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Time out with T.O. - That's what friends are for

Image with caption: Ted Mikuls, MD

Ted Mikuls, MD

They first met 34 years ago as incoming freshmen living in Swig Residence Hall at Santa Clara University.

Two came from California and became attorneys; the other came from Nebraska and became a physician.

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Ted Mikuls, MD, with a shipment of masks from his fellow SCU alumni

They went their separate ways after college -- the attorneys wound up in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, while the physician returned to Omaha.

One thing never changed -- their friendship.

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world this spring, the two attorneys -- Sean Kneafsey of Los Angeles and Todd Rahimi of Hong Kong -- knew their buddy in Omaha, Ted Mikuls, MD, could use their help.

They started a GoFundMe page targeting Santa Clara alums on Facebook to raise money for protective face masks to send to Dr. Mikuls, the Umbach Professor of Rheumatology and vice chair of research for the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine.

The Santa Clara community responded -- in a big way. Within 15 minutes, they had raised $4,000. By the time they turned the page off, a total of $13,440 was raised -- enough to buy 5,000 KN95 protective masks.

"Ted is extremely smart and has a photographic memory," Kneafsey said. "The GoFundMe response is such a tribute to Ted. It's a rare combination to have that great a guy with that big of a brain. They rarely come together."

Rahimi added, "It's a real testament to how our friends feel about Ted -- and more generally to how the community at large feels about the work of medical professionals on the front lines of this battle.

"I am sure doctors tire of questions from friends and family about health issues, but Ted has always been a person who encourages such questions and provides answers willingly."

Dr. Mikuls, who is leading a task force on COVID-19 clinical guidance for patients with rheumatic diseases for the American College of Rheumatology, was blown away by the gesture.

"A huge thank you to my Santa Clara family -- and a shout out to Sean and Todd for organizing -- and to everyone else who donated," Dr. Mikuls said. "I am extraordinarily grateful."

The masks arrived on May 6, and Dr. Mikuls delivered them immediately to the Nebraska Medicine supply warehouse.

"The masks were a godsend, as we were short of personal protective equipment at the time," Dr. Mikuls said. "I have no doubt they were put to good use."

Since graduating from Santa Clara, Kneafsey and Rahimi and other SCU friends have made several trips to Omaha to visit Ted and other Omaha buddies.

"Ted ensured we saw all the highlights, including Gorat's, the Family Fun Center on Dodge Street, and -- of course -- The 18th Amendment," Rahimi said.

"I love Omaha," said Kneafsey, who includes the College World Series among his favorites. "I love the Old Market."

The bottom line, Kneafsey said, is that friends look after each other.

"We were fast friends. We were a tight group from a smaller college."

But, like a true friend, he couldn't resist delivering an amicable jab to Dr. Mikuls.

"You know, I like to say that I tutored Ted in biology."

Scotts have Santa Clara connection

The Santa Clara University donation to Ted Mikuls, MD, came to the attention of Ruth Scott after an email from her granddaughter, Emma Nagengast Savory, an SCU alum.

Emma was surprised to see Dr. Mikuls on an SCU website standing next to the UNMC stethoscope and several boxes of protective masks.

She wanted to let her grandmother know, as Ruth and her husband, Bill, have been huge donors to UNMC as well as all the University of Nebraska campuses.

"She had no idea that I knew Dr. Mikuls, and that he is one of the lead people on one of our very first gifts to UNMC -- the Nebraska Arthritis Outcomes Research Center," Ruth Scott said.

The Scotts made their gift in 2006 to establish the NAORC, which is now located on the third floor of Wittson Hall. The center is headed by two of UNMC's leading physicians -- James O'Dell, MD, professor of internal medicine and chief of the rheumatology and immunology division, and Kevin Garvin, MD, professor and chair of orthopedic surgery.

The Scotts' donation allowed UNMC to hire Kaleb Michaud, PhD, a full-time arthritis researcher. It was a donation that changed Dr. Michaud's life.

"I always want the Scotts to know how much I appreciate them," Dr. Michaud said. "When I arrived at UNMC in 2007, I was fresh out of grad school. All I knew was how to do research.

"Usually you have to do your own fundraising when you start a research enterprise, but thanks to the Scotts, I could start working immediately instead of focusing on fundraising. It was a huge benefit to me."

The NAORC has thrived over the past 14 years. Some highlights include:

  • More than 400 papers published in research journals;
  • More than $17.8 million in research grants;
  • Rheumatology faculty have tripled from five in 2006 to 15 in 2020;
  • Dr. Michaud serves as co-director of the FORWARD registry, a national databank used by arthritis researchers around the world;
  • Creation of a pipeline of students -- many with Nebraska ties -- interested in arthritis research;
  • A number of major research, teaching and mentoring awards won by UNMC faculty from such organizations as the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), the American Rheumatology of Health Professionals (ARHP), and the American College of Physicians (ACP). In addition, Dr. O'Dell earning the prestigious Lee C. Howley Sr. Prize for Research in Arthritis in 2014 from the national Arthritis Foundation.
  • A large study on gout by Dr. O'Dell funded by a grant from the Veterans Administration - the study is nearing completion and will attract national attention when the results are announced; and
  • Recruitment of outstanding researchers such as Bryant England, MD, a UNMC graduate and Nebraska native whose research career "is taking off," Dr. Mikuls said.

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