Rabies Team Wins ‘Ultimate’ Health Care Hero Award

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm

The team of health care professionals who made medical history by saving the life of rabies victim Jeanna Giese will receive the "Ultimate Hero Award" at the Small Business Times Health Care Heroes Awards Breakfast. The team at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, led by Dr. Rodney Willoughby, induced the 15-year-old Fond du Lac girl into a coma one month after she had been bitten by a rabid bat. In desperation, the surgical team treated Giese with an experimental cocktail of drugs to protect her brain while the virus ran its course. The procedures had never been tried on a human being before. Ultimately, Giese became the first human being known to survive rabies.

"The options were to send Jeanna home to be with her family, or they could make her comfortable at the hospital in her final days. Or they could try something," said Sara Silver-Traband, spokeswoman for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. On Jan. 1, 2005, Giese went home from the hospital. She continues with her rehabilitation and has returned to her school in Fond du Lac. An estimated 50,000 people die annually from rabies. Physicians are hopeful that the treatment techniques used to cure Giese at Children’s Hospital will be replicated to save other lives throughout the world.

The breakthrough treatment was cited in depth in The New England Journal of Medicine. "Anytime something so significant, so incredible and so historic happens like this in our back yard, we’re thrilled to draw attention to it," said Dan Meyer, publisher of Small Business Times. "The heroic, life-saving achievements of the team at Children’s Hospital are a perfect fit for the Health Care Heroes program." The SBT program salutes people and organizations who are making a difference on the front lines of health care. In addition to the Children’s Hospital team, 14 other Health Care Heroes Award winners were selected by an independent panel of judges.

The other Health Care Heroes, by category, are:

Corporate Achievement  in Health Care

  • The public/private partnership of the Behavorial Health Division of Milwaukee County and Rogers Memorial Hospital in West Allis and Oconomowoc, for mental health care.
  • Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, for its "7/70" nurse staffing plan, which has greatly reduced turnover.

Advancements  in Health Care

  • Dr. Edward Barthell, founder and chief medical officer of EMSystem, a suite of health care information technology products that have revolutionized the coordination of communications among hospitals and emergency medical services providers across the nation. Barthell also is the president and founder of the National Institute for Medical Informatics (NIMI), which established the Wisconsin Health Information Exchange.
  • Dr. Richard Pircon, developer and director of the Prenatal Assessment Center at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Milwaukee. The center provides vital services for high-risk pregnancies.

Community Service

  • Dr. Ramon Gonzalez and his wife, Rita Gonzalez, R.N. They founded the Madre Angela Clinic on Cesar Chavez Drive in Milwaukee and continue to provide vital health care and other comfort to an under-served neighborhood, regardless of their patients’ abilities to pay for the services. The clinic is owned by Covenant Healthcare of Milwaukee.
  • The AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (ARCW). The Milwaukee organization has provided services to AIDS victims, regardless of their abilities to pay. The number of Wisconsin residents living with HIV has reached an all-time high of 5,400. The organization became especially important after Aurora Health Care’s Positive Health Clinic closed last April.


  • Dr. Richard London, medical director of senior health at St. Michael Hospital, Milwaukee, operated by Covenant Healthcare. London, a geriatrician, founded a primary care practice on the campus of Alexian Village and established several other programs to provide care for the elderly.
  • Dr. Donald Hackbarth Jr., orthopaedic surgeon at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital and professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa. He is one of only three orthopaedic oncologists in the state. In addition, Hackbarth makes annual trips to provide medical care to impoverished people in Latin America.


  • Vicki Dallmann-Papke, R.N., director of Employer Corporate Health Services for ProHealth Care at Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital and Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Dallmann-Papke established an efficient flu shot program and obtained a grant to send a bilingual health educator into the community to teach Hispanic women about the dangers of breast cancer. She also volunteers at the Lake Area Free Clinic and serves as a nursing instructor at Cardinal Stritch University.
  • Kim Mueller, R.N. (in memoriam), a psychiatric nurse who delivered child and adolescent services at Rogers Memorial Hospital in West Allis. Mueller passed away earlier this year after a bout with cancer. She was a key staff member in the development of the Child & Adolescent Inpatient Program to treat young people with a wide variety of mental health disorders. She also helped establish the Child & Adolescent Day Treatment Program at the hospital.

Health Care Staff

  • Willie Kimbrough, senior transporter at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital, who is being cited for going the extra mile to assure patient care.
  • Joy Willis, scheduler at the Clinic of Urology, Milwaukee, who is being cited for her compassion for patients.


  • Laverne Yanke, volunteer at Waukesha Memorial Hospital, operated by ProHealth Care. Yanke, 88, has volunteered services for 17 years to help patients make the transition from their hospital rooms to the surgery department.
  • Jeanne McCue, R.N. clinical facilitator at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital. McCue, 70, has been to Bosnia 26 times to bring clothing, medical supplies and hope.

The Health Care Heroes were selected from among 60 nominations by an independent panel of judges that included: Dr. Randall Lambrecht, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Health Sciences; Karen Ordinans, executive director of the Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin in Milwaukee; Dr. Sarah Pratt, a pediatrician and past president of the Medical Society of Milwaukee County and a current member of the Wisconsin Medical Society Board of Directors; and Connie Roethel, