All posts by Bryce Puntenney

Remembering 9/11

UMKC Medicine Alum recalls his time at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Tyson Becker (M.D. ‘01) was one of many UMKC alumni whose job found him responding to the tragic event. He was a first-year surgical resident at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. – about eight miles from the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the west side of the structure. On 9/11, his skills were needed to treat those injured by the explosion and his efforts in the burn unit at Walter Reed were featured in the school’s alumni magazine.

On the 20th Anniversary of September 11, many are taking the time to look back at that date in history. Here are Becker’s recollections and how the experience shaped his medical career.

How has your professional career evolved since that time?

I am still in the Army and am now a colonel. I work as a trauma critical care surgeon at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas. BAMC is the Department of Defense’s only Level 1 trauma center and covers San Antonio and the surrounding 22 counties in South Texas, serving military and civilian traumas.

I also serve as the general surgery consultant to the Surgeon General of the U.S. Army and am a member of the American College of Surgery Board of Governors. In addition to that, I am the director of the Strategic Trauma Readiness Center, which prepares forward surgical teams to deploy and take care of combat trauma. I have deployed six times to Central America, Africa, Afghanistan and Syria.

What memories stand out from your time at Walter Reed after September 11, 2001?

A lot has happened since that day. I have spent the last 20 years taking care of our service members injured in combat operations against terrorism. That day two decades ago is when my whole career started. Everything I have done since has stemmed from that day. As we see with current events, the work continues.

I remember that on 9/11 everything changed. One minute I was working in a hospital as an intern, and the next minute, everything I did was focused on ensuring those citizens that were put in harm’s way came home alive and in the best shape possible.

That day gave the rest of my career a clear purpose.

How did the experience shape you as a health care provider?

I have a strong sense of service to our country. After 9/11, I felt I could best serve the country as a trauma surgeon in the military. It has made me want to serve in austere environments, whether combat or humanitarian.

I feel that what I do is more than just a job, it’s a duty.

A Career of Service Comes to UMKC

Eric Johnson announced as program director for the Physician Assistant Program

Eric JohnsonEric Johnson, MS, PA-C, has built his medical career with one goal in mind: service. Whether starting his career as an EMT, working in a hospital setting or serving as a program administrator, service to patients has been the constant.

“I really don’t know what a life is like without service,” said Johnson. “It’s what drew me to higher education, where I thought, ‘Wow, I can really impact patients exponentially because all my students are going out to serve as well.’”

Johnson becomes only the second full-time program director for the UMKC Physician Assistant Program since its inception in 2012. Katherine Ervie served as the program’s first director – a role she held until 2020. Lindsay Abernethy served as the interim director until Johnson joined the team in 2021.

“Eric brings vast experience with PA education and accreditation,” said Julie Banderas, assistant dean, Graduate Health Professions, “He returns to Missouri as an established and respected Physician Assistant. We look forward to his leadership and continued success for the PA program.”

For Johnson, his path from EMT to physician assistant occurred while serving as a member of Missouri Task Force One, a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. That group’s first deployment was to Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. He was the medical team coordinator for the task force – in addition to being an paramedic and volunteer firefighter – and the gravity of the 9/11 experience led Johnson to some major self-reflection.

“I was standing there at Ground Zero, recounting my life, and thinking I need to be doing more,” said Johnson. “I’ve got to do something else since I’m kind of fried at that point, but I’m also thinking I’m too old for medical school – so what am I going to do?”

He shared his thoughts with a surgeon he worked with while deployed in New York City. After reassuring Johnson that he wasn’t “too old for medical school,” the surgeon suggested a path that Johnson hadn’t yet considered. “Let me tell you about how important Physician Assistants are to my practice,” he said.

Soon, Johnson was off and running toward the next phase of his career. “Patience isn’t really my strength,” he said. “So as soon as I got back home, I met with an advisor and said I wanted my PA degree, like, yesterday.”

After graduating from Missouri State University with his MS in physician assistant studies, Johnson landed a PA position in the ICU at University Hospital in Columbia, Missouri. He was the first PA for that department and worked closely with administrators to fully develop the position. While there, the ICU administrators also tapped him to help develop “an acute care fellowship for Physician Assistants.”

Johnson’s next position was at Stephens College in central Missouri, where he became the founding program director for the college’s new PA program. For Johnson, building a program from the ground up was a welcome challenge. “I’m always looking for the next project,” he said.

Following his time at Stephens College, he took a position near Chicago at Dominican University. There, he served as program director and chair for the Physician Assistant Studies Program. And while he loved his time in Chicago, he found himself longing for his native Missouri.

So, when Johnson got a text from a former colleague about the opening at UMKC, he jumped at the opportunity. He has checked off several boxes throughout his career, but he had yet to work at a public university, he said, or a PA program embedded in a medical school.

“I am really excited to learn about the interaction with the PA program and the medical school, and fostering a strong relationship with the two,” he said. “I see it as so mutually beneficial.”

Art and Science Collaborate for Safer Surgeries

The Surgical Innovations Lab at the UMKC School of Medicine, led by Gary Sutkin, M.D., was formed in 2016 to better understand how patient safety may be threatened in the operating room and how to make surgery safer. It approaches this mission with an inter-disciplinary team through a multitude of methodologies, including biomedical engineering, ethnography and now art.

A member of Sutkin’s team is Margaret Brommelsiek, Ph.D., associate research professor in the School of Nursing and Health Studies and the School of Medicine. Together, they are collaborating on an art and medicine project called Visual Excavation: Reconstructing Scientific Data into Visual Artifacts.

It was designed to extend the lab’s research data through visualization in the form of artist books. Brommelsiek, who is also a practicing artist, developed the images through mining data contained in the lab’s research protocols relating to quality and safety in the operating room, team communication and interprofessional surgical team interactions.

The importance of the artwork is being recognized by the artistic community as a whole. Brommelsiek and Sutkin have created five books consisting of the pieces accompanied with poems written by Sutkin and Brommelsiek. Those books are now included in the library of the National Museum of Women in Art in Washington, D.C. The institution is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts. The library’s collection includes 1,000 unique books and limited editions created by women artists in a variety of formats.

“It’s really an honor to be included in their collection and how artists and art can engage in science,” said Brommelsiek. “Hopefully, these books will inspire other future artists to collaborate in fields outside of the arts.”

By going beyond charts and graphs, Brommelsiek’s art provides a visual narrative documenting the lived experiences of the researchers. Conducting ethnographic studies, her research examines the dynamics within the operating room environment, using a humanities-informed lens and identifying parallels between medicine and art. Her finished pieces, which she describes as abstract, use collage as the primary medium to create an essence of the experiences of research processes.

“Margaret’s art and background have really opened up a window in my mind where I view my research differently and even surgery itself,” said Sutkin, who also serves as associate dean of women’s health at the School of Medicine.

According to Sutkin, this is the lab’s first foray into true art incorporation. “We’ve been making theoretical models and try to make them visual, but this is a new direction for us.”

Much of Sutkin’s research focuses on the use of a trocar, an intimidating surgical instrument used during bladder surgeries where the wrong amount of pressure can lead to dire consequences in female patients. These procedures often require working without visual cues. Through the lab, Sutkin has been able to create a surgical model that mirrors this procedure by mapping pressure used during trocar insertion. An important part of this research was having access to a cadaver.

“I wanted to really capture Dr. Sutkin’s visceral experience of the cadaver,” said Brommelsiek. “The textures, the way the surgeon’s hands were crucial, as well as the instrument itself, even the mesh that is used in the surgeries. It’s not literal, but the essence is captured in the imagery.”

This project took shape when they received funding through the KU Medical Center Frontiers Trailblazer Awards. The program provides financial support to assist with targeted research in a variety of areas of health care.

We thought it would be interesting to take three aspects of our research that had differing perspectives and extend the research data to a visual form,” said Brommelsiek. “How could we visually see the output of the research process and find meaning through a visual lens of expression?”

The backbone of their creative process is conversations around science, but also other fields of shared interest including art, philosophy, literature, films and, of course, health care. It is through this ongoing dialogue that several research protocols have emerged.

“We’ll be discussing some of the science in our research but we’ll also touch on film, visual art or novels that have a relationship to what we’re doing,” said Brommelsiek. “It all feeds into our creative process and how our research is developed.”

It’s an active spring in the Health Sciences District

The warm weather is here – and the UMKC Health Sciences District has a number of upcoming healthy initiatives for staff, students and faculty. Whether it’s an e-bike rental or a walking group, the District is working to get everyone active and outdoors.

The Health Sciences District Run/Walk club has begun again this year. Each weekday over the lunch hour, you can join fellow students, faculty, staff and friends from throughout the district to run or walk the 2.5-mile route. If you’re interested in participating, the group meets at 24th St. and Charlotte – just look for the Run/Walk sign. New this year: the group is putting together a team to participate in the Hospital Hill Run.

Unlike past year’s, this year’s race will take place on Saturday, June 1. The starting and finishing lines for all three race distances – 5K, 10K, and half marathon – will be set up at Kansas City’s Crown Center. All UMKC running enthusiasts, faculty, staff, students and alumni, may receive a 20 percent discount on registration. To sign up for any of the day’s races, use the code UMKCDISC19. Register at  hospitalhillrun.com. If you’re not participating as a runner but would still like to get involved, the event is looking for volunteers. Contact Alison Troutwine at alison.troutwine@tmcmed.org for more information.

On April 24, the District will be host to a free pop-up yoga class. Start time is at 5:15 pm. The class will be held outdoors in the green amphitheater space on the NE Corner of 25th St. and Holmes Rd. All registered participants will be entered to win a free yoga mat and a gift card from Ruby Jean’s Juicery. If interested, bring your own mat and register at umkchealthsciencesdistrict.org.

And if you need help getting around to all these fun activities, the District has you covered. RideKC Bike has released a new fleet of smart, electric-assisted bikes housed in the district for bike share users. They are already available just outside the UMKC Health Sciences Bookstore, and you can start or end your trip at any RideKC Bike hub around the city. To. Get started, download the Drop Mobility app to find bikes and hub locations near you. Your first ride is free.

The district is committed to encouraging a healthy lifestyle throughout our District community. It’s a perfect time to enjoy this beautiful weather and take advantage of these great offerings.