Andrea Brown

I will say this is kind of difficult for me to share, because anybody who knows me knows I’m a very private person. I’m now realizing that in order to help others, I need to be okay with my journey and pay it forward.

I’m a systems administrator in the facilities department. I’ve been working at Hopkins for 10 years. We have a small department within facilities that serves the IT functions of the work management system for the entire hospital.

Last year in March, I found a lump. I got a mammogram and I got a call back. You’re not supposed to get a call back. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was petrified. There was no family history of breast cancer. I remember telling myself, I have to go to work and I have to tell my supervisor. I have a daughter. I’m her primary care giver. So it’s a scary situation to be in.

I was also scared because I work at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. I don’t care where you are, you see the side effects of what cancer can do. I told my supervisor, Tom Lentz, about my diagnosis and he was the one who encouraged me to go to the Managing Cancer at Work program.

I went to the very first Managing Cancer meeting, which was the first of each month. While I was nervous, the way the meeting was run put me at ease. Marie Borsellino, the oncology nurse navigator, was so helpful. The disease makes you vulnerable. It exposes you. I remember just tearing up, telling my story, not knowing what to expect. But then the people who were around me were a mix of survivors — those who were going through it, through treatment. People just like me.

I made the choice not to go through the chemo. I didn’t have to do the radiation. I chose a double mastectomy. My biggest fear was not being able to do my job when I came back at the same capacity that I did before I left. There were side effects from the surgery alone. There are times where I’m in pain. One of the challenges is not being able to physically do some of the things that I was able to do prior to surgery. I need help to lift things now.  I used to be fairly independent, and that is a constant reminder that I need help from others.

If you go to work and you don’t have that support, it makes things so much more difficult. I have such a respect my supervisor. I thank him on several occasions. The support was helpful also with the two senior directors. They maintained my privacy, as I wanted. Sometimes they just sat with me. I remember one time I was in the conference room, and I just balled my eyes out. Everybody does not have the benefit of having someone who understands. And I think in the workplace it’s very important because this isn’t something you ask for — to all of a sudden get this life-threatening disease.

My daughter is 13 now. She surprised me because initially I kept everything from her. Now she’s helping with the laundry. She’s helping do things I couldn’t do.

I’m coming up on one year of survivorship. I remember the exact date of my diagnosis was April 14. It will be a year. I’m definitely going to do something to mark that day. Not only that day, but the day I actually had surgery, which was the May 18.

One of my friends sent me a quote: “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” I remember I kept looking at it. I get it. You have to live your life.

Hear, in Andrea's words, how she will celebrate her first year of survivorship.

Note: If you have been diagnosed with cancer or are a caregiver to someone diagnosed with cancer, and would like to  find out more about Managing Cancer at Work, visit (employee site PIN-6229, manager site PIN-6229) or call 410-955-6229.

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"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence." -Carol McLeod

"Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence."

I have spent the last 30 years of my life with people in the very last moments of life. I know this would be uncomfortable for some people, but I believe it is my calling.

I spent my early adult years supporting my husband in graduate school, raising three wonderful children and singing in local musical ensembles. When my children graduated from college, I went back to school — first exploring music therapy, and then nursing. I graduated as a registered nurse at age 50 and went on to be what I was meant to be — a hospice nurse.

Back in those days, in the early years of the AIDS epidemic, we were unsure of what we were dealing with, but there were so many patients who needed our care, and we did our best to keep them pain-free and comfortable.

An inpatient hospice facility isn’t a frightening place. It’s actually quiet and loving, and the family members of the patients tend to bond together to form a village of sorts. They share their pain and grief in ways that many people never understand.

But family can’t be there day and night, and sometimes patients pass away when their loved ones are at home getting much-needed rest or dealing with the reality of their lives. Without fail, these family members always wanted to know who was with their loved one at the end. It was important to them that nurses and other hospice staff members were there to gently guide their family member to the other side.

