Friday, September 28, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Christopher Kennedy '08

If you work for Lewis alumnus Christopher Kennedy (’08), you have probably heard him repeat this quote by author James Allen: “Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”

For Kennedy, the quote is a reminder of the daily choice to either remain with the status quo, or to improve and pursue something greater. As an innovator in the complex field of biotechnology and telemedicine, Kennedy daily has the choice to leave the healthcare system as it is – in many ways, elusive to patients who need help – or to pave a path for patients to receive quality care.

“A significant issue in healthcare today is that a scorecard is missing,” explains Kennedy. “As a patient, you’re not sure what inning it is or what the batting average is of the doctor that you’re working with. Performance accountability is sometimes completely missing.”

This “missing scorecard” makes it extremely difficult for patients to navigate the world of healthcare, especially patients with rare or chronic illnesses. That’s why Kennedy has made patient empowerment his goal.

As Chief Operating Officer of Heritage Biologics, Kennedy is in the business of making patient experience a measurable outcome. Heritage Biologics is, in its most basic sense, a rare disease home infusion and specialty pharmacy. But its mission is much larger. The company is constantly seeking ways to give patients a voice and connect them to the resources they need. Heritage’s RARECARE software program captures patient Quality of Life (QoL) metrics and Patient Reported Outcomes Measures (PROMs) that provide valuable insights into a patient’s journey. RARECARE also allows patients to rate their actual service experience, which helps to keep healthcare providers accountable and show them how they can improve.

A quick search of recent patient experience data will populate with countless messages that exemplify how Heritage Biologics is making a difference. “The pharmacist changed my world with the information they gave me,” says one patient. Another writes: “I can’t wait to see to see my nurse again; I look forward to it each week.”

While patient experiences at Heritage Biologics are filled with positive interactions, it is not the norm for the wider healthcare system. There is no better example of this than when Kennedy himself visited a patient in the hospital. While Kennedy sat in the room, an ER doctor told the patient that he couldn’t be admitted because his chronic condition was too much of a liability. The doctor then sent the patient away with painkillers.

The disheartening scene remains a strong reminder for Kennedy that his work is needed. Of course, Kennedy’s work goes far beyond Heritage Biologics. He is also the creator of HemoMD, an on-demand virtual care platform that enables patients with hemophilia, a rare blood disorder, to connect with specialists. Many patients only have access to a specialist physician one time a year. If the patient has an emergency, it is likely that the ER doctor has not had any interaction with hemophilia since their medical school days. HemoMD enables these doctors to gain peer-to-peer support from specialists experienced in treating the disease.

The American Telemedicine Association honored Kennedy for his work on HemoMD with the President’s Award for Innovation in Remote Healthcare, which recognizes important advances in the field of telemedicine. But Kennedy is only just getting started. His goal is to begin providing similar services for other rare disorders nationwide.

“The only way that we are going to defeat the current business approach to healthcare is through patient-centric solutions that deliver measurable outcomes,” Kennedy says. “No one holds healthcare more accountable than patients themselves. We need to empower patients and help them become more informed healthcare consumers. When consumers demand more for their dollar, the market will ultimately listen. Just ask Amazon and their current star ranking system for products. Patients deserve this type of model in healthcare too.”

Kennedy attributes Lewis for being an important stepping stone along his journey. As a student in the Master of Science in Management program and the Executive Leadership Certificate, Kennedy gained comprehensive and applicable information that he was able to implement in the workplace immediately. Throughout the program, Father Kevin Spiess provided strong mentorship and encouraged Kennedy to commit himself to learning something outside of the classroom. Kennedy took the advice to heart and began to learn web design, which later enabled him to create his own websites.

Where some see healthcare as a business to bring in profit, Kennedy sees it as a system that should be bent on helping patients have the best experience possible. Through his work at Heritage Biologics and HemoMD, he is part of a value-based healthcare discussion that is changing healthcare for the better. Kennedy is one of many Lewis alumni impacting their communities through their talents and passion. As author James Allen said, “You will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, and your ideal.”  

Friday, September 14, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Erin Reichert '05 - The "Mom" of Bluffton High

Erin Reichert receives the Milken Educator Award at a surprise assembly, surrounded by her students.

When Bluffton High students in South Carolina were asked which teacher they would most likely refer to as “mom,” there was little debate that it would be Mrs. Reichert. It comes as no surprise when you hear about the unique and personal ways in which Erin (Clemmons) Reichert (’05) connects with her students and inspires a passion for learning. In fact, Reichert’s teaching philosophy has not only won the affection of her students, but has also earned her the Milken Educator Award – referred to by many as the “Oscar” of teaching.

Nevertheless, Reichert will be the first to tell you that this was never part of her plan. “You never know what your story is going to be,” Reichert says. “I thought I was going to be a lifer in Chicago. But my journey came from out of the blue.”

Reichert grew up in Illinois and planned to stay there for her entire life. She started her teaching career in Chicago, where she learned from an incredible teaching staff. For her, it was truly a dream job. Right after she finished her bachelor’s degree, she went to Lewis University for her master’s degree in school counseling. But halfway through the program, she started wondering if she even wanted to do school counseling. As God would have it, it is a degree that she uses daily in her teaching and interactions with her students – including her very first day of teaching: September 11, 2001.

“What I learned at Lewis makes me think of my students in a different way, using counseling skills to incorporate ease into their minds,” Reichert explains. “It led to the person I am in the school – not just a content teacher, but someone who can relate to them differently and talk to them about college, goals, and life. They know that I am going to focus on them as a person and that I care more about their character and living up to their potential than their specific grades."

Reichert’s plan also took a turn when she married and moved with her husband to South Carolina. She left her dream job and moved to a new state where she, in the beginning, felt out of place. She really struggled – until she stopped wishing she was in Chicago and realized that her own “transplant” helped her to better relate to her students, many of whom had moved from other states themselves or, in some way, felt out of place in their lives.

Through life’s twists and turns, Reichert ultimately held on to what she learned at Lewis. She takes the time to instill in her students a confidence in themselves. Sometimes they don’t see their own potential, so she helps them to see it. In her history classes, and the Youth and Government program she spearheads, she gets her students genuinely excited to learn and actively engaged – not only in the classroom, but also in the community. Many of her students have gone on to work in government or become active community members and citizens. Many students have come back to her to tell her that she is the reason they are who they are. For Reichert, that’s what teaching is all about. While she boasts an impressive list of learning opportunities and programs for her students, at the end of the day, her approach towards her students as unique individuals is what made her the “mom” of Bluffton High.

And Reichert’s approach was noticed by more than just her students. In 2018, she received the Milken Educator Award during a surprise assembly in her honor. The prestigious award, which includes a gift of $25,000, is given to early-to-mid career education professionals who display excellence in education and promise for the future. Currently, an American Educator Museum is being built which faces the White House and will display Milken Award winners, Reichert included.

Reichert was shocked when she learned she was a recipient of the award. But, in her typical fashion, she acknowledged that the award was about her students, not her. From receiving a student-centered Lewis education to becoming a truly student-centered educator, Reichert daily lives out the Lewis mission to transform the lives of her students through inclusive community, quality education, and a respect for the dignity of each individual. In other words, Reichert truly is the “mom” of Bluffton High.

Click here to watch the video of Reichert receiving the Milken Educator Award.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Lewis Mission Moments - Darian Blanks '17 - One Step at a Time

In the seven days leading up to his retirement from the United States Air Force, what should have been a time characterized by optimism and excitement for the future, Darian Blanks (’17) woke up in a hospital bed, having suffered a terrible crash that would eventually lead to him being told he would never walk again.

Darian was on his motorcycle in 2010 when he was hit by a 19 year-old drunk driver. The traumatic accident left his spine severely injured. Eight months later, he went in for a major surgery, but due to an issue during the procedure, was told he would never regain the use of his legs. Despite the diagnosis, Darian refused to believe the doctor’s words. In fact, he flat out rejected them.

I knew I was going to find a way to walk again,” Darian recalls. “I grew up in a military and police family who taught me to fight through it. And I wanted to teach my son that no matter how much you struggle, you can fight through the difficulties and come out stronger.”

Because of his relentless optimism, through a total of 16 spinal surgeries and over two years of treatment, Darian did exactly what he said he would: he walked. He walked for his son. He walked for his fellow brothers in arms. He walked because he knew he still had important work left to do. After losing a veteran brother to suicide, Darian realized that he would never be content sitting behind a computer while his brothers were struggling. So he began studying social work at Lewis University.

Over the course of his two years, he would often go to classes in a wheelchair or on crutches, still working through treatment for his spinal injury. And as a single father in the middle of a custody battle for his son, Darian would drive halfway across the state every other weekend – all while working full-time trying to provide for his family. Through it all, he continuously received support from social work professors at Lewis, who spent hours with him in their offices. He would often receive calls from his professors in the evening, checking to see how he was doing.

“My professors made me believe in my own potential,” Darian says. “They were like family to me, and they even told me I could go on to an Ivy League school.”

But when Darian realized that he had run out of his veteran Post-9/11 benefits, while still working to pay for his medical bills and provide for his son, he was unsure of how he would be able to continue his studies. That’s when Lewis awarded him the Trailblazer Scholarship. The scholarship allowed Darian to not only finish his degree, but make an impact at Lewis – and show his son anything is possible.

While at Lewis, Darian became the President of Student Veterans of America as well as the Social Work Association, which he grew from 6 members to over 75 members. He got students exposed to different areas of social work, fundraised for a variety of causes, was active in community outreach, and took students to Springfield for advocacy days.

Darian’s optimism, and the support of his Lewis family, made it possible to fight through the difficulties and come out stronger, just as he was taught by his family. It also paved the way for him to make an impact for fellow veterans and countless individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Darian is now completing his master’s degree in social work at Columbia University in New York, focusing on substance abuse issues, mental health, and policy – which will allow him to have an impact on veterans on a macro scale. He works as a research intern, studying to what degree mental health and substance abuse affects homelessness in previously incarcerated African American women. Darian is also in the process of applying for a number of Ph.D. programs.