Skin pathologist battles melanoma

January 30th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in From Our Alumni

By Vicki L. Kroll

Nicole Dominiak smiled for the camera after receiving the doctor of medicine degree at UT in 2012.

Nicole Dominiak smiled for the camera after receiving the doctor of medicine degree at UT in 2012.

In 2012, Dr. Nicole Dominiak was finishing her medical degree at The University of Toledo, planning her June wedding, and looking forward to moving to Charleston to start her residency in pathology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

But there was a snag.

“The mole was on my back, so I really couldn’t see it very well, but I could feel it on my shoulder and it would catch on my clothing,” she recalled.

Since Dominiak (A/S ’07, Pathology Certificate ’10, Med ’12) happened to be on a dermatology rotation at UT Medical Center, she asked Dr. Lorie Gottwald, professor and chief of the Division of Dermatology, to take a look at the back of her right shoulder and the dark, raised spot that measured about 6 millimeters.

“It was bothersome, so I just wanted the mole to be taken off. I asked her to biopsy it because I knew there would be a delay if I waited to establish with a dermatologist in Charleston. And I’m very grateful that she did,” Dominiak said.

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers at Match Day in 2012. She matched at her first choice, the Medical University of South Carolina.

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers at Match Day in 2012. She matched at her first choice, the Medical University of South Carolina.

Those biopsy results, however, caught everyone off-guard: invasive melanoma.

“Nicole’s mole was changing and also out of context with others on her skin, so it was biopsied,” Gottwald said. “I was somewhat surprised at the result, but if you biopsy something, the suspicion is there.”

“I got the phone call from Dr. Gottwald explaining my diagnosis. With that kind of startling news, I asked if I could come into her office. No appointment, no nothing. She said, ‘Absolutely,’” Dominiak said. “Meanwhile, while I was on my way — I didn’t know this at the time — she had called Dr. [Prabir] Chaudhuri from surgical oncology. So when I was sitting in her office, Dr. Chaudhuri came over in between his surgeries to take a look at everything and talk to me about the case.”

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers

Eighteen hours after her diagnosis, Dominiak was in surgery. Chaudhuri performed a wider excision of the area on her shoulder and a sentinel lymph node biopsy, which showed micrometastases in two of three sentinel nodes. He then performed a completion lymphadenectomy.

“Nicole is an amazing girl,” Chaudhuri, professor and surgical director of the UT Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center, said. “She handled the tremendous obstacle of undergoing a major operation in the face of her upcoming graduation and marriage ceremony. She was always upbeat, had an extremely positive attitude, and did not allow the diagnosis of melanoma to compromise the enjoyment of the finer things in her life.”

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers on their wedding day in 2012

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers on their wedding day in 2012

Stage-three melanoma was one life-changer Dominiak didn’t plan on. Three weeks after surgery, she married Sean Powers, firefighter and paramedic. Seven days later, she received the doctor of medicine degree, and the newlyweds moved to Charleston two weeks after commencement.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, that’s so ironic you chose dermatopathology after your diagnosis.’ The real irony is I had already decided this was the area I wanted to specialize in and my diagnosis came after,” Dominiak said. “If I wasn’t interested in that area, if I didn’t have the knowledge that I had from being in medical school, I’m not sure my course would have been as positive and optimistic.”

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers on their honeymoon in St. Lucia.

Nicole Dominiak and Sean Powers on their honeymoon in St. Lucia.

Her confidence grew at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she was treated by oncologists who specialize in melanoma.

“At that time, there weren’t a lot of treatments after surgery,” she said. “Pretty much the only therapy that was approved for stage-three and stage-four melanoma in the adjuvant setting was interferon. Based on the fact that I had positive sentinel lymph nodes and the depth of my tumor and after speaking with a medical oncologist, we all agreed that going that route would be the best course.”

So the 27-year-old started her pathology residency on weekdays, received interferon injections on Fridays, and had PET-CT scans every three months.

“In May 2014, during one of the routine monitoring scans, we found a nodule in my left lung. Thinking it was one nodule, and that was the only disease we could find on imaging, we pursued a surgical route,” the Toledo native said. “Because of where the metastasis was located, they had to remove an entire lobe of my left lung. Unfortunately, during surgery, they found another metastasis on the other lobe of my left lung, so they had to remove a portion of that lobe as well to remove the tumor.”

Two months later, imaging found the melanoma had metastasized to her brain.

Now in her dermatopathology fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina, Nicole Dominiak looked at skin biopsies.

Now in her dermatopathology fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina, Nicole Dominiak looked at skin biopsies.

But an immunotherapy drug was showing promise for melanoma.

“Ipilimumab was the first immunotherapy drug to show some benefit to melanoma patients. It’s supposed to rev up your own immune system to start recognizing the tumor and attacking it,” she explained.

In August 2014, she began ipilimumab infusions and received gamma radiation for the tumors in her brain.

“For the patients it worked for, ipilimumab seemed to have a substantial and sustainable response, which was incredibly encouraging,” Dominiak said. “It was just a matter of will I be one of those patients?”

After completing the immunotherapy treatment, the young doctor learned in October the drug did not work for her.

“After I finished the entire treatment, we found out the cancer had progressed and I had more metastases — in my lung, some in my liver and in my lymph nodes,” she said.

Nicole Dominiak posed for a photo this month outside the Medical University of South Carolina.

Nicole Dominiak posed for a photo this month outside the Medical University of South Carolina.

Then a new treatment possibility emerged.

“I got incredibly lucky; pembrolizumab had just been FDA-approved for use,” Dominiak said. “Pembrolizumab blocks a different receptor on your lymphocytes, but the ultimate goal is the same with all the immunotherapy: to help regulate your own immune system to recognize things that are foreign to you, the tumors, and it can begin to fight the tumors and clear them from your body.”

So far, so good.

“I’m still on the pembrolizumab, just over two years with — knock on wood — very few side effects and a fairly good response,” she said.

Through it all, she’s relied on her supportive home environment with her husband and their pets, Cooper and Nutmeg; family and friends; and specialists and colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“I share my story hoping to help just one person,” Dominiak said.

She also encourages everyone to see a dermatologist once a year for a regular skin check.

Cooper the dog and Nutmeg the cat are part of Dominiak’s support system.

Cooper the dog and Nutmeg the cat are part of Dominiak’s support system.

“You also should keep an eye on your own moles and look for the ABCDEs — asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolution. If anything looks questionable, ask your physician or dermatologist to check it,” Dominiak said. “Also, sunscreen is incredibly important: Use it every day if you can.

“I know when I was younger, tanning beds were very trendy. Stay away from the tanning beds.”

“Nicole has been courageous in sharing her story and stressing the importance of regular skin exams. I am proud to call her a graduate of our medical school,” Gottwald said.

“Nicole will not only always remain one of my favorite students, she will also be my role model in dealing with adversity,” Chaudhuri said.

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Library renovations to include new veterans lounge named for UT alumnus

January 30th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in From Our Alumni

By Meghan Cunningham

The second phase of renovations underway at Carlson Library will include a new veterans lounge, a glass wall spanning several stories allowing for more natural light, and an expanded concourse when you enter the building.

The $3 million renovations funded by state capital dollars will focus on the first and second floors of the library. The renovations, which are expected to be completed prior to the start of fall semester, follow the work on the third and fourth floors finished last year that included the creation of more than 20 new group study rooms and new paint, carpet, ceilings and lighting to transform the learning space.

“The south side of the second floor will be renovated to include group study rooms and study carrels like those that have become popular on the recently completed third and fourth floors,” said Barbara Floyd, interim director of University Libraries. “We recently conducted a survey asking students if they were satisfied with the renovations done, and the comments were overwhelmingly positive, with many students crediting the renovations with their success in the classroom.”

The second floor of the library also will be the new home for the University’s Veterans Lounge, which will relocate from its current location in Rocket Hall.

