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A lifelong interest in medicine comes full circle

Meg Augustine's support of young cancer and neurosurgery researchers has roots in her childhood dream of becoming a doctor
Posted January 29, 2018
Meg Augustine's support enabled Corinna Zygourakis, left, to come to Hopkins after completing her residency at the University of California, San Francisco. During her fellowship, Zygourakis has worked at the cutting edge of robot-assisted spine surgery with Nick Theodore, a professor of neurosurgery, right. (credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine Marketing and Communications) Meg Augustine's support enabled Corinna Zygourakis, left, to come to Hopkins after completing her residency at the University of California, San Francisco. During her fellowship, Zygourakis has worked at the cutting edge of robot-assisted spine surgery with Nick Theodore, a professor of neurosurgery, right. (credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine Marketing and Communications)

When Meg Augustine was a young girl growing up in Sweden, she dreamt of becoming a doctor. As soon as she was old enough, she volunteered at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, doing anything she was asked — cleaning windows, serving food, and reading and writing letters for the patients she met.

"I always had an interest in how people could help others through medicine," Augustine says.

Meg Augustine

Over the years, her life's path veered away from medical school and toward a successful business career and building a family with her husband, Norman Augustine, a Hopkins trustee emeritus. But Meg Augustine's interest in medicine — and, specifically, medical discovery — persisted. She's channeled that passion by establishing the Margareta Augustine Fellowships in the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery.

"Research is at the forefront of medicine, and Hopkins is the best in the country at this," says Augustine, who requested the fellowships be given to doctors specializing in breast and blood cancers, and neuro-oncology. "But these fellows, they're very young, and they often aren't sure how they're going to get the money to pursue the research they're interested in. I'd rather see these brilliant people in the lab, working on their research, than outside trying to figure out how to pay for it all," she says.

Many recipients of the Augustine Fellowships have worked directly in the cancer research realm. Brian Dalton, for example, conducted research on the mutation of genes in certain cancers to develop better diagnostics and therapies. He's now an instructor of oncology in the lab of Ben Ho Park, a professor of oncology with whom Dalton completed his fellowship.

But Augustine's most recent gift has roots in her service on the Neurosurgery Advisory Board and a 2011 article she read in Hopkins Medicine magazine. The piece described the work Ali Bydon, a professor of neurosurgery, was doing to test instruments to improve patient outcomes after spinal surgery.

"I emailed him about it, and then he invited me to Hopkins to meet with him," says Augustine of her more than eight-year friendship with the neurosurgeon, who visited her home in Florida last year and gave her a research update.

"I asked him, 'what's the next step? What do you need?'" she recalls, and Bydon suggested bringing on a clinical spinal fellow. Augustine committed her support.

"There are only about 20 or so clinical spine fellowships like this in the country, and there are not any other spine fellows at Hopkins," Bydon says. "Having this kind of fellowship is important because teaching is a basic tenet of Hopkins — if we don't teach and propagate our knowledge, then we've done nothing."

A few months later, Corinna Zygourakis arrived as Hopkins' first clinical fellow in spine surgery. In addition to Bydon, Zygourakis has worked with Nick Theodore, a professor of neurosurgery who specializes in robot-assisted spine surgery, and the Carnegie Center for Surgical Innovation. She's also enjoyed having an opportunity to try something new in the operating room: teaching.

"I've always been the student or the surgeon, so I've been learning how to show other people how to do surgery — which is important, because I want to go into academic spine surgery," Zygourakis says.

It’s a path that in another lifetime, Augustine herself may have pursued. Now, though, she's pleased to have an opportunity, partnering with Hopkins, to help others through the power of medicine.

"Do I feel like in this way, I’ve come full circle?" she asks. "Yes, I do, sometimes."

To learn more about how you can support fellowships at Johns Hopkins Medicine, please contact Michael Hibler, executive director of development for the Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer.