Sometimes, when I am feeling a little impish, I say that I’m just a poor country geneticist from Texas. With a little wink. I hope I’m a little more than that, though the status of anything from the country, and especially from Texas, has a certain authority I would be reluctant to pass up.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, played lacrosse (center midfield), enjoyed long hair and work boots in the 1970’s, majored in English at Hamilton College in upstate NY, and taught high school English at the prep school that I had attended – St. James School, which is very close to Antietam battlefield. For a while I worked at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass, as a noninvasive peripheral vascular technician under the great surgeon, Dr. Al Persson, and a dozen beautiful friends, an then, on my third try, I got into medical school at the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. Cut my hair, took the oath of office to become a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, and learned to march. Pete Mapes, a B-52 pilot who was also starting med school, showed me how to about face.
In anatomy class I met an Army girl, Paula Vogel. We married in 1985, I switched to the Army, and we went off to Tacoma, Washington to learn internal medicine (Paula) and pediatrics (me). Our first assignment after residency was at the 121 Evacuation Hospital, Yongsan, South Korea, after which we returned to the Washington, D.C. area for more training – dermatology for Paula, clinical genetics for me at Children’s National Medical Center. The Army then sent us to El Paso and later to San Antonio, Texas. Eventually I was privileged to wear the eagle insignia of colonel and retired in 2008, after 26 years in uniform. Along the way, I saw a lot of patients – the job of a clinical geneticist in the Army Medical Corps was primarily to see patients, and I broadened my care to include adults as well as children. Because I was in the right place at the right time, I was able to design health care policy for the Department of Defense, creating guidelines and leading work groups for newborn screening, serving a Consultant to the Army Surgeon General. I was awarded the coveted “A” proficiency designator, indicating that I had attained the highest professional status within my area of expertise. I was also privileged to serve on several important national policy groups – the ACMG Expert Group that recommended the first uniform, universal panel of conditions for newborn screening for the nation, and later the Secretary’s Advisory Group on Genetics, Health, and Society. The Army also gave me a little sabbatical – a year-long deployment with the 27th Main Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, in Taji, Iraq, where I learned a few things, some of which may become the core elements of another book.
Following my military career, I took a little nap. Then I decided to write about genetics – a chapbook or primer for just plain folks, because the way I saw it genetics was becoming an increasingly useful tool for understanding health and staying healthy, but the fundamental nature of our system of health care would never be capable of meeting those demands. Not enough literacy about health, medicine, and genetics among the people on the street and the professionals who have been trained to care for them. I finished the first draft about 5 years ago. The preliminary title is “Ten Steps to Improve Your Genetic Health,” and I am now on a journey to find the eleventh step – putting it to work.
For the past 5 years, I have been back in the clinic, first in private practice as a clinical geneticist, and then at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio – a proper job where I see lots of patients, teach lots of students and residents, have research, and still help with policy by serving on the Texas Newborn Screening Advisory Committee. I;m also on the boards of directors of two non-profits – the Down Syndrome Association of South Texas and Jewish Family Services.
Yup. I recon that’ll do for just a poor country geneticist.