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by Nancy Humphrey | Thursday, Mar. 23, 2017, 9:01 AM
When Carol Ann Gavin was transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) in 2010 after being gravely ill for weeks, one of the first people she met was critical care surgeon Richard Miller, M.D. She immediately trusted Miller’s assurance that he would get her well. He delivered on his promise.
“When he’s with you, you think you’re the only patient he’s got,” she later recalled.
In appreciation for her care, she and her husband, Charles Gavin III of Wartrace, Tennessee, established a fund in 2012 to support the fellowship program in the Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care.
Following her death last July from causes unrelated to the illness that brought her to VUMC, entrepreneur Charles Gavin took their appreciation of Miller, professor of Surgery and chief of Vanderbilt’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, one step further.
On what would have been Carol Ann’s 79th birthday, Dec. 21, 2016, Gavin made a gift to VUMC to establish two new funds in her memory.
The Carol Ann Gavin Directorship in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care creates an endowed fund that will provide ongoing support for the leader of the division.
The Carol Ann Gavin Innovation Fund in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care will provide current-use support for high-priority needs.
Miller said a group of senior trauma clinicians is currently deciding how best to use the Innovation Fund in Trauma and Surgical Critical Care.
The group is focusing on two areas — the division’s global surgery program under which VUMC trauma surgeons develop training programs for countries with limited resources, and the division’s fellowship program, with emphasis on additional training, outcomes research, epidemiology and prevention.
One area in need of funding for additional research is geriatric trauma and frailty, Miller said.
“We are looking at preventive measures and the rehabilitation of elderly patients. We don’t always have a good fix for those folks and we need to better find ways to help them,” Miller said. “The Gavins’ support will also help us recruit leaders in our field.”
Carol Ann Gavin became critically ill on Super Bowl Sunday in February 2010 while vacationing in Florida. But after two surgeries for a bowel obstruction at a Florida hospital, she continued to weaken.
She developed an enterocutaneous fistula, an abnormal opening that allows the contents of the stomach or intestines to leak through to the skin, and needed immediate attention.
Desperate for a solution, Charles Gavin sought advice from James Kasser, M.D., a relative by marriage who is an orthopaedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital. Kasser in turn got in touch with his former student Jonathan Schoenecker, M.D., Ph.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, for a recommendation. Thus the Gavins were ultimately connected with Miller. Airlifted to Nashville early on Easter morning in April 2010, the couple knew she would be in skilled hands.
The decision, which likely saved her life, led to a close friendship with Miller and the Gavins’ subsequent gifts to VUMC.
The Gavins are among many grateful patients, inspired by the expert and compassionate care they have received at VUMC, who have chosen philanthropic giving to support innovation, leadership and development of the next generation of health care leaders.
The Gavins’ initial support of the fellowship program supports continuing education — one educational trip a year — for a second-year acute care surgery fellow who is training to treat critically ill patients with complex conditions.
In addition to being skilled, the Gavins asked that the fellow selected to benefit from the support best embody the traits of empathy and kindness — the traits they most admire in Miller. The current Gavin fellow is Julie Valenzuela, M.D.
Miller, who completed his trauma and surgical critical care fellowship at Vanderbilt in 1992, said that critically ill patients like Carol Ann, and their families, “become part of the Vanderbilt family during their long and complex medical management.”
After Carol Ann recuperated from her experience in 2010, she and Charles returned to VUMC to hear Miller deliver a Surgical Grand Rounds presentation on her case, “The Management and Prevention of Enterocutaneous Fistula.”
Charles Gavin said after funding the initial fellowship fund, he and his wife “always knew we’d do something else” to honor Miller and for VUMC.
Miller said he considers Charles Gavin a dear friend and is grateful for his most recent gifts. Miller, his wife and children have visited at Gavin’s home.
Carol Ann enjoyed five years of quality life before she developed Alzheimer’s disease. Charles cared for her at home as long as he could.
Even after she was moved to a facility in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with round-the-clock care, she remained “the sweetest lady in the world,” he remembers.
The decision to officially make the gift on her birthday was fitting, he said, since “Carol Ann was a big birthday person,” Charles said. “Rick and Carol Ann had a very strong bond. She lit up when he was around. Dr. Miller is a terrific guy, and I wish we could clone him. I think we’re working in that direction.”
Nancy Humphrey, (615) 322-4747
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