A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Going the Distance: Essential Alumni

By Mason Spirit contributor on August 18, 2020

Bill Karlson and John O’Mara, of KO Distillery, with hand sanitizer that they are now producing. Photo provided

Working the Front Lines

More than 200 military medical students and graduate nursing students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) graduated six weeks early to support their colleagues in the U.S. military health system amid the global coronavirus pandemic. The Class of 2020 included eight members of Cohort 1 of Mason’s Enlisted to Medical Degree Preparatory Program (EMDP2): Capt. C. Alex Blereau, MD; Capt. Steven Capen, MD; Capt. Kenneth Johnson, MD; Capt. Matthew Little. MD; Capt. C. Jeremy Mears, MD; Capt. Joseph Merfeld, MD; Capt. Steve Radloff, MD; and Capt. Joshua Richter, MD. Editor’s Note: The brand-new Dr. Johnson was features on the cover of Spirit’s fall 2018 issue.

Peter Bizon, DNP ’20, started volunteering with the Loudoun County Health Department’s call center as soon as it opened in March to address residents’ questions about COVID-19. There, Bizon was appointed as the supervisor of incoming calls, managing a team of volunteers to answer questions from the general public. Bizon notes that this isn’t as easy as it seems. “There is a lot more going on in a call center than simply answering phone calls,” he says. “We have to think outside the box on a daily basis so we can provide the best outcomes for the most callers.” He was recently accepted to Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences starting in the summer for their Global Health Engagement program.

Emily Boyd, BS Athletic Training ’15, normally works as an athletic trainer with the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond, Virginia. Now, instead of working in coordination with an orthopedic surgeon and a sports medicine physician, she is screening patients, visitors, and employees at the VCU Medical Center Hospital. “It is an ever-evolving position as we are constantly finding out more information about COVID-19,” Boyd says.

Andrea Burtt, MS Exercise, Fitness, and Health Promotion ’13, is an outreach athletic trainer at River Bluff High School in Lexington, South Carolina. Now, her job duties have shifted to screening employees for the Palmetto Health University of Southern California Medical Group, along with working at the COVID-19 testing site at the hospital.

Elizabeth Cabello, BS Athletic Training ’17, is a clinical athletic trainer at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia. She notes that the pandemic has had an impact on the way her hospital operates. “One of the big changes in our office is implementing the use of telehealth,” Cabello says. “We recently started doing this in response to COVID-19 to help our patients receive care while remaining safe and at home.”

Matt Curry delivers meals to Fairfax County Police Department Station 8. Photo courtesy of the Currys

Judy Curry, BS Business Administration ’90, and her husband, Matt, owners of the Craftsman Auto Care shops, funded meals for the Illinois hospital where Matt’s sister works as an ER nurse. They then delivered another 20 meals locally to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital. Soon, they were running the Feed a Hero campaign with support from a crowdfunding site. Partnering with several Northern Virginia restaurants, they delivered between 100 to 200 meals a day to hospitals, fire houses, police departments, and other first responders in the area. By the end of April, they had raised more than $26,000 and provided more than 3,000 meals. “We’ve heard the medical staffs at several hospitals tell us about how grateful they are and how it puts a smile on their faces,” says Judy.

Tam Dang, BS Biology ’08, MS Biodefense ’15, works as an epidemiologist in the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services. Her work focuses on the analysis of data relating to the spread of infections and preparing plans to support the public response. “Our Public Health Emergency Preparedness division is keenly aware that our proximity to the nation’s 12th busiest airport confers particular risk for international importations of infectious disease,” says Dang.

Jenny Eda, BS Athletic Training ’17, is an outreach athletic trainer with the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia. Normally, she serves as an athletic trainer for a nearby high school and middle school. Now, she is a member of a screening team at the hospital. “I’m also in charge of onboard training for new screeners that may be placed at any of our satellite locations in the area,” she says.

Dianne Hon, MPA ’16, is unable to self-isolate. Her job as an intake officer and monitored diversion counselor at the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Virginia is essential. Hon’s team of essential personnel have been hard at work creating a plan to support and protect their community. “It may be weeks until we physically come together as a team,” says Hon, “but when we do, we will know that through sheer determination, courage, and undying passion we have supported and helped Fairfax County citizens maintain a semblance of order.”

Bill Karlson, MS Software Systems Engineering ’94, is the CEO of KO Distilling in Manassas, Virginia. Normally, his distillery produces spirits like their Bare Knuckle Whiskey or Battle Standard Gin. In the midst of the pandemic, when hand-washing supplies are at a premium, Karlson’s distillery has shifted focus. They are now the proud producers of Bare Knuckle Hand Sanitizer. “The demand for hand sanitizer became clear,” Karlson told The Patch. “We knew we had to join our distillery colleagues in producing this important tool for first responders.” The distillery is able to produce about 2,000 gallons of hand sanitizer each week and is donating much of it to Manassas-area hospitals, nursing homes, and first responders. They are also selling the sanitizer to private citizens to maintain production and continue paying the salaries of the distillery’s employees. “We are glad to be able to help the community fight the good fight during this coronavirus pandemic.”

Darcy Kim, a master of public administration student in the Schar School of Policy and Government, is managing a team of seven clinicians during this pandemic as part of her job as a behavioral health supervisor in Fairfax County. During the current health crisis, Kim’s team is providing care remotely. “Our clinicians are not only concerned about our clients, but also about the transmission [of the virus] to clients’ immediate family members,” says Kim. “To be a public servant means being dedicated to the communities we serve by making the best decisions possible to ensure people receive the care they need.”

Veterinarian Christine Klippen, BSN ’05, is still working at the Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C., during this pandemic and was recently featured in a Wall Street Journal article regarding her emergency vet work. “We’re anxious because we’re continuing to put ourselves at risk and our families at risk to be able to provide essential services,” Klippen told the Wall Street Journal. She notes that continuing to care for peoples’ pets without being able to interact with them on a human level is an unexpected challenge. “That human connection—I didn’t realize how much I need that not only to relay information, but to show someone that I have compassion for their situation and their pet.” 

Rose Previte, MPP ’07, runs two restaurants in Washington, D.C.: Compass Rose and Maydan. They have both closed due to the current pandemic. Still, she found some options to help her employees, including paying for their health insurance through the month of April and offering takeout at her restaurants to keep some of her hourly workers employed. She was recently featured in an article in The Atlantic about her efforts. “We’re fixers,” Previte told The Atlantic. “In restaurants you have to fix things in a minute’s time. We make game-time decisions to make people happy. The fact that I can’t fix things now is breaking my heart.”

Trauma surgeon Joseph Sakran, BS Biology ’99, is the director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has devoted his career to advocating for patients. In an opinion piece he co-wrote for CNN.com, Sakran cites the specific difficulty of isolation on those receiving treatment in hospitals. “That ‘safety net’ of having a loved one by your side is now riddled with holes,” writes Sakran. Still, health care workers like Sakran are constantly trying to find new ways to meet their patients’ needs in this time. “Health care workers continue to work heroically to try to provide solutions in an attempt to plug up all the holes.”

Nereyda Sevilla, PhD Biodefense ’17, is a civilian aerospace physiologist for the Defense Health Agency. Much of her current work and previous studies at the Schar School center around the role of air travel in spreading disease on a global scale. She wants to use that information to improve passenger health and safety. “I’m a huge proponent of communicating with and educating the public,” says Sevilla. “We can instill a better culture of travel preventive medicine practices, such as washing your hands in public places, and not just panic during a crisis.”


Liam Griffin; Buzz McClain, BA’77; Gregory Johnson; Greg Sullivan; and Michelle Thompson contributed to this story.

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