“Our student veterans were interested in a more centrally located space and in this academic setting they also will have better access to library resources for research and homework with longer hours to take advantage of the lounge,” said Navy Reserve Lt. Haraz Ghanbari, UT director of military and veteran affairs.
A $20,000 donation from the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes supports the creation of the new lounge, which also will be larger with a separate social area and private study section.

The coalition’s gift was made in recognition of Lt. Col. Thomas J. Orlowski, a UT alumnus and Army veteran who is the immediate past chairman of the organization’s board. The lounge will be named the Lt. Col. Thomas J. Orlowski ’65 Veterans Lounge in his honor.

vet 2

Lt. Col. Thomas Orlowski spoke after being recognized by the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes with its Hometown Hero Award and the news that the veterans lounge at his alma mater will be named in his honor. Orlowski, who graduated from UT in 1965 before his 20-year career in the U.S. Army, is being recognized with the naming of the Lt. Col. Thomas J. Orlowski ’65 Veterans Lounge that will be relocated to the second floor of Carlson Library.

“It’s a fantastic idea, and I’m proud of the University for doing it. I’m just very humbled to be honored as part of the project,” Orlowski said. “The exchanges that will occur in this lounge will start with, ‘What are you studying and with what professors?’ But after that familiarity builds up, then the war stories come up. It will definitely help veteran students academically, but a secondary benefit that people may not realize is the camaraderie of others who have been where you’ve been and done what you’ve done.”

Orlowski graduated from UT in 1965 with a degree in English literature, and he also was a middle linebacker for the football team. He joined the Army later that year, and his 20-year military career included assignments in the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized), HQ U.S. Army Europe, HQ U.S. Continental Army Command and the Office of the Adjutant General of the Army. For his service in Vietnam, he was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star for Valor with two Oak Leaf Clusters and Air Medal.

The new Veterans Lounge is expected to open in early summer.

Veterans lounge

This rendering shows what the Lt. Col. Thomas J. Orlowski ’65 Veterans Lounge may look like when finished on the second floor of Carlson Library this summer.

Library renovations will continue through the summer, with the addition of a glass wall on the east side spanning the height of the building that will open up the library with more sunlight. The staircase from the first to second floors also will be redesigned with a mezzanine area on the second floor further opening up the space.

The separate hallway that you currently pass through when walking into the library will be removed so that guests will immediately be in the lobby when they walk in from outside. The redesign also will bring all of the library’s patron services — including circulation, reference and instruction — to the first floor. The information technology help desk recently moved from the back of the floor to share space with the circulation desk at the front.

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Alumna leads public art project at Toledo Correctional Institution

January 30th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in From Our Alumni
Standing in front of the mural painted by incarcerated participants was revealed were, from left, Matt Taylor, Emily Numbers, Yusuf Lateef and Rachel Richardson. The four, who worked together to make the project happen, spoke at a press conference when the work was revealed.

Standing in front of the mural painted by incarcerated participants was revealed were, from left, Matt Taylor, Emily Numbers, Yusuf Lateef and Rachel Richardson. The four, who worked together to make the project happen, spoke at a press conference when the work was revealed.

Criminal justice reform is in the spotlight. Across partisan lines, public figures are talking about a need to reform criminal justice policy, especially sentencing and the prison population.

The United States holds 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but 22 percent of its prisoners, according to the Sentencing Project. Roughly 2.2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails — a 500 percent increase in the last 40 years — and the effects on children, families and neighborhoods are even farther-reaching. Poor people and people of color are disproportionately impacted. These circumstances, among others, have prompted conversations at the national level about the state of the U.S. criminal justice system.

Community artists, organizers and incarcerated people completed a public art piece inside the walls of Toledo Correctional Institution to contribute to that dialogue at the local level.

