African-American medical research

How can medical research better serve minority communities?

A researcher at UK is urging her fellow health scientists to take a more holistic and thoughtful approach when it comes to studying dementia and other diseases in Blacks/African-Americans.

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD

Eseosa Ighodaro, PhD, a researcher at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, is the lead author of a new paper published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that encourages health researchers to be proactive in addressing the challenges associated with studying dementia in Blacks/African-Americans.

The paper, co-authored by researchers at Sanders-Brown, the University of Washington, Rice University and Rush University Medical Center, assesses the barriers that hinder minority recruitment for dementia research and the misconceptions that potentially distort research results related to minority populations.

“This study helps to identify problems in dementia-related research that are both historical and ongoing,” said Peter Nelson, MD, PhD, who works at Sanders-Brown. “You cannot seek solutions effectively until you are forthright about the problems.”

Race vs. socioeconomic variable

The paper argues that using race as a variable in research can result in inaccurate data interpretation. The authors point to several studies exploring genetic ancestral markers and race self-identification to demonstrate that race is not a dependable substitute for genetics.

“Race is, in many senses, a social construct that evolves over time due to social policy, cultural beliefs and political practices, and that risks misinterpretation of the differences between individuals who identify with certain racial/ethnic groups,” Ighodaro said.

Instead, she suggested that socioeconomic status variables such as zip code, income level, education, access to medical care and other social determinants of health need to be included in data interpretation, pointing to two recent studies that demonstrated socioeconomic conditions were a better predictor of stroke risk and dementia than race.

Historical factors

Ighodaro also identifies the horrific and unethical biomedical experimentation on African-Americans that continued into this century as one of the culprits for the African-American community’s persistent mistrust of physicians and scientists.

As a result, some African-Americans, who fear they are “guinea pigs,” are less likely to participate in research or donate blood or other biospecimens, which can decrease Black/African-American representation in dementia research studies.

Furthermore, the paper asserts, there is a need for efforts to increase the “diversity of thought and identity” among scientists, which studies show will enhance the quality and output of research collaborations.

“Scientists need to think holistically about the determinants of health when studying underserved populations and break out of the conventional and erroneous mindset that genetics are the sole cause of health disparities,” Ighodaro said. “And we must acknowledge and address the historical horrific mistreatment of Blacks/African-Americans in biomedical research as a first step towards improved minority research recruitment.”

“These barriers to what’s called ‘better science’ won’t be easily abated,” she says, “but they are critically necessary to align the quality of our data with all the populations we serve – minority or otherwise.”


Next steps:

online bill payment

Online bill payment now available via My UKHealthCare portal

A new and much-requested service has been added to the My UKHealthCare patient portal: online bill payment.

To access online bill payment, simply log in to your portal account and choose “My Account” in the top right menu and then choose “Billing.”

The My UKHealthCare patient portal is a convenient, secure way for patients to connect with UK HealthCare through self-service online tools.

Don’t yet have a portal account? Be sure to provide an accurate email address at your next appointment. You can also request an account at myukhealthcare.org. Note that it may take up to three days after request for your portal account to be set up. Other portal benefits include:

  • Send a secure email message to your care team.
  • Request prescription renewals when it’s convenient for you, not just when our offices are open.
  • Request, cancel or reschedule appointments.
  • Pay your bill online.
  • View lab test results, radiology reports and office visit summaries.
  • Get health maintenance reminders.
  • View your immunization record and allergies.
  • See your healthcare provider’s notes from your clinic visits and discharge summaries for hospital stays.
  • View your hospital discharge instructions.

If you have questions about the medical information contained in your portal, please send a message to your care team via the portal’s messaging system. You may also call the appropriate clinic. For assistance with portal functionality, call 859-218-6221 or 844-820-7344 daily 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.


Next steps:

Kip Guy malaria research

UK College of Pharmacy dean receives $5M for malaria research

UK College of Pharmacy Dean Dr. Kip Guy will use a $5 million award to develop an innovative drug that could provide a cure for patients with malaria and offer protection against the disease after treatment.