Now I’m 82, and I’ve been volunteering at Suburban Hospital for almost 10 years. My “day job” is in the Emergency Department, where I’m a greeter, gopher and helper. I also serve on the Patient and Family Advisory Council.

I am also proud to serve on the No One Dies Alone Committee. NODA is a special program that provides dying patients with a companion if they don’t have friends or family nearby. No medical care is involved, so NODA volunteers come from many different departments here at Suburban.

What a privilege it is to sit with people who are in the last hours of their lives and help them find peace. I hold their hands and hum my favorite songs to them. Sometimes they hear me, and sometimes they don’t, but I know deep down that they feel my presence.

I truly believe there’s nothing more fulfilling and meaningful than helping a person die peacefully and quietly. It is a true gift.

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Bryan Rexroad handles dozens of calls every day from patients or doctors seeking appointments and information.

I’ve always been a really open person. I can talk to anyone. Whenever I train somebody to be a patient access specialist, I always tell people: Just talk to patients as if they’re people. I think that’s the biggest key — to be open and treat everyone almost like they’re your friend.

When people find out I work in a call center, they usually ask me what kind. I’ll tell them “Johns Hopkins,” and that kind of explains most of it: making appointments for doctors, triaging calls, stuff like that. So it’s not something unimportant. You’re actually making a difference in people’s lives by doing it.

The call room I work in is pretty small. It’s located inside the Wilmer Eye Institute, and there are five of us in there, and I’m training someone, so six total. We have our own little fridge and microwave and our desks. That’s about it. We walk in there straight in the morning, and walk out straight at night.

I’d say the average person here does 70 to 100 calls a day. That’s just a guess. It probably takes about 10 seconds to figure out whether a call is going to be easy or challenging. We get anything from somebody who must have a routine eye exam, so they just want glasses, to someone having an urgent issue, like they’re seeing floating spots, flashing lights — all these symptoms that could lead to something.

It’s always nice to have someone in good spirits when they call. A lot of the elderly people like to tell really bad puns and jokes, which I do as well. Just small-talk jokes. I’ll ask them if they have a good callback number and they’ll say, “No, I just have a regular one.”

Every once in a while, people will hang up on you. They’ll be like: “Okay, bye.” And just hang up. You have to understand that patients can be upset and frustrated. You have to have empathy and understand where they’re coming from. I know if I was losing my sight, I’d probably be frustrated with many things.

My favorite types of calls are, honestly, providing the appropriate information. That’s usually a big stress relief. It’s always really nice when somebody starts off super grumpy, and then you help them out and they’re the most thankful people that you’ve helped.

Call centers are hard to describe. I had no idea what this work would be like. I certainly didn’t know much about the eyes, and now I train people. I’ve been here almost a year. I’m 23 years old. I feel like once you get past that six-month point, that’s when you stick around for a bit.

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Charles Odonkor

"Trying to be nonjudgmental when interacting with patients and finding a common point of shared humanity helps me bond with a patient." Charles Odonkor, M.D.



'Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation opened up a whole new world for me.'

I left home in Ghana at age 18, by myself, to come to this place with promise and opportunity.

My mom is a caterer in a high school. My Dad is a retired bank clerk. I’m the oldest of five kids, so I always had to lead the way. I am the first person in my family to go to college.

My interest in medicine sort of evolved naturally. My grandfather was knowledgeable in herbal medicine and had an influence. I think that sort of planted the seed for later on — having that curiosity and understanding how medicines work with the human body.

I came from Ghana to Tennessee, then went to Washington University in St. Louis for graduate school. From there, I went to Yale University for medical school.

I had been away from home almost eight years. In my second year at Yale, my dad had a stroke. That put me on a different course. Initially, I thought I would do neurosurgery, but when I went home and saw my dad, he was a shadow of himself. He could not talk. His whole left side was not functional. I asked, “What can we do for him?” I was told: “I’m sorry — it’s an act of God. There’s nothing else to be done.” If my dad had been in the States, a lot could have been done. Unfortunately, by virtue of geography, his options were limited.

That had me thinking again about want I wanted to do with medicine. That’s how I decided to do physical medicine and rehabilitation, which really focuses on function, functional outcomes and quality of life. My dad was actually the impetus for me wanting to go into physiatry.

Since then, I’ve been drawn to patients who have impairments and disabilities. It opened a whole new world for me. I was glad the specialty found me.

I was lucky this past year to be appointed as the national president of the Resident and Fellow Council of the Association of Academic Physiatrists, which is the leading organization for academics, research and mentorship for our specialty. I had the opportunity to go to the Capitol to do some advocacy for disability rights and advocate for more National Institutes of Health funding. That’s one of the things I’m passionate about.

When I came to Baltimore, I found that we didn’t have a very organized group for minority residents. It was really surprising!

I rallied my colleagues, and we started the Diversity Residents and Postdocs group, DRAP, in 2014. One of the ideas we focus on is cultural competency and helping to change the perceptions that may exist. We’re also addressing the mentorship gap with minorities.

I also helped found a group called the PM&R Interest Group at Johns Hopkins. Most people go through four years of medical school, and nobody talks to them about people who have disabilities. There’s such a huge need for it. We have all these veterans who return from war with amputations and chronic pain. Even a simple thing like accessibility, we take it for granted. Medical students must be exposed to these types of things. It also gives us an opportunity to recruit the best of the best in this specialty.

Note: Read Odonkor’s blog posts on the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Biomedical Odyssey.

Also, listen to Odonkor's story about a patient with whom he built trust and help enhance her care experience.

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Levi Watkins

Levi Watkins, The Johns Hopkins Hospital's first chief resident in cardiac surgery.

Since 1976, every U.S. president has designated February as Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African-Americans in U.S. history.

Throughout the history of Johns Hopkins Medicine, many African-Americans are known and remembered for their significant contributions to medicine, which often led the way for change.

Who else should be included on the list below? Share your thoughts, stories and memories in the comments.

  • Vivien Thomas, surgical assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock during the revolutionary cardiac surgery to repair tetralogy of Fallot, a heart condition often referred to as “blue baby syndrome.” After the first successful surgery, everyone involved received a great deal of recognition except for Thomas, who was African-American. He was later given an honorary degree by the school of medicine
  • Suburban Hospital’s medical director of trauma services, Dany Westerband, MD, was a recipient of the 2015 Johns Hopkins Medicine Clinical Award for Excellence in Service and Professionalism and has a distinguished history of excellent service to his patients and colleagues. In 2010, Dr. Westerband led a team of physicians to Haiti immediately after the devastating earthquake to contribute to medical relief efforts.
  • At The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Robert Higgins was named the first African-American department head within the hospital in 2015. Levi Watkins is remembered as a prominent cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first implantation of an automatic heart defibrillator in a patient in 1980. He came to The Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1970 as the first African-American surgical resident and became the first African-American chief resident in cardiac surgery in 1975. Additionally, Ben Carson was the second African-American in the United States to become a neurosurgeon.
  • Howard County General Hospital anesthesiologist John Payne has been associated with the hospital since its founding year in 1973 and was the first chair of the hospital’s medical staff. During the years that followed, he developed a thriving practice of anesthesiologists. In its earliest days, it was obvious that HCGH needed the participation of private physicians from Howard County. Dr. Payne worked diligently to meld the interests of the new hospital with private doctors to build the Medical Arts Building in 1977, providing office space for private specialty practices in a building adjacent to the hospital. Payne noted, “These private physicians were critical for the survival of the hospital and the betterment of medicine in Howard County.”
  • At the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Robert Gamble and Nigerian student James Nabwangu were among the first African-Americans admitted to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and both graduated in 1967. 1975 graduate Claudia Thomas became the first African-American female orthopedic surgeon in the country. She later returned as an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
  • At the Johns Hopkins University, Frederick Scott was the first African-American undergraduate admitted and Gail Williams was one of the first three African-American women admitted.

Read about the impact of other African Americans at Johns Hopkins at

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Assistant cook Jennie Humbles slices and dices the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. She also sings with Unified Voices, a choir made up of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly MLK Commemoration.

Assistant cook Jennie Humbles prepares the fruits and vegetables that end up on the dinner plates of Johns Hopkins Medicine patients, family members, faculty and staff. When she's not working at The Johns Hopkins Hospital central kitchen, she's singing with Unified Voices, a choir of Johns Hopkins employees and community members that sings at, among other events, our yearly Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration.

We prepare the produce: the fruit, salad … everything gets washed. We have to weigh everything to make sure it’s the right amount. We have cantaloupe, pineapple and honeydew. On onion day, you’d be crying, honey! We also do food prep for Suburban and Howard County General Hospital. Yeah, Johns Hopkins does it all.

I’ve been in Unified Voices for over 20 years; it’s a community choir. We even have police, nurses, doctors, an intern. Anybody can come and join. Johns Hopkins sponsors us. It’s like a spiritual choir that helps people when they’re in need of a little love, you know? It’s like a pill — you have to take your medicine today. It’s like a pill that will heal your soul.

I’ve been singing ever since I was small because we used to have shows on the weekend for my father and mother. My parents would say make a joyful noise — whatever you sing, sing from your heart. My special song when I’m down and I’m feeling low is “I want Jesus to walk with me.”

When we sing for patients [at the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration], it’s telecast to The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview. See, that’s why I love working at Johns Hopkins, that’s why I love being with the patients. Because you know, they say thanks — no, don’t thank me! I thank you because we can share this moment together. And the patients, you should see their smiles. I like it when they smile. Some of them just got off of not eating anything by mouth. You know the first time they eat, they have to eat slowly; you’ve got to take time. We can open our refrigerator, go in there and get what we want out. But these patients can’t. They’ve got to wait for the food to be delivered to them. It’s like we’re their guardian angels to hear, to soothe their souls. So we can help them. That’s the way I see it.

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“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.” -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

“Setting a daily goal is what works best for me.”
                          -Samantha Simmons, NICU nurse

My dad loves racquetball. He brought it with him to the East Coast. It’s much bigger on the West Coast. Initially, my sisters and I weren’t very interested; we’d go to the gym with him and play hide and seek. We’d usually hide in the women’s locker room, inside the lockers.

When we were 10 to 12, we started getting interested. In my junior career, I made the U.S. team four times over the course of six years. Last year in Seattle, I took the No. 4 player to four games and almost won the tiebreaker game. It felt great!

You can tell when someone is at these tournaments to have fun and loves the sport versus someone for whom it’s a job. My fiancé asked me, “What would you choose if you could choose one career?” I would choose nursing. Nursing makes me sane enough to go train. I love working in the neonatal ICU. I get to potentially save lives and change people’s lives here at work, and I also get to take personal satisfaction in sports.

Everybody in racquetball is for the most part very sociable and awesome to hang out with at the tournaments. My fiancé, Sebastian Franco, is a men’s professional racquetball player. We met and took an interest in each other at the junior world racquetball championships in 2009 in the Dominican Republic. He’s currently No. 8 in the world — he kicks my butt! He’s my coach right now.

Before a tournament, normally, you want to get to the gym at least four or five times a week, if only for at least an hour or two. Setting a daily goal is what works best for me. When I train and exercise, I have already planned which skills I want to work on and which cardio I am going to do.

Racquetball is 80 percent — some say 90 percent — mental. My junior coach said, “If you’re about to take a shot and you think you’re going to hit a bad shot or skip it, you are going to skip it or hit a bad shot.” And she’s right.

In general, I think it’s always best to think optimistically. It’s always calming to the parents when a nurse is positive. I don’t think we see this work as heroic. Obviously, it’s our job, but we just see it as something we love to do. I think my favorite part is when the babies finally get to go home. We have some babies who come for a week and some who are here for three to six months. These parents experience such high stress, and to see the excitement on their faces — there’s nothing more exciting than walking a baby downstairs to the front door and putting them in the car.

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Billy “Bizzo” Robinson, security guard, East Baltimore campus

I needed a job when I came to Baltimore in 1972. Seems like I found a home; I haven’t been anywhere else since.

I get out here at 6 a.m. during the week. I’m outside all day, every day at the corner of Caroline and Jefferson streets. Since I’m getting old now, my legs bother me sometimes, so I try not to spend that much time in the booth. I look out not just for the employees, but everyone in the area.

The biggest thing that really sticks out of my mind? I think this was about 1980 or ’81. I came to work one Sunday morning—it was either Sunday or Saturday because everything was basically dead—that’s when the hotel was there. Before they built CRB I and II, before JHOC, there was a Sheraton hotel.

I got a call to go in front of the hotel. And it was some people from Mexico, and the lady was in labor. When I got up there, the lady at the front desk said, “Bizzo, she’s in labor. She’s about to have a baby!” At that time, when patients came to the hospital, some of them had nurses. One of the patients had a nurse with her. I was the only one with rubber gloves, and the lady said, “You ever delivered a baby before?” I said, “No, ma’am.” She said: “I’m going to tell you what to do. Hold your hands out, when the baby comes out. Just hold it, just hold it.” And as the baby’s feet came out, the ambulance came and I said, “What do I do now?” She said, “Just hold him until the ambulance people get here.” That was a new experience for me.

The other thing that sticks out of my mind: The dialysis unit used to be around the other side before they built CRB I and II, and this man, I used to call him the General—he was a colonel in the Air Force. His nephew brought him here for dialysis treatment. And I hollered: “Hey, General, how you doing, man, how are things going? Give me one of those war stories.” He was talking and then all of the sudden he went down. I called to him, “General, are you all right?” All of a sudden, he just died. We did CPR on him, but it didn’t help any. He died on the spot.

Out of all the things going on in the world, the little things you count are blessings. Sometimes somebody might give me a bottle of water or words of encouragement. I usually say something crazy to get people laughing in the morning—after two cups of coffee, I can usually start working.

When you think you're not influencing people's lives, it's kind of funny what you find out. As you go through this life, if you're not helping or encouraging somebody, you're not really doing anything.

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What brings you joy at work? When asked how they find joy in medicine, employees across Johns Hopkins Medicine shared things like receiving positive notes from coworkers, having a clean work space in the operating room, interacting with patients on a personal level, and more. Share how you find joy in your everyday work.

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Dr. Paul Ladenson (Endocrinology, Radiology)

"He did not rush through the biospsy procedure. He was caring and cordial, warm bedside manner, he explained to me exactly what to expect. I felt confident and relaxed throughout the procedure."

Jenny Perry (CVISCU Nurse) and Sarah (CVSICU Tech)

"They were so great keeping my husband calm and communicated so he knew what was going on. It is hard to put into words how professional they both were and very compassionate to me."

Meghan Hill (Oncology Nurse)

"Each time we have had her she is attentive, efficient and through her body language we can tell she cares about our daughter. Megan anticipates our daughter’s needs, confirms with her, and then proceeds to see that she gets what she needs. Not only is she kind and compassionate, but her level of expertise excels far above the norm."

Jennifer (CCU Nurse)

"My husband is high maintenance, but Jennifer has remained extraordinarily kind, patient and encouraging. She has gone the extra mile to ensure his comfort by offering to reposition him rather than just offer pain meds. She also has helped to try to maintain his muscle tone  by using the lift to get him in a chair despite many tubes she had to manage. Perhaps less obvious to all is the quality of healing for patient and family members that her kind spirit provides."

Rose (Weinberg 4C Nurse)

"Rose showed tremendous maturity, knowledge, care and compassion toward me. She included my sisters, making them feel an integral part of the healing process."

Weinberg 4C (Krisha Patel, Nick Sacco, and Angela Reed)

"They all treated us as a family member and will be forever grateful."


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