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Getting to Know You

Future gift focuses on people-centered care
Posted June 8, 2016
A life-saving experience for Claudia Serwer and Michael Skol inspired a generous commitment from their estate to the Johns Hopkins Center for Innovative Medicine. A life-saving experience for Claudia Serwer and Michael Skol inspired a generous commitment from their estate to the Johns Hopkins Center for Innovative Medicine.

In nearly 40 years as a doctor, David Hellmann has chaired the Department of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, written the book — make that several — on rheumatology, and created an incubator that brings together the brightest minds in science and business to tackle major medical quandaries.

But Hellmann still believes the best advances are made by wise physicians who notice something unique through careful observation and management of patients’ symptoms.

“The really terrific doctors who bring compassionate care to patients and appear to help the most, need the opportunity to collaborate with a team that can provide care and shine a light on problems,” says Hellmann, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and the Aliki Perroti Professor of Innovative Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. 

That kind of commitment to personal care paid off for Claudia Serwer. The now-retired foreign service officer came through the Johns Hopkins Emergency Department nearly 20 years ago, a week’s worth of pain and concern growing after doctors at other hospitals failed to diagnose a sudden, debilitating illness.

“Within 45 minutes at Johns Hopkins, a medical team of specialists had been put together to try to find out what I had. Dr. Hellmann said that although odds were overwhelmingly against my having a condition he had in mind, he began treatment for it immediately, just in case,” says Serwer. “After 13 days of hospital tests, I was told that, in fact, I had what he first thought it might be — a very rare, potentially fatal autoimmune condition. If it hadn’t been for Dr. Hellmann and the team he assembled, I believe wholeheartedly that I wouldn’t be alive today.”

Instead, she’s thriving and requires no further treatment for her condition.

Several years ago, Serwer and her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Michael Skol, pledged to leave a significant gift from their estate to support the kind of groundbreaking research and partnerships fostered by Hellmann’s Center for Innovative Medicine (CIM).

“I have grown to consider Johns Hopkins the best,” says Skol. “If you have something serious, you’d better get yourself on a train to Baltimore.”

Collaborative Care

Founded in 2004, CIM is a patient-centered think tank uniting doctors and educators from across medical disciplines, the sciences, industry, and even the arts in a collaborative environment. The emphasis is on creating a culture that leads all employees of a medical system to feel they can contribute to patient care and the future of medicine.

“The idea is that if you get to know the person, it enables the doctor to cut down on mistakes and find solutions that work,” says Serwer, a member of CIM’s International Advisory Board.

Partnerships between some of the nation’s best clinicians and medical professors are leading to innovations that have immediate impact. Antony Rosen, MD, chief of the Division of Rheumatology and vice dean for Research, has identified about 20 patients whose autoimmune disease was brought on by an immune system fighting undiagnosed cancer. He is now broadening the research, part of a scientific community intent on discovering new immunotherapies.

Meanwhile, staff in several centers of excellence — including the Rheumatic Disease Research Core, the Older Americans Independence Center, and the Center for Inherited Disease Research — have access to shared intellect, research support, and cutting-edge equipment for histology, genetic and imaging work. Concepts that work in one specialty are developed into templates that are shared with other medical professionals.

Serwer and Skol watch the work of Hellmann and CIM with appreciation, ticking off accomplishments like FDA approval for a new vasculitis treatment, improved imaging techniques and relationship-building with patients. They chose not to limit their gift with any restrictions, but to let Hellmann and his staff decide what needs are most pressing when the time comes.

“CIM has done so much to save the lives of so many people,” says Skol. “I just can’t imagine a more productive use of our funds.”