The project, a 6-foot-by-14-foot mural, was developed by community art coordinator Emily Numbers (A&L ’14, Honors ’14) in collaboration with People for Change, Art Corner Toledo, and artists Matt Taylor and Yusuf Lateef. A public unveiling was held in November in the lobby of One Government Center.

art close-upPeople for Change is comprised of incarcerated individuals and UT faculty, students and alumni who organize educational initiatives inside the Toledo Correctional Institution. It is an alumni group of the national Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project, in which university students take a course inside a prison alongside incarcerated people. Other People for Change initiatives include workshops, community speakers and an academic library.

Numbers took the Inside/Out class as a UT student in 2013. Since then, she has been a part of the People for Change alumni group.

“The Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project opened my eyes to the talent, intellect and desire to make positive change that exists within prisons, and introduced me to the vast injustice that is mass incarceration in the U.S.,” she said.

Numbers, who became interested in the concept of art as a catalyst for social change as a law and social thought student at UT, designed the project to humanize the prison population and to promote civic dialogue on issues surrounding incarceration. The art was painted on a series of 21 2-foot canvasses due to limitations on materials allowed in the prison.

“I learned about the principles of community-based art in Thor Mednick’s Arts Diplomacy class at UT, in which we painted a mural with artist Dave Lowenstein and community members at the Frederick Douglass Center. The elements of dialogue, participation and collaboration were key aspects that I wanted to keep central to this project,” Numbers, communications and public relations specialist in the College of Engineering, said.

Taylor, Lateef and Rachel Richardson, director of Art Corner Toledo, got involved when Numbers invited them to speak to the workshop group about their art in the community. After that initial meeting last spring, the three decided they wanted to continue their involvement with the project. Numbers’ vision and coordination, Taylor and Lateef’s expertise, Art Corner Toledo’s community connections, and the dedication of the incarcerated participants came together to result in this work of collaborative, community art.

Art Corner Toledo helped secure funding from the Lucas County Commissioners, who have a current focus on criminal justice. The Art Supply Depot and the UT Inside/Out Project in the College of Arts and Letters also provided support for materials and supplies.

Over several brainstorming sessions with the artists, organizers and incarcerated participants, the group arrived at the final design for the piece. The imagery was ultimately inspired by the sharing of poetry written by incarcerated individuals and represents the experience of incarceration and the aspirations of the group. Viewers’ perspectives place them at the bottom of a well, looking up toward a bright opening. Both flowers and weeds fill the bottom of the well, and one determined vine makes its way into the light. Several bees are included in the image, both coming and going from the viewer’s perspective.

“To the incarcerated participants, the well represents the physical limitations of the maximum security prison in which they reside, as well as the social barriers that may have led them to the circumstance of incarceration,” Numbers explained. “The flowers indicate the possibility for life and beauty to thrive in unexpected places, and the bees represent the exchange of ideas necessary for that hope to thrive. The bees can be interpreted as teachers, family members or volunteers, for instance, who refuse to turn a blind eye to the damages done by incarceration, and who refuse to turn their backs on individuals who will ultimately return to our community.”

art painters

Incarcerated individuals worked on the mural at the Toledo Correctional Institution.

The piece is accompanied by a collective poem written by the incarcerated participants, elaborating on the visual metaphor.

All of the incarcerated participants in this workshop have taken college-level courses through the UT Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project. Many of the discussions leading to the design were centered on the concept of education as the key to reaching post-incarceration aspirations.

Dr. Renee Heberle, professor of political science, brought the Inside/Out Prison Exchange Project to the University in 2010.

“Inside/Out and People for Change give UT students and incarcerated students a unique opportunity to engage and learn with individuals they might otherwise not only never meet, but would perhaps, otherwise, stigmatize and fear,” Heberle, coordinator of the program, said. “It has literally changed lives and career paths of students, on the inside and the outside. The innovative pedagogical model and ongoing opportunities for engagement beyond the classes cultivate democratic and collaborative skills as students confront issues related to social justice and create social change.

“This mural represents the underlying principles and values of Inside/Out in the collaborative process of its creation, while being a beautiful and aesthetically important work of art on its own terms.”

The art made its debut at One Government Center and is now hanging at the Lucas County Common Pleas Court. It will be installed in public spaces in Toledo. After completing its tour around the city, the work will be donated to a local organization selected by the participants.