The additional funding comes from the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT), and Guy will work with Eisai Pharmaceuticals and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) in this ongoing research effort. This award from GHIT funds research over two years with Guy serving as the project’s principal investigator.

The innovative drug being developed by the research team is known as SJ733. This drug, in combination with one or more other antimalarial drugs, would potentially cure patients and could provide substantial protection after treatment. Malaria remains a global health problem, and growing resistance to available antimalarial drugs underscores the importance of discovering next-generation therapies.

“This award from GHIT will continue to support our research, and we’re excited about being able to take this promising drug through the next stages of development,” Guy said. “Despite being an entirely preventable and treatable disease, malaria still places 3.2 billion people at risk and is still the cause of almost half a million deaths each year. We want to see those numbers fall.”

The Phase IIa studies, undertaken in malaria patients, will set the stage for additional testing to determine appropriate combinations of malaria treatments, which will ultimately help those hit hardest by this disease, including children and pregnant women.

“We welcome GHIT’s sustained and generous support,” said Dr. Joerg Moehrle, head of Translational Medicine at MMV. “It is critical to the success of this promising research into novel antimalarial compounds. With Eisai and University of Kentucky, we have forged an excellent team fully committed to developing next-generation medicines with the ability to counter the growing threat of multidrug-resistant malaria and to save the lives of countless people at risk from this terrible disease.”


Next steps:

opioid research

UK partners with Ky. counties to fight back against opioid epidemic

A UK College of Public Health researcher is using a $1.16 million grant to pursue effective interventions in the fight against opioid addiction in communities across 12 Eastern Kentucky counties.

The grant is a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, and will be led by April Young, a researcher at the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research and the College of Public Health, and a co-principal investigator at Emory University.

From the start, the research team knew that success of the project would rely on the involvement of the communities where the research will take place. As Young and her co-principal investigator began to draft the research proposal, they sought support from organizations that operate in the region and leaders such as U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who drafted a letter of support for the grant application.

“The more we learn about drug abuse and addiction, the more we can thoughtfully and strategically intervene to save lives and change the trajectory for families across Eastern Kentucky,” said Rogers, the co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse.

“I applaud the University of Kentucky for utilizing its powerful research resources to pinpoint the challenges we face in combatting opioid abuse in an effort to implement effective, lifesaving programs that can be sustained in our communities for generations to come.”

Understanding the opioid epidemic

The project, titled Kentucky Communities and Researchers Engaging to Halt the Opioid Epidemic (CARE2HOPE), includes both epidemiological and qualitative research that will be conducted by Young and her colleagues in the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, Emory University and other partnering institutions.

The first two years of the five-year project will focus on better understanding opioid use and its context in the 12-county area that comprises Bath, Rowan, Elliott, Menifee, Morgan, Wolfe, Lee, Owsley, Leslie, Perry, Knot and Letcher counties.

Through interviews and surveys with the community, the team will collect information about resources and factors that impact access to treatment for opioid-use disorder as well as risks for related harm such as overdose, hepatitis C and HIV.

This collaborative effort is vital to developing intervention strategies, as those who live in these communities are the best source for identifying resources and factors that impede access to treatment and contribute to risk. During the first two years, the team will also work with communities to identify evidence-based community-response projects that meet their needs.

Pursuing long-term solutions

The final three years of funding, which is estimated to total about $3.25 million, is contingent on meeting milestones in the first two years. During the three-year intervention phase, the team will work with the community to implement and evaluate the evidence-based community-response projects.

Sustainability is at the forefront of the team’s efforts. The primary goal is to give communities the tools to continue programs that are implemented long after the research has been completed. After completing its data collection, the team will work with communities to identify and apply for additional funding to maintain programming.

A key strength of this initiative is the collaboration with other institutions, including the Harm Reduction Coalition, Kentucky Department for Public Health and other state departments and agencies, Boston University, the Gateway and Kentucky River District Health Departments, AIDS Volunteers, Inc., and other community leaders and organizations.

“It benefits these communities to have experts from across the country working to address the opioid epidemic,” Young said.

The power of collaboration

Hannah Cooper, associate professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and co-principal investigator, is familiar with Kentucky, having worked with Young on another project focused in and around Morehead, Ky. That project was her first opportunity to visit Eastern Kentucky.

“On my first trip, I was struck by both the devastating consequences of the local opioid epidemic and by the local community’s fierce commitment to stopping it,” Cooper said. “Whenever two institutions collaborate, you end up with a proposal that is stronger than it would have been with just a single institution.”

The UK team members for this project include Sharon Walsh, Jennifer Havens, Carrie Oser, Michele Staton and Michelle Lofwall, all faculty associates in the UK Center on Drug and Alcohol Research. The team has more than 40 years of combined experience in research on rural drug use, including in substance use disorder treatment, hepatitis C and HIV risk reduction and intervention in criminal justice settings.

UK team members were among the first to document the rise in opioid injection in Appalachia and have a history of highly productive collaborations with federal, state and local stakeholders in Appalachian Kentucky communities.


Next steps:

Kip Guy

Video: College of Pharmacy dean explains his research philosophy

He’s well-known now for his scientific discoveries in the lab, but UK College of Pharmacy Dean Kip Guy says he’s actually been performing experiments his entire life.

“As long as I could remember, I was always the kid out there poking the bug with a stick or playing with the pond, trying to understand what was happening and why,” he said.

As a professional chemist, Guy’s work focuses on drug discovery and development for neglected diseases, particularly those that affect pediatric patients. Coming to UK from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Guy has focused on fighting malaria, a major killer of children, as well as pediatric cancers including ependymoma, leukemias and medulloblastoma.

Although it was initially the “neat solutions” that attracted him to the field, Guy quickly learned that not even science provided easy black-and-white answers and that the work is never as simple as one might expect it to be. While researchers may have expectations of how an experiment may play out, they often learn more from the failures than if it had unfolded as planned.

“You’ve put in all this time and effort because your model told you ‘X’ was going to happen, and then you run the experiment and what you wind up with is something completely different,” he said. “These are the moments in science that are the most fun. … It’s when you break your own model and learn something fundamentally new.”

Coming to UK

As his research projects grew larger and more intensive over the years, Guy says he was looking specifically for a place where he could take a larger administrative role and begin mentoring the next generation in scientific discovery.

“I realized that one of the really big impacts we have is teaching,” he said. “So I wanted to be in a place where I could help combine the way we think about research – that interdisciplinary, interprofessional approach – with the way we teach not only research, but also clinical practice.”

As a scientist who focuses on drug development, the area of pharmacy seemed the most natural fit for Guy. He began searching for a dean position at a school that supported research collaboration with a focus on bringing new treatments to the community. He says he found “a perfect storm” at UK – a place known nationwide for its research excellence, its top-ranked College of Pharmacy and a local population in need of therapeutic intervention for a variety of serious health disparities.

“The first thing I’d say is, ‘Why wouldn’t you come here?'” Guy said. “It’s an incredible place, with amazing faculty and a long, rich and successful history of positively affecting clinical practice and the research world. … It’s about being in a place where I can work the way I want to work, with the kind of people who are here, and focusing on problems that are really serving unmet needs.”

Working for Kentucky

One example of Guy’s work having a potentially significant impact in the Commonwealth is a recently published study on research that could lead to new solutions to treat lung cancer by preventing cells from metastasizing. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in both lung cancer incidence and death, with the disease disproportionately affecting the Appalachian area of the state.

Lung cancer is one of the toughest cancers to treat – according to the National Cancer Institute, one out of every two patients diagnosed won’t survive past 12 months. Because this cancer is a disease characterized by metastatic growth, Guy says controlling that metastasis could be key to longer-term survival for lung and other cancers.

“For a lot of cancers, it’s not the primary tumor that kills you, it’s often the metastatic disease,” he said. “Being able to block that, if we can do it in a way that’s really effective and safe, could be a game changer.”

Guy has three major goals for the UK College of Pharmacy as he leads it into a new era – continue its tradition of innovation in both teaching pharmacy practice and pharmaceutical science and research; engage in even more interdisciplinary research across many different viewpoints; and emphasize the importance of a broadly inclusive and service-oriented culture at UK.

“We’re not just about working in the lab or the clinic,” Guy said. “We’re also about living in this community and doing well by it.”


Watch the video below to hear why Kip Guy came to UK and about his new findings on a compound that could block lung cancer.


Next steps:

Clark Regional Medical Center

Markey extends cancer network to Winchester

Clark Regional Medical Center in Winchester has announced a new affiliation with the UK Markey Cancer Center, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.

By becoming a Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network member, Clark Regional Medical Center will be able to offer more patients in Central and Eastern Kentucky access to specialty and subspecialty cancer care, including clinical trials and advanced technology, while allowing them to stay closer to home for most treatments.

“Clark Regional Medical Center is proud to join the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network,” said Robert Parker, president of LifePoint’s Central Kentucky East market and CEO of Clark Regional Medical Center. “Our mission is ‘Making Communities Healthier,’ and this affiliation is further evidence of our commitment to providing high-quality care for our patients close to home.”

Clark Regional is a 79-bed community hospital that has served the residents of East Central Kentucky since 1917. A Commission on Cancer-accredited facility, Clark Regional takes a multidisciplinary approach to treating cancer as a complex group of diseases that requires consultation among surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists and other cancer specialists. This multidisciplinary approach to cancer care results in improved care for patients.

The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network was created to provide high-quality cancer care closer to home for patients across the region and to minimize the effects of cancer through prevention and education programs, exceptional clinical care, and access to research. The affiliate network is especially important in Eastern Kentucky, where cancer rates are disproportionately high.

“We see 50 percent of our patients coming from Eastern Kentucky, which has some of the highest rates of cancer in the country, particularly lung and colon cancers,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center. “The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network allows us to collaborate with community hospitals to provide top-notch cancer care for these patients much closer to home – saving both travel expenses and time for the patients, in addition to keeping them close to their personal support system.”

Markey is one of only 69 medical centers in the country to earn an NCI cancer center designation. Because of the designation, Markey patients have access to new drugs, treatment options and clinical trials offered only at NCI centers.

Moving forward, Markey is working toward the next tier of designation – an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently, 45 of the 69 NCI-designated cancer centers in the country hold a comprehensive cancer center status. The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network will play a significant role in bringing that next level of cancer funding to Kentucky.

“Kentucky is home to some of the worst cancer rates in the country,” said Dr. Tim Mullett, medical director of the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network. “Collaborating with our affiliate hospitals across the state will enable us to make a positive impact on the dire cancer rates here in the Commonwealth.”


Next steps:

  • Learn more about the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, which gives people across Kentucky access to high-quality cancer services and programs through collaboration with community hospitals.
  • Markey is Kentucky’s only NCI-designated cancer center, providing world-class cancer care right here in the Commonwealth. Learn more about why patients choose Markey for their cancer treatment.

Gift of Life Celebration honors organ donors

In November 2015, Frankfort-native Brian Chenault went to the doctor for what appeared to be a bout of pneumonia.

After more than a year of struggling with the illness, Chenault received some much more distressing news: A viral infection had damaged his heart beyond repair. This past January, the 39-year-old was referred to UK HealthCare for a heart transplant.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “I prayed about it, and then somehow I was OK with it and in a good place mentally.”

UK heart transplant patient Brian Chenault speaks at the UK Gift of Life Celebration.

UK heart transplant patient Brian Chenault speaks at the UK Gift of Life Celebration.

On March 25, Chenault was successfully transplanted and says his life has completely turned around.

“I feel great,” he said. “I feel the way I did before anything ever happened to me.”

This past Saturday, Chenault showed his gratitude for his organ donor by speaking at the Gift of Life Celebration, an annual ceremony held by UK HealthCare and Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) to honor those who chose to give the gift of life.

The importance of organ donation

This year, more than 175 donor family members and friends attended the celebration, while the names of 26 donors were read aloud and unveiled on the Gift of Life wall, located inside Pavilion A adjacent to the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Each year, the wall is updated to honor both new donors and those who have donated in years past. Since the wall was first unveiled in 2012, more than 400 donors have been memorialized.

For patients struggling with organ failure, a transplant may be their only option for survival. Every year, an estimated 6,000 people die while waiting for an organ transplant. More than 117,000 Americans are currently waiting for donated organs, including more than 1,000 people in Kentucky.

Their names are on the United Network for Organ Sharing waiting list. The level of necessity, blood type, and size are among several criteria that determine who can receive a donated organ. One individual donor can provide organs and tissue for nearly 50 people in need.

Honoring those who donated

Knowing that their loved one was responsible for saving others offers some small solace for the donor families. Lisa and Tom Blevins lost their 22-year-old son, Keenan, in early 2016.

“We were on our way to the hospital, just trying to think of one good thing that could come of this,” Tom said. “When KODA approached us, we had our answer.”

Keenan ultimately saved six lives, and his name was added to the memorial this year.

“It’s just a great way to honor him,” Lisa said.

For Chenault, hearing that he’d been matched with a donor came with a bevy of mixed feelings.

“I was excited, nervous and a little scared all at the same time,” he said. “But it was also bittersweet because I knew that meant a family had lost a loved one.”

During the ceremony, the crowd listened in rapt silence as Chenault spoke, halting his words periodically to compose himself. He noted that organ donation doesn’t just make a difference in a single individual’s life – it also impacts everyone in that person’s circle.

“Not only did I need this heart, but my daughter, my wife, my family and my friends all needed this heart,” he said. “Thank you.”


Next steps:

No. 1 hospital in Kentucky

We’re the No. 1 hospital in Ky., again

UK HealthCare Albert B. Chandler Hospital remains the No. 1 hospital in Kentucky and the Bluegrass Region, according to the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals Rankings released today.

In addition, four major areas have achieved Top 50 national rankings, three of them for the first time. UK HealthCare rankings included: No. 37 in Diabetes and Endocrinology, No. 43 in Geriatrics, No. 44 in Neurology and Neurosurgery, and No. 50 in Cancer.

Along with the Top 50 rankings, UK HealthCare is ranked as high-performing in five other adult specialties – Gastroenterology and GI Surgery; Nephrology; Orthopaedics; Pulmonology; and Urology. Additionally, UK HealthCare was designated high-performing in eight common adult procedures and conditions: Aortic Valve Surgery, Heart Bypass Surgery, Heart Failure, Colon Cancer Surgery, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Hip Replacement, Knee Replacement, and Lung Cancer Surgery.

These recognitions cement UK HealthCare’s role as the major healthcare system best equipped to deal with our state’s unique health needs, said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs.

“We are committed to providing the best programs and best care available in Kentucky so that no one has to travel far from home for world-class advanced specialty care,” Karpf said. “These rankings speak to the hard work and dedication of our physicians, our nurses and our entire healthcare team.”

‘We’re ready no matter the situation’

This year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings cover nearly every hospital in every community nationwide. The rankings are grounded in objective data and offer patients a rich resource on their hospital choices. More than 70 percent of the rankings are based on objective data, with U.S. News analyzing more than 2,600 metrics across 21 data-driven specialties and procedures and conditions. The result is thousands of data points on hospitals that excel at treating the most challenging cases, those that do best in more routine procedures and those that provide top local care.

“UK HealthCare is a place where you feel safe because you know we’re ready no matter the situation or illness,” said Colleen Swartz, UK HealthCare’s chief administrative officer.

“If you have someone you love who lives in Kentucky, you will need UK HealthCare at some point in time. Whether it’s someone with a newly diagnosed cancer, or a premature baby, or a critically ill or injured child, or brother or mother or sister, you want to know that a place like this is ready to go when you need us.”

Diabetes & Endocrinology

This year’s rankings included a major leap for UK’s diabetes and endocrinology program. The specialty at UK HealthCare, previously unranked, is now No. 37 in the country, a testament to both the clinical care and research at the UK Barnstable-Brown Diabetes Center.

