Get Your Rear In Gear with #TeamOHSU

Dan Hawkins_GYRIG_073117_525

At 29, Dan Hawkins wasn’t thinking about cancer. He was busy working, traveling, following his favorite sports teams and playing poker. But his diagnosis inspired him to organize Portland’s “Get Your Rear in Gear” 5K walk and run, an event to boost awareness about colon cancer and raise funds for local cancer screening programs.

Read more…

Knight Cancer Institute researcher fights cancer with world-class athletes

OHSU Knight Cancer Institute researcher Amy Moran, Ph.D., is working with USA Track & Field athletes and the American Cancer Society to raise money for the fight against cancer.

The “Together: Nothing Is Impossible” campaign features Moran in a public service announcement with two-time Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor and 2014 USA Track & Field indoor champion Gabe Grunewald, a cancer survivor. The campaign encourages Americans to pledge money for each medal U.S. athletes win at the world championships this August in London. The American Cancer Society will receive 75 percent of the proceeds for cancer research, and 25 percent will be directed to support USA Track & Field athlete development programs.

In 2014, Moran received a grant from the American Cancer Society to investigate a major player in immunotherapies, the killer T-cell, a type of white blood cell that targets cells compromised by infection or cancer. Tumors, however, often evolve ways to evade targeting by killer T-cells. Moran’s research used genetically engineered mice to explore T-cell interactions with tumors and better understand how to engage the immune system to target cancer.

At the time, Moran was a postdoc working at Providence Portland Medical Center and was uncertain about whether she would stay in academia or not.

“Getting the call from ACS that I was funded was a turning point for me,” said Moran. “I decided that if they were going to take a chance on me, I’d take a chance on an academic research career. I’m so glad I did.”

Moran joined OHSU in April as an assistant professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Cancer Biology with a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Today her research focuses on the immunological underpinnings of prostate cancer. She’s currently collaborating with Julie Graff, M.D., and the Knight Cancer Institute’s prostate cancer team.

“It was an honor to work with these outstanding athletes,” said Moran.
“I’m proud to be part of the incredible team here at OHSU
and this national effort to raise funds for cancer research.”

The campaign will debut during NBC coverage of the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships this weekend (June 23-25) and run through August 14. Learn more at and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #nothingisimpossible.

Photo: Amy Moran, Ph.D., photographed with USATF two-time Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor and 2014 USATF indoor champion Gabe Grunewald, a cancer survivor, in Eugene, OR in May at the Prefontaine Classic. Photo provided by Amy Moran.

Celebrating survivorship at OHSU

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day (June 4), we’re kicking off a new series highlighting OHSU employees who have personally experienced cancer – and how this unique and deeply personal perspective influences their work here. Thank you Matt, Kara, Christi and everyone who has already shared.

Matt McCallum

Matt_189Matt was in the best shape of his life and training for a half marathon when it started: the exhaustion, headaches and body pains. Soon after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a fast-growing form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Today, Matt coordinates clinical trials for the prostate cancer research team at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and says it’s a dream come true.

“The data we gather on these trials helps us better understand the disease and paves the way for future therapies and treatments,” says Matt. “I can’t think of a better reason to get out of bed in the morning.” Read more

Kara Skaflestad Dolce

 Kara_189“After being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 26, I was quickly faced with a woman in the mirror who I didn’t recognize. A woman with scars, no hair, no eyelashes and someone who looked a lot like me, but now with a wig, some pink lipstick and a bright scarf. Trying to look good helped me feel good.”

When she isn’t in the office, Knight Cancer Institute marketing manager Kara volunteers her time running a non-profit she launched soon after her diagnosis to help women battling cancer feel strong and beautiful. To date, “Fighting Pretty” has sent 4,000 Pretty Packages to 49 U.S. states and 7 countries. Today, Kara is nine years cancer free and says she tries to “start each day with a deep breath and gratitude for whatever comes.”

Christi Richardson-Zboralski

 Christi_189During a routine exam, Christi’s gynecologist noticed a node in the thyroid bed area on her neck. Soon after, she was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer that had metastasized to some of her lymph nodes. It’s been eight years since she had her thyroid and 42 lymph nodes removed at OHSU. She says she found strength through writing and connecting with others who have experienced cancer.