“It is the intention of the incarcerated participants that this public art project will serve as a sign of hope for all viewers who may face barriers or confines of their own,” Numbers said.

“As the project travels around Toledo, it carries hope for the transformation of the criminal justice system, hope for incarcerated people seeking meaning and growth despite their circumstances, and hope for anyone facing conditions that confine, imprison or isolate.”

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Your Alma Mater by President Sharon Gaber

January 30th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Your Alma Mater

A monthly update from Dr. Sharon Gaber, President of the University of Toledo

Service part of UT’s commitment to community

06262015-7905As one of Ohio’s 14 public universities, UT continually strives to be a robust community resource for Toledo and northwest Ohio. In partial fulfillment of that commitment, I’m very proud that our students continue to be engaged in ongoing community service activities, which many of our alumni either participated in – or helped to launch – in previous years.

For instance, each spring our UT students volunteer thousands of hours during The Big Event – a daylong marathon of raking neighborhood yards, picking up trash in local parks, painting homes, cleaning gutters and performing other labor-intensive activities. In 2016, more than 1,500 students participated in The Big Event as a way to thank the community for supporting them throughout the year.

Our students also have raised more than $700,000 in recent years by participating in RockeTHON, a 13-hour dance marathon. Proceeds benefit pediatric patients and their families through the Children’s Miracle Network. Additionally, our student-athletes tutor local elementary school students in reading, while other UT students volunteer at various soup kitchens and food pantries to help address the issue of hunger in our community.


And, as part of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tribute, UT students have expanded their commitment to include a special week of service, which occurred Jan. 16 – 20. Specifically, they provided companionship to members of the J. Frank Troy Senior Center, stocked shelves and assisted visitors at the Friendly Center (a faith-based nonprofit serving families in North Toledo), worked with kids in the Padua Center’s Alternative-to-Suspension Program, and volunteered at other local not-for-profit agencies.

I could not be more proud of these UT students! Dr. King lost his life nearly 49 years ago and it’s imperative that we keep his civil rights message alive among this younger generation. That means promoting that they get involved, take action, and stand up for what is right and just. In King’s own words, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.”

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UT in the News

January 30th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in In The News
UTMC to remain teaching hospital

University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber laid out details for the future of the University of Toledo Medical Center, including that it will remain a university-owned teaching hospital, retain emergency services, and not reduce staff.

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Enrollment on rise at UT

The University of Toledo has 372 more students enrolled for spring semester than at the same time last year, reflecting continued efforts to recruit and retain additional students.

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UT first campus in country with Blue and Gold Star memorial markers

The University of Toledo is nationally recognized as the first university campus in the country to simultaneously honor all service members of the armed forces and the families who lost a loved one defending the United States by dedicating both a Blue Star Memorial marker and a Gold Star Memorial marker.

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Nigerian man with face tumor, treated like outcast, now a fourth year medical student at UT

Victor Chukwueke, a medical student University of Toledo has every reason to be grateful to God for where he is currently.

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UT student uses hacked data to map cheating spouses, analyze characteristics

Relationships depend on partners making time for one another.

That sounds simple, but it’s a challenge many couples face — particularly those in which one partner commutes to work, said Amy LaRoche, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Fairfield.

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Pancreatic cancer survivor credits aggressive, unconventional treatment at UT in successful fight

Gerri Musser of Oregon, Ohio, didn’t think she would be around to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with her family.

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UT astronomer selected as member of elite NASA group focused on cosmic origins

A University of Toledo astronomer who specializes in the formation of stars and planets has been named to a 12-member NASA advisory group.

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Experts caution that headphones, earbuds can take a toll on hearing

The sound of music is nearly as pervasive as the air we breathe.

It’s on the television during shows and commercials. It plays in our vehicles while driving to work. It hovers overhead in most stores where we shop.

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MLK Unity Celebration at UT

“Uncle Martin,” as Donzaleigh Abernathy called the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., pushed her to overcome her fear, just like he did the nation’s.

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