Foundation, which “focuses on demonstrating the power of longitudinal clinical laboratory data to proactively augment population health in a value-based healthcare environment.” (2019)

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Dr. Bronwyn Bryant, M.D. was named a 2019 Frymoyer Scholar for her project, “Validating Entrustable Professional Activity-Based Assessment to Determine On-Call Competency in Pathology Residents”. (2019)

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Dr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.DDr. Rebecca Wilcox, M.D. was selected, by the Larner College of Medicine Class of 2019, to be the commencement keynote speaker. Read more... [Photo credit: Andy Duback 2019] (2019)

Please join Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger in congratulating Allison Manuel and Evan Elko

Dr. Allison Manuel is a post-doctoral fellow in our group.  Her abstract to be presented at the American Thoracic Society conference was chosen to receive an Abstract Scholarship . The scholarship includes a full In-Training Registration to the 2019 ATS International Conference in Dallas, Texas.  

Evan Elko is a PhD student. He just received notice that his F31 NIH application entitled: “Role of peroxiredoxin-4 in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis”  will be funded.

Congratulations to Evan and Allison.

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Department alumni, Dr. Bobbi Pritt, M.D. featured in Vermont Medicine Magazine. To read her story click on the photo below.

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Dr's Leonard and HuberA Remarkable Gift from Dr. Sally Huber, Ph.D.

At the end of last week's Research Day, Dr. Leonard gave a surprise announcement: a very generous bequethment of $5 million by research faculty emerita, Dr. Sally Huber! The funds will go toward two endowed professorships for junior investigators in our department. The endowments will be named for her parents, Elmer R. Huber and Blodwen S. Huber, and will support junior research faculty for five years.(9/2018)

This amazing support will allow junior faculty time and funds to gain independence while pursuing the milestone achievement of being awarded their first R01 grant.

Heintz Awarded 2018 Distinguised Graduate Alumni Award

Dr. Nick Heintz, Ph.D. received the 2018 UVM Medical Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award​, which is presented to Larner College of Medicine (LCOM) alumni who have demonstrated outstanding achievement in basic, clinical or applied research; education; industry; public service/humanitarianism; and/or outstanding commitment to the LCOM community.

He accepted his award at the college's Celebrating Research Excellence event at the end of October. (September 2018)

Kida Received Certificate of Commendation

Dr. Kida receives award from the State of Vermont...read more here. (August 2018)

Leonard and Committee Publish Through National Academies Press

Dr. Debra Leonard, along with a committee under the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, ​published "Returning Individual Research Results to Participants: Guidance for a New Research Paradigm" through The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2018 (Committee Member). (August 2018)

Excellence in Education

The Larner College of Medicine’s second year medical students nominate and elect faculty who they want to recognize for their outstanding teaching and support over their first years of the Foundations education. (February 2018)

Pathology nominees (winners in bold):

AMWA Gender Equity Award  - Pamela Gibson; Sharon Mount; Rebecca Wilcox

Dean Warhsaw Integration Award - Rebecca Wilcox

Silver Stethoscope Award - Scott Andreson; Maureen Harmon; John Lunde

Above and Beyond Award - Ronald Bryant; Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Course Director Award -Rebecca Wilcox

Outstanding Foundations Course Award

  • Cardiovascular, Respiratory & Renal Systems: (Ron Bryant; Kelly Butnor; and Pam Gibson are the primary pathologists in each section of the course, respectively)
  • Nutrition, Metabolism & the Gastrointestinal System: Course Director is Rebecca Wilcox

Foundations Teaching Award - Ronald Bryant; Pamela Gibson; Rebecca Wilcox; Christina Wojewoda

Dr. Yvonne Janssen-Heininger Receives Patent

Yvonne Janssen-Heinger was awarded a patent on the ​concept that strategies to inhibit GSTP has utility for the treatment of patients with pulmonary fibrosis. Congratulations, Yvonne! (January 2018)

Drs. Bronwyn Bryant and Phillip Munson inducted into the Teaching Academy

Last week Bronwyn and Phillip were inducted into University of Vermont's Teaching Academy. The Teaching Academy sustains and supports an interdisciplinary community of educators who value the scholarship of teaching and learning while facilitating educator development; improve the efficiency and quality of medical education through collaboration and scholarship; and promote an academic environment that increases the value and impact of educators locally, regionally, and nationally. (January 2018)