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Duke Health’s Top News Stories in 2016

Published January 5, 2017 | Updated January 11, 2017

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DURHAM, NC -- As we begin the new year, it’s great to look back on what a strong year Duke Health had in 2016.

Two of the biggest stories last year focused on a common concept: a breakthrough.

In February, Vice President Joe Biden visited the Duke Cancer Institute and Duke University School of Medicine as part of the national “moonshot” initiative he launched to expand cancer research.

“There are promising areas that are potential breakthrough technologies,” Biden said during a roundtable discussion.  

Biden’s visit also included a lab tour and discussions with several health system leaders and researchers, including Duke’s 2015 Nobel laureate in chemistry, Dr. Paul Modrich.

“The Vice President’s staff thought we were a good place to visit because we are in the collaborative environment of the Research Triangle Park,” said Dr. Michael Kastan, executive director of the Duke Cancer Institute.

In May, the breakthrough concept surfaced again when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put Duke’s poliovirus therapy for glioblastoma, a rare form of brain cancer, on the fast track to speed research.  The treatment uses a modified form of the poliovirus and with the FDA granting it “breakthrough therapy designation,” researchers can now work more quickly to broaden clinical trials and test its efficacy. 

Other big stories in 2016 involved milestones, both for Duke Health and the patients who received care.

In June, Duke surgeons, led by Dr. Linda Cendales, performed North Carolina’s first hand transplant. 

The patient, Rene Chavez, 54, had lived most of his life without a left hand after a childhood accident. After the transplant, Chavez said he felt a renewed sense of optimism.

“I feel well. I think that I’m achieving a goal that maybe in my life, I wouldn’t be able to achieve,” he said during a press conference.

Meanwhile, Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care marked a milestone of its own in September: one year of providing holistic care for transgender children and teens.

“They’re individuals just like everyone else, trying to live a happy and productive life,” said Dr. Deanna Adkins, director of Duke Child and Adolescent Gender Care. 

Finally, in October, Heidi Fisk, a patient, and her long-time love, Jerremie Duncan, celebrated their bond in an intimate marriage ceremony outside Duke University Hospital.

The couple had tried to hold a wedding on several prior occasions, but Fisk’s ongoing battle with kidney disease disrupted plans. Hospital nurses who learned of their story jumped into action by donating time and money to plan the ceremony and buy decorations and a wedding cake.

“They are true caregivers. They’re living our mission,” said Vonda Capps, nurse manager, of the nurses’ efforts. 

Here’s hoping that 2017 at Duke Health is every bit as good as, if not better than, 2016. 

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