“We are one of the few places in Kentucky where all these services are provided either under one roof or where we can engage people to help you in all these different arenas,” said Dr. John Fowlkes, director of the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center.

This collaboration and patient-centered care offered at the Barnstable Brown Diabetes Center provide patients with outstanding clinical care throughout their lifespan and for all aspects of their health, said Dr. Lisa Tannock, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Molecular Medicine.

“Our physicians, advanced practice providers, endocrinology fellows and staff, including expert-certified diabetes educators, continually seek opportunities to teach advanced patient care based on our ongoing research into the best ways to prevent and treat diabetes and endocrine diseases,” she said.

Geriatrics

UK HealthCare was ranked No. 43 in Geriatrics. The U.S. News Geriatrics rankings represent how well hospitals treat older patients across a wide range of medical issues and conditions.

Dr. Shawn Caudill, professor and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and Women’s Health, sees increasingly more geriatric patients in UK HealthCare’s outpatient clinics. He said the rankings are an indication of the high-quality care that UK HealthCare provides to a population that is living longer than before.

“We’ve had lot of success in overcoming the things that used to kill people – heart attacks, strokes, lung disease – and we’ve done interventions to help keep people going longer,” Caudill said. “And now it is important for us to continue to help take care of them.”

Neurology & Neurosurgery

For the first time, UK HealthCare is nationally ranked for its neurological care, coming in at No. 44 in Neurology and Neurosurgery.

“This is something we’ve been working on for the past two years,” said Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, the Ruth L. Works Professor and chair of the UK Department of Neurology, and co-director of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute (KNI). “It’s wonderful to be able to have our faculty and staff receive this recognition for all the great things they’re doing.”

Fellow KNI Co-Director Linda Van Eldik, who also is director of the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, was pleased with national rankings in Neurology and Neurosurgery as well as Geriatrics.

“This is really a culmination of the work we’ve been doing for many years in the areas of brain,” Van Eldik said. “It’s recognition from the outside of what we already knew – that we were doing leading-edge work and we are continuing to enhance our excellence.”

Cancer care

Cancer care was included in the Top 50 for the first time – although it has consistently been designated as high performing for many years. Still, the move up is indicative of the Markey Cancer Center’s continued emphasis on providing exemplary care as the state’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated center.

“We see 50 percent of our patients coming from Eastern Kentucky, which has some of the highest rates of cancer in the country – particularly lung cancer and colon cancer. So the Markey Cancer Center is vitally important to our region,” said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the Markey Cancer Center.

The people behind the scenes

In acknowledging all of UK HealthCare’s national rankings and achievements, one factor is always first to be attributed to success – the people who work here.

“I’ve been here almost a year and a half, and to see what the University of Kentucky and UK HealthCare has achieved, really in a short time, is remarkable,” said UK College of Medicine Dean Dr. Robert DiPaola. “And to see the passion of the people here behind the scenes doing the things that make a difference for our patients – it is absolutely amazing. I know that going forward we will continue this trajectory.”


Hear more about this awesome recognition, including comments from some of UK HealthCare’s leaders, in the video below.


Next steps:

Alton Boyd

Meet Alton Boyd, UK HealthCare’s friendly first face

Alton Boyd never meets a stranger.

“I’m the type of guy that doesn’t have a frown on his face,” Boyd said. “I like to be a friendly person. I want to know people and what they do.”

His smiling face is the first that many people see when they come to UK HealthCare for an appointment or to visit a sick family member. For six years, Boyd, 86, has worked as an ambassador in the parking garage across from Chandler Hospital. He hands people their tickets at the front gate, provides directions and answers questions. More than that, however, he can, and often does, brighten everyone’s day.

Boyd discovered his people skills in 1967, when he began selling cars for Rudolph Chevrolet in El Paso, Texas.

“I enjoyed every minute,” Boyd said. “I didn’t care whether people bought a car or not. I wanted to make a friend out of every customer so they would remember my name the rest of their lives, and they did. And boy did it pay off for me! They’d bring their kids in there, their aunts and uncles, and I’d sell them a car.”

