WILLIAM PATRICK COLEMAN lll (photo left)
New Orleans is a very alluring place,” acknowledges Dr. William Coleman III, in regards to his decision to reside and practice here. “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the world as a guest lecturer at various medical meetings and I can assure you, there is no place like New Orleans.”
You don’t need a medical degree to diagnose Coleman as a chronic lover of the Big Easy. After growing up in Virginia, he moved to the city at age 11 when his father took a job as Chief of Allergy at Ochsner. Coleman found his way to Jesuit High School, which provided him with a “great classical education,” followed by two years at the University of Virginia. “Then I transferred back to University of New Orleans, to be close to my girlfriend,” he recalls. “She’s now my wife of 39 years. I went to medical school at Tulane, and stayed there for my residency.” It was in college that he decided to pursue a career in medicine. Although he notes that his father didn’t specifically encourage him in that fashion, Coleman considered him “a great role model,” and decided to follow in his footsteps. After completing his training, he chose to remain in New Orleans, where he practiced for 22 years with his father. Coleman’s own son followed suit, and joined him in practice two years ago.
Coleman is a dermatologic surgeon who specializes in surgical solutions for skin problems. Much of his practice, he explains, is cosmetic surgery. He gravitated toward this particular field after observing the work of three of his mentors during his time at Tulane: a plastic surgeon, a dermatologist and a surgical oncologist. “My practice revolves around helping people improve skin flaws that bother them,” he says. “Because I primarily perform cosmetic surgery, my patients are very upbeat and happy to see me.”
And in Hurricane Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, Coleman found himself fortunate to be able to provide medical care, along with that little boost of desperately needed happiness, soon after the storm struck. Although his home and office were flooded, he was able to move to an empty upstairs space and began seeing patients again at the end of September, only a month after the disaster. Gratified by the returning patients who were eagerly waiting for him to reopen, he found himself busy within just a few short weeks of reopening. “It turned out that many people, back from evacuations, wanted something to make them feel better about themselves again,” he explains. “Although they couldn’t find a contractor to repair their homes, they could have a cosmetic procedure that might lift their spirits.” Post-storm, Coleman continues to relish the relationships he forms with his patients on a daily basis. “Because we see patients from throughout the U.S., and from all over the world, I get to interact with all sorts of interesting people. It is a real joy to get to know them.”
A father of four sons (three of them involved with medicine as well), a composing pianist and a fine wine and New Orleans music enthusiast, Coleman has still found the time to gain national recognition for his research and work as a dermatologic surgeon. He serves as elected president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and editor-in-chief of the surgical journal Dermatologic Surgery. As he specializes in liposuction and facial rejuvenation, he has also had the opportunity to partake in a number of clinical studies of breakthrough cosmetic surgery techniques; he participated in some of the original studies of Botox and other various wrinkle fillers. Fortunately for his patients, these numerous medical endeavors have allowed Coleman to stay “on the cutting-edge of his field.”
KIM EDWARD LEBLANC
Touching so many lives in such positive ways…well, there is nothing like it,” answers Dr. Kim LeBlanc when asked what draws him to his career. As a practitioner in the field of family medicine, LeBlanc finds himself in a position distinctive from that of many other physicians. “Family medicine is the medical specialty that provides continuing, comprehensive health care for the entire family,” he explains. “It’s a specialty in breadth that integrates the biological, clinical and behavioral sciences, and encompasses all ages, both sexes, every organ system and every disease entity.”
Such a weighty description might send any pre-med hopeful running for the hills, but LeBlanc admits that he didn’t even consider medicine as a career until he was already a college student at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette. “I was working as a lab technician, working my way through school,” he remembers, “and I was performing all sorts of lab tests on specimens from patients.” Intrigued by the knowledge he was gaining about the human body and constantly posing questions about the research he was doing, LeBlanc eventually became aware of his calling. After obtaining his medical degree from the Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport and completing his residency in 1981, LeBlanc headed back to his hometown of Breaux Bridge to engage in the private practice of family medicine. For 20 years he remained there, simultaneously teaching and working with residency training.
LeBlanc selected his specialty because of the range of medical experiences it continues to allow him, as well as for the special relationships he forms with his patients as a result of the nature of his practice. “Some physicians like to study one thing, but that’s boring to me,” he says. The “womb-to-the-tomb” treatment philosophy of his field means that LeBlanc stays with his patients for years, and sees them through any medical problems that may arise. Many family physicians also have specialized training in such fields as obstetrics, dermatology or in his case, sports medicine, LeBlanc notes; in this way, they are able to treat patients themselves for more specific concerns, rather than refer them to specialists. Additionally, he says, “the bond that arises between a physician and a patient, and the patient’s family, is priceless.
That propensity for caring is also what drives LeBlanc in his medical endeavors outside of his immediate practice. In 2002 he applied for and was offered the job as head of the Family Medicine department at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, which led to his relocation to New Orleans. “I thought I could make more of a difference in family medicine by becoming involved at a higher educational level,” he explains. In addition to his clinical role, LeBlanc serves as the director of Rural Education at LSU School of Medicine, and oversees the Rural Scholars Tracks, a program that recruits and trains medical students to practice primary care in rural Louisiana. “Our state is in desperate need of primary care physicians in rural areas,” he points out. The Rural Scholars Track gives students “a first-hand look at how a rural practice is run.” LeBlanc has also served, in various capacities, on the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners since 2000.
Although Hurricane Katrina forced the relocation of LSUHSC to Baton Rouge for seven months, LeBlanc finds the most challenging aspect of his career thus far to be the clouded common perception of the field of family medicine. “The flashier specialties get a lot of attention,” he remarks, “but primary care and family medicine are the cornerstones to a successful and efficient health care system, and should be valued as such.”
The family doctor is also an unabashed family man, with medicine in his blood. His twin brother is a physician, his younger sister a dietician and his significant other a practitioner of family medicine as well. LeBlanc himself has three daughters and one grandson; he spends his spare hours with them, camping lakeside and running to keep himself in shape.
BENJAMIN R. LEE
Most people wouldn’t give much credit to video games as the source of vocational inspiration, but urologist Benjamin Lee believes that it was this childhood activity that ultimately prepared him for his current career. “Growing up in the era of video games trained me to operate looking off a monitor while moving the controls with my hands. It became second nature to me,” he remembers. “When I was young, I thought I would be a computer programmer, but I became interested in medicine when I started blending computer science and medicine in high school, when doing research at Bethesda Naval Medical Research Institute.”
Lee grew up outside of Washington D.C., where his father, a Taiwanese immigrant, worked as a research biochemist for the Food and Drug Administration. He remembers that his grandfather, a physician in Taiwan, always hoped that one of his descendants would follow in his footsteps. It was ultimately the second generation of children that finally realized this dream; Lee’s sister and brother are a pediatrician and a podiatrist, respectively. “My grandfather died before we were accepted to medical school,” Lee recalls. “But my dad used to say that Grandfather was looking down from heaven and smiling.” Lee attended Cornell University as an undergraduate, and earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He stayed there, honing his general and urologic surgical skills, for 10 years.
It is Lee’s successful blending of modern technology and medicine that allows his patients, who face such serious problems as prostate cancer, to breathe a little easier. As a specialist in endourology, Lee is able in many cases to perform groundbreaking and minimally invasive surgery, using methods such as robotics, laparoscopy and ureteroscopy. “Robotic prostate cancer surgery is the latest and fastest-growing development, and today, approximately 60 percent of all prostate cancer surgery in the U.S. is done by robotic surgery.”
Lee was drawn to his specialty by what he describes as its “continuity of care,” in that it involves not only diagnosis of disorders but also their treatment. His job is to ensure that the human “plumbing” system functions properly. “If the tubes which drain urine from the kidney to the bladder become blocked, either because of a kidney stone, a tumor or scar tissue,” it’s the urologist’s job to “unblock and improve the drainage.” It is a specialty that Lee feels is able to constantly combine new technologies and innovations. For example, he regularly treats patients with kidney cancer who, 10 years ago, would have needed the entire organ removed. With the use of robotic surgery, “we can cut the cancer out and save 50 to 75 percent of the kidney,” he explains. “If anything happens to the other side, it’s enough to keep them off of dialysis.” Additionally, Lee notes that the Tulane Cancer Center offers free prostate screening; he often covers the clinic at University Hospital, providing urologic care for those without medical insurance.
Lee was working as the Director of Laparoscopy at the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York when Hurricane Katrina forced many New Orleans doctors to relocate temporarily to his hospital. “I heard about what was happening and wanted to come and join the team to help rebuild New Orleans,” he says. “The people here are similar to those I saw in New York after the 9/11 attack. There is a resiliency and a welcoming spirit.” Since arriving in New Orleans a year ago, he hasn’t regretted his decision. Along with his career and his position on the editorial board of the Journal of Endourology, Lee finds plenty of time to enjoy the city with his wife and two children.
Looking Out for Her Own
Gabriella Pridjian first became aware of her medical calling when she was in high school. Years of education, training and practice later, she still recalls a guidance counselor who, skeptical of her true interest, steered her toward exploring medical technology. During college she, “realized that while an occupation in the clinical laboratory would be rewarding, I needed a career with more patient interaction.”
After earning an undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin and a medical degree at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Pridjian elected to practice in the field of obstetrics and gynecology because at the time, she recalls, “the level of health care for women was not at the level of health care for men. I wanted good health care for women.” Additionally, Pridjian found excitement in the assistance of childbirth.
Pridjian is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, which, as she explains, is essentially a high-risk obstetrician. When women become pregnant, often times complications can arise. The problem may stem from a preexisting medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure; or it may come from a specific obstetric instance, such as a pregnancy involving twins, triplets or higher. Regardless, Pridjian is specifically trained to handle each individual issue. “About half of my practice involves ultrasounds of the fetus, in order to diagnose and ensure good health throughout the pregnancy,” she says. Her clinical training in genetics provides her with an increased ability to diagnose abnormalities before the child is born. “And while there are many conditions that we cannot treat in utero,” says Pridjian, “there are some we can.” She finds the positive outcomes infinitely rewarding, but continues to be challenged by the instances in which a diagnosis indicates the child’s condition to be not so easily treatable.
Like most New Orleans residents, Pridjian found herself “devastated” by Hurricane Katrina. Tulane-Lakeside Hospital, where she’s employed, was able to open one month after the storm hit, and Pridjian was immediately back to work. As chairman of the department, Pridjian was doubly disadvantaged by Katrina’s displacement; it’s part of her job to train residents and students in obstetrics and gynecology, and to involve them in clinical research. “The population in Greater New Orleans immediately after the storm was not enough to support their training,” she remembers.
“The residents had to move and train temporarily in other schools of medicine… It was difficult for many of [them] who had lost their homes, books and their stability in the city.” While her residents and students trained in Houston after the storm, Pridjian and her team took weekly trips to have afternoon rounds with them. “Although these rounds were to be academic,” she says, “they often evolved into support-type groups.” Fortunately, after about a year, the displaced residents were able to come home to the city.
Pridjian’s swift return to New Orleans after the disaster is emblematic of her feelings toward it. Born in Italy to an extended family of winemakers, and raised by her emigrant Italian parents in the Midwest, Pridjian loves New Orleans for the way that it reminds her of her European roots. “My family came to New Orleans because of job opportunities,” she says. “We stayed because of the city.” She appreciates New Orleans for its fast-paced city vibe, as well as for its small town feel. When not spending time with her son or daughter (the former of whom is starting medical school in the fall), Pridjian works as a member of the Krewe of Muses, and spearheads its shoe-decorating operations. But her greatest pleasure seems still to be derived from her vocation. “The most rewarding part of my field is when I work hard with women who have complications or have never had a healthy baby, and they finally deliver one,” she reflects. “It always brings tears to my eyes.”
Dr. Cleveland Moore’s interest in allergy and immunology “developed naturally,” he says, as a result of “caring for very sick allergic patients.” When working in an immunology research laboratory as an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, he first found himself called to the particular specialty. “My interests in medical parasitology and human defense mechanisms led to the practice of medicine,” he explains. At the age of 22, he decided to officially pursue a career as a doctor; he was the first member of his family to do so. Although raised in New Orleans, Moore found himself on the West Coast for the completion of both his undergraduate degree and his medical degree, at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Despite having practiced in numerous locations – including New York, Mobile and Nashville – he ultimately felt himself called back to the Crescent City. “I have family here,” he says simply. “It’s home.”
As an allergist, Moore specializes in “a range of disorders.” Some of them are basic, like food allergies and asthma; others are more rare, such as severe combined immune deficiency syndrome or “boy in the bubble syndrome.” “My interests lie in hypersensitivity, or allergic disorders found in this field,” says Moore. “I am especially interested in allergic disorders that involve the skin, such as atopic dermatitis and eczema, urticaria and angieoedema, or allergic hives and swelling.” His training allows him to successfully treat these uncomfortable situations, but he also works to manage disorders that defy the more common remedies. Sometimes, he explains, these illnesses are resistant to steroids and alternative treatments must be explored in order to find a cure.
Moore also works to find relief for patients that suffer from severe asthma. According to his experiences in the field, “the challenge in asthma management has to do with the recognition and treatment of subsets in patients.” Asthma sufferers may all have the typical symptoms of wheezing and coughing, but their disorders are unique from one another and “do not always respond to the same medications.” He states that the specific challenge of dealing with these patients is “to develop rapid and easy to perform tests that will differentiate between the different types of asthma.” Moore has to often explore different options and alternative routes for the asthma patient to achieve optimal health, much like he does for those patients afflicted with food allergies and conditions like atopic dermatitis.
Moore was also in New Orleans to face the challenge of Hurricane Katrina. “We lost our hospitals at Louisiana State University,” he remembers, “and our patient population, as well as many specialists.” Despite the dismal environment, Moore and the rest of the faculty worked hard to provide the necessary information and education to medical students. “Our challenge was to continue training student physicians in spite of our situation,” he says. “We had to rapidly develop alternate sites to train our physicians such that the quality of training and the reduced numbers of patients did not impair training.” The hard work yielded results, and Moore is still teaching and practicing in the city of New Orleans.