“Seek support even if you don’t think you need it,” Christi advises. “It is an extremely emotional experience even if you get a highly treatable type of cancer.” Today, Christi is part of the communications team at the OHSU School of Nursing.

Do you have a survivorship story you’d like to share with us? Please email


Collaboration gives distant patients access to specialized cancer treatment

gynecologic oncologist

Melissa Moffitt, M.D., cares for one of her patients.

After Claudia Burton’s mother died of ovarian cancer, always on the back of her mind was the possibility she too might have to confront it one day. That didn’t make it easier when the day came.

“I assumed it was a death sentence,” says Burton, who was 73 when she was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. She underwent chemotherapy in Salem, followed by surgery in Portland. Then she had more chemotherapy treatment back in Salem — including intraperitoneal therapy, in which anti-cancer drugs are injected directly into the space between the muscles and organs in a patient’s abdomen.

Now, almost four years after Burton’s last treatment, the cancer remains in remission. Looking back, the former law professor at Willamette University in Salem says it was critically important that she could have her chemotherapy and pre- and post-surgery appointments near her home in Salem, rather than having to travel to Portland. “In fact, I don’t know that I would have done the chemo if the resources had not been available in Salem,” she says.

Read more…

Advice for Billy

Last week, Jimmy Kimmel gave an emotional update to the world that his newborn son, Billy, was born with a congenital heart defect that required surgery to correct. As Mr. Kimmel started his monologue, he assured his audience that this story “has a happy ending.” I’d like to assure the Kimmel family that as with this first chapter’s happy ending, many more wonderful and fulfilling chapters in Billy’s life are possible. I know because I also was born with Tetralogy of Fallot and I’ve done so much in my life. After living and traveling abroad, raising two kids, 37 years of marriage, and with my 65th birthday on the horizon, I can tell you that life is grand, despite the scar on my chest.

When I was born in 1952, surgery for these heart defects was still relatively new. I was born a textbook “blue baby” from a lack of oxygen. I was as fortunate as you are, Billy, to have excellent doctors. My first surgery, and the first to be offered to patients like us, is known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Dr. Helen Taussig, who helped develop the thinking behind this procedure that bears her name, was my pediatric cardiologist. In those days, she recommended waiting until the heart had grown to almost adult size, so I had my first surgery three days before my 10th birthday. Before then I saw the world from my father’s shoulders or from a stoop or squat to catch my breath. I had many friends who treated me like any other kid, but also were patient with my stooping and limitations. I have so many happy memories. After the shunt, I felt cured. I could walk without stooping, I could ride my bike, swim the length of the pool, and I even played field hockey! Just before I turned 14, my father announced that I was going to have the second corrective surgery done that summer. I was a bit miffed and as a normal teenager, I informed my father, “NO”. Well, I had more great surgeons and nurses and I did have that surgery, and then I really was “cured”. There was no holding me back! So now I have some advice to share.

Jane as a child

Jane as a child

Take care of your health, as everyone should

I know this seems obvious but it’s important. Some will refer to your condition as congenital heart disease. Personally, I have lived my life believing that I was born with heart defects that were corrected. However, just as I see the dentist every six months for preventative care, I see a cardiologist every year. So find a congenital heart cardiologist you trust and have regular check-ups. It will make you and your parents feel better.

Listen to your doctor, then live life to the fullest

Remember, Billy (and parents), the sky’s the limit. By the time you’re an adult that may include outer space as well! Ride a bike, play sports, hike, ski, run, jump, travel, swim, do whatever work brings you happiness, and play, play, play. If the doctor says it’s okay, then go! I did all these things and more thanks to my family who never sheltered me, gave me good advice, and encouraged me to see the world and love life.

My father always told me, “You had two heart defects and they were fixed. Now you are healthy.” I have had a wonderful life since. I wish all this and more for you, Billy.


Jane Pallister

Jane Pallister

Ask an expert, see a photo tribute, raise awareness at ‘War on Skin Cancer’ event

The third annual “War on Skin Cancer” event will bring OHSU researchers, patients and community members together to educate and advance the science of skin cancer prevention and treatment on Saturday, May 20.

13235092_1017448831664144_5795627893784997778_oThe free event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Collaborative Life Sciences Building and will offer attendees the opportunity to participate in skin cancer research, hear directly from experts and local dermatologists, and receive tips for sun safety and cancer prevention. Featured events and activities include:

6th Annual NW Melanoma 5k Walk and Fun Run
AIM at Melanoma and SolSurvivors, local not-for-profits, will host a community walk to raise awareness of skin cancer: NW Melanoma 5k Walk and Fun Run. All net proceeds from the fun run will support the Melanoma Tissue Bank at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

Ask an expert at the Melanoma Scientific Symposium
OHSU Knight Cancer Institute physicians and expert guest speakers, including keynote speaker Jedd Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will provide an overview of the latest advances in the prevention and treatment of melanoma. There will be a special Q&A session tailored to patients and community members from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Photo gallery: Melanoma scars and storiesKGBThumbnail_1
OHSU dermatology resident Kelly Griffith-Bauer, M.D., will share moving photography she captured through her SCAR Project. Learn about the people behind the scars, their journey and what they’ve learned about themselves, this disease and their hopes for the future.

Research and information tables
OHSU scientists and physicians will be available to discuss their latest research efforts:

  • Pamela Cassidy, Ph.D., a research associate professor in OHSU’s Department of Dermatology, is studying genetic factors that affect risk for melanoma. Attendees can complete a family tree or “pedigree” to reveal family history and potential risk for melanoma; talk with the study team, receive feedback and potentially provide a saliva sample for future melanoma DNA research.
  • Tracy Petrie, Ph.D., is a computer scientist overseeing the development of the free Mole Mapper iOS phone application, created by cancer biologist Dan Webster, Ph.D., that lets you map, measure, and monitor moles over time. Attendees will be able to test the app’s newest feature.
  • Amanda Lund, Ph.D., a cancer immunologist is examining the environment of primary melanomas that develop in the skin to understand what features might predict response.
  • Research assistant, Naomi Mirza, and Steven Jacques, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Dermatology, will use optical fiber spectrometer measurements to quantify melanin and blood content in the skin at the event to inform the design and simulation of future technologies.
  • Robert Duvoisin, Ph.D., and Catherine Morgans, Ph.D., of OHSU’s Physiology and Pharmacology Department are studying MAR, a visual symptom caused by an immune response against a cancer, as a potential screening tool to help save lives. The team is currently recruiting patients to determine how widespread this response is and whether it can be used to test for melanoma recurrence.
  • Stephen Lloyd, Ph.D., professor, and Amanda McCullough, Ph.D., associate professor, in OHSU’s Molecular and Medical Genetics Department are studying a topical product to enhance the body’s natural DNA repair enzymes to help prevent cancer from forming.
  • Melissa Wong, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Dermatology, and her laboratory discovered a novel cell population that is found in the blood of cancer patients. The group is developing these cells as liquid biopsies to gather information about the tumor for early detection of cancer.
  • Prakash Ambady, M.D., an assistant professor of neurology, is leading a pilot study to evaluate the accuracy of identifying brain tumor progression in cancer patients that have received immunotherapy. This study will also investigate the effectiveness of immunotherapy on brain tumors, which will include patients with melanoma that has spread to the brain.
  • Neil Box, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, is studying how UV damage accumulates in people with different skin types to better estimate melanoma risk. Find out how your skin has been damaged by UV rays and what you can do to minimize the damage.

This event is a mainstay of the nationwide “War on Melanoma” campaign led by Sancy Leachman, M.D., Ph.D. Leachman is director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Melanoma Research Program and chair of the OHSU Department of Dermatology.

Interested in getting involved? Join the Melanoma Community Registry, a volunteer research cohort developed to speed the research process by identifying people affected by this disease and those who are interested in learning or doing more.

Visit the event website for more information and to view a complete agenda.

OHSU announces NCAA basketball team

March Madness is sweeping OHSU. As a new way to introduce Oregonians, and all Americans, to what OHSU offers, OHSU will once again have a basketball team beginning with the NCAA 2018 season. The team name and mascot will throw back to OHSU’s rich athletics department history, naming themselves after the former School of Dentistry’s team, the Yankers.

photo: OHSU library

OHSU Yankers. Photo: OHSU Historical Collections & Archives

The OHSU Yankers will play in the NCAA Division III Northwest Conference at first, which also includes the Pacific Lutheran Lutes and Lewis and Clark Pios. However, the 20 year vision for the Yankers will include leveling up to Division I status, taking on the likes of the University of Oregon.

The EdComm department has been secretly preparing for this launch and recently won the recreational league championship at the OHSU Student Center.

Sue Pertall, a player on the secret EdComm team, said of the announcement to join the NCAA, “That pizza we won in the Student Center championship was the best. There better be pizza in the NCAA. With pineapples.”

Want to join the Yankers?

Tryouts will be in the Student Center every night for the following week. Anyone over six feet is encouraged to try out. If you can successfully ride on your friend’s shoulders for at least 15 minutes at a time, you are also asked to consider joining the team.

photo: Jordan Sleeth

EdComm basketball team. Photo: Jordan Sleeth


April Fools’! Unfortunately, OHSU does not have an NCAA basketball team (yet). There will be no tryouts.

This so-called adult life: Managing ACHD

You are probably tired of hearing it, but you’re an adult now. And your life has probably seen a lot of changes. Maybe you moved out of your house, went to college, started a relationship, or got a job…major changes.  Even with all of that on your plate, there’s one other thing you have to manage: your health.

Being born with a congenital heart defect means you are no stranger to doctors. And you have definitely outgrown the cutesy children’s clinics you attended until teenage years. But now is not the time to ghost on your cardiac care. In fact, it’s more important than ever.464841199

Even though it seems like one more thing to schedule in your increasingly hectic life, your Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) health care team is your greatest resource when it comes to navigating all these new experiences. Managing stress, drugs and alcohol, all of these things affect the heart.

While your desire not to rely on your parents is reasonable and a movement to independence is actually encouraged, consider them your allies in health. They’ve been on this journey with you. Make sure to talk to them about your health and adult care. Not because they worry (although of course they do) but they are your living medical record, can help recall important events and medications, and can relate to how hard this can be. Really.

The good news is even with ACHD you are likely not that different from your peers. Trying to figure out what you want to do with your life is pretty typical! Plus, everyone will face some kind of health challenges in adulthood.

You can stay ahead of these issues, but you are in the driver’s seat now. So in between those Tinder dates, make time for your cardiologist.


In this blog series, we will tackle the tough issues that young adults with congenital heart disease (ACHD) face as they manage a lifelong condition. Sex, drugs and alcohol, tattoos and piercings are considerations for many young adults, but those with ACHD might wonder: is it safe? The ACHD team at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute works to make sure no question goes unanswered, so if you have questions that go beyond the blog visit our website or submit your own question here.


2016_12_CAR_Liedtke_119[1] (1)Adrienne Kovacs, Ph.D., is a psychologist who works with people who have congenital heart disease—a heart problem that has been present since birth. She directs Behavioral Cardiovascular Care at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute.

The seeds of heart disease risk are planted before birth

Heart disease, rare only a century ago, is now the most common cause of death worldwide. Many explanations for this meteoric rise have been put forth, but most have fallen well short of explaining how this once rare chronic disease could kill the equivalent of the population of Portland, Oregon each year.

About 25 years ago an English epidemiologist named David Barker found that areas of England with high rates of infant deaths following WWII had high rates of adult death from heart disease 50 years later. His curiosity led to one of the largest paradigm shifts in medicine during the past century. Heart disease is not a result of faulty genes or how many value meals we consumed as adults.

Risk for heart disease is programmed into our makeup before we are even born based on how we grew in the womb.

How it workstoddler-with-baby-brother-850x570

Think about planting a garden – if the seeds are planted in poor soil and aren’t nourished with sunlight and water, the plants will grow poorly. They will be smaller and less healthy. The same is true for humans. A developing fetus senses its environmental surroundings and sets a growth pattern accordingly. If there are few nutritional stores available, the fetus will grow slowly and have a lower birth weight.

The heart, along with most of the body’s other organs and systems, is fully formed at birth and will only enlarge as we grow. A poor nutritional environment in the womb can lead to permanent changes in the structure of the heart, including fewer cells and poor blood flow. Since a body’s organs do not work in isolation, but in a synchronized concert we know that other effects of poor nutrition in the womb contribute to heart disease risk as well. Small babies are born with fewer kidney filtering units and therefore at risk for having high blood pressure as adults. They are also less able to process insulin and are therefore more likely to get diabetes. We also know their livers are less likely to handle cholesterol efficiently. High blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol are all independent risk factors for heart disease. Overall, low birth weight babies are less able to adapt to the world outside the womb and are more vulnerable for developing heart disease in adulthood.

Barker’s hypothesis was initially met with disbelief, after all it went against the messages health care providers had been promoting for decades – that heart disease resulted from poor dietary choices like too much saturated fat or too little fiber, poor lifestyle choices like smoking, or from as-yet-undiscovered genes.  How could birth weight predict death from heart disease 50 or more years later?

Multiple studies have now found the same link in differing populations, timeframes and geographic areas. What was once Barker’s hypothesis has become one of the fasted growing fields of research, now known as the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, or DOHaD.

Smaller full-term babies, those born at five pounds or less have a three to five times higher risk of dying from heart disease then those born at eight to nine pounds. The risk can be seen across a graded scale, with babies born at five pounds having a higher risk than those born at six pounds, and those born at seven pounds having a higher risk than those born at six pounds. Risk begins to increase again in larger birth weight babies, those born at 10 pounds and above. We now know that birth weight alone is merely a rough indicator of how a baby grew in the womb. Placental size, shape and function as well as the mothers’ body type all play a role in the development of adult onset heart disease.

What it means

While we have made incredible strides in treating heart disease so that fewer people die from it, we have done a poor job at preventing heart disease. The field of developmental origins shows us that to reduce rates of heart disease, we must focus on prevention much earlier than we once thought. Waiting to discuss nutrition with fifty-year-old adults is too late. We need to focus on improving our food culture to ensure adolescents and women of childbearing age have easy access to affordable, nutritious whole foods. This will ensure our hearts are built strong and heart disease can once again become a rarity.

This article has been republished from


Thornburg picture 2012Kent Thornburg, Ph.D. is Director of the Center for Developmental Health at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute, and Director of the Bob and Charlee Moore Institute for Nutrition & Wellness. He studies the roles of the placenta and the intrauterine environment as programming agents for adult-onset chronic disease and he leads studies on maternal diet and body in regulating fetal growth in women of Oregon.

Joe and Jodi: a love story

“She’s still here with me.”

Joe and Jodi Whitton at their home in Newberg, Oregon

Joe and Jodi Whitton at their home in Newberg, Oregon

When we sat down with Joe and Jodi Whitton to discuss Jodi’s lung cancer journey, the conversation quickly turned to their 48 years of life together. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d share a piece of their story.

Joe and Jodi met as teenagers – about six months before Joe left for Vietnam. A blind date led to a game of checkers and the rest, as they say, is history. After hearing the Texan say “thank you ma’am” for the first time, Jodi was smitten.

Unable to afford a traditional wedding and anxious to get married before Joe was deployed, they hurried to the courthouse. Divorce Court was in session but the judge agreed to marry them anyway. About two dozen people were in attendance (all getting divorces), but the young couple didn’t mind. After the brief ceremony they split a steak dinner and Joe shipped off that night for Vietnam.

Our conversation was filled with anecdotes from a life together. Like how Jodi wrote Joe a letter every day for 14 months whileJoe and Jodi he was in Vietnam. And how when Joe was stationed in Alameda, California he’d sneak off the boat each night to see her. Or the time a hospital accidently gave them “the Ferguson baby” and sent their daughter home with the wrong family. (They were reunited several hours later)

In between our interview questions, Joe was attentive to Jodi, checking to make sure she was comfortable and that she was taking in enough oxygen. “He does everything for me,” Jodi smiled.

The Whittons moved to Oregon in 1979 to raise their family. Joe worked for Boeing and Jodi was an interior designer. Today, the couple enjoys retirement with their four grown children and five grandchildren who live close by.

And after 48 years together? “We’re about halfway there,” Joe said with a grin.

For more on Jodi’s lung cancer story, visit our blog post.



Why 96,000 Square Miles?

OHSU Health Fair at Pioneer Square.

President Robertson is fond of saying that OHSU has a 96,000 square mile campus, serving Oregonians “from Enterprise to Coos Bay, from Portland to Klamath Falls.”

This blog aims to highlight that breadth. 96,000 Square Miles (96K for short) will focus on the people of OHSU, the Oregonians we serve and the ripple effect of our work in Oregon and beyond.

Read more

Participation Guidelines

Remember: information you share here is public; it isn't medical advice. Need advice or treatment? Contact your healthcare provider directly. Read our Terms of Use and this disclaimer for details.