The story behind the friendly face

Perhaps Boyd’s congenial personality derives in some part from meeting many different people over a life filled with varied careers. He worked in the post office as a young adult when his family lived in Carlsbad, N. M., where his dad had a job in the potash mines.

After retiring from the Marine Corps at age 22, Boyd and his wife at the time returned to Carlsbad. He went back to work at the post office during the day and then fixed cars from 6 p.m. until midnight in order to save enough money to buy a house.

“I did that for about five years and got enough money to pay cash for a house,” Boyd said. “I bought a brand-new three-bedroom house for $11,000, which you can’t do anymore!”

When Boyd moved to El Paso, Texas, to sell cars for Chevrolet, he knew no more about cars, or selling them, than the fact that he liked them. After the first year, Boyd grew frustrated with his lack of sales and lost interest in the job, but his boss must have seen something special in him.

“My boss, Jimmy Godwin, truck manager at that time, said, ‘Alton Boyd, you’re going to live with me for three months. I don’t want you to sell nothing; I’ll just pay you. Every time I move, you stay with me.’ And, you know, the second year I sold 30 cars a month. I couldn’t believe it. I made several $6,000 bonuses.”

During that time, Boyd and his wife purchased more than 30 acres of ranch land, where he planted alfalfa fields, built a house and put up a barn for Quarter Horses, dabbling in breeding and training them for racing.

Boyd sold the ranch and retired from selling cars in 1991, when he and his wife moved to Georgetown, Ky., to be closer to family. However, Boyd loves having something to do every day, so he found a job with Tower Automotive in Bardstown, Ky., for several years before coming to UK.

Loving life and work

Alton Boyd, 86, serves as an ambassador who greets patients and visitors entering the UK HealthCare parking garage. He enjoys helping people and putting a smile on everyone’s face.

Boyd has enjoyed every bit of his interesting life. At an age when many people enjoy retirement, he plans to continue as an ambassador in the UK HealthCare parking garage for as long as he is able, where he can enjoy two of his favorite hobbies: cars and talking to people.

“I love talking to people,” Boyd said. “I want them to smile when they talk to me. I kid them, and they smile and say, ‘Oh, Alton, you know everything about this place.’ I have a lot of people call me by my name. I like to help them with where they’re going, and they appreciate it because they’re lost when they pull in here. That’s what it’s all about. I just like to be friendly. I enjoy doing what I do.”

When Boyd isn’t making friends during work hours, he’s most likely making friends while playing golf or on his occasional visits to the racetrack. Should the opportunity arise someday, he can see himself returning to his favorite place: Rio Dosa, Texas.

However, for now, he’s content making people smile and easing their troubles, if only for a moment, as the first face they see when they enter the UK HealthCare parking garage.


Next steps:

UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green

Video: New campus will help shape future of healthcare in Ky.

This time next year, the inaugural class of medical students at the new UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green campus will be attending their first course, kicking off an exciting new opportunity for future Kentucky clinicians.

In June, officials broke ground on a new facility at The Medical Center in Bowling Green, which will be home to the satellite campus. This four-year, regional campus medical school is the first of its kind in Kentucky and is a partnership between UK, The Medical Center at Bowling Green and Western Kentucky University.

The UK College of Medicine-Bowling Green will be a fully functioning campus, using the same curriculum and assessments as UK’s Lexington campus. The on-site faculty will have UK College of Medicine appointments and teach in small groups, and they will provide simulation/standardized patient experiences with lectures delivered from Lexington using educational technology.

For students, the program in Bowling Green offers many benefits: scholarships; smaller class sizes; and the opportunity to live, work and learn in an up-and-coming Kentucky community.

“I think the regional medical campus in Bowling Green offers a really exciting opportunity for a batch of young students to come in and essentially lay the groundwork for everything that campus does going forward,” said Austin Webb, a WKU graduate currently in his third year of medical school at UK. “They are also going to be directly shaping the healthcare in that region for years to come.”

Check out the video below to see how the new campus in Bowling Green will foster a new generation of Kentucky physicians and improve healthcare across the Commonwealth.


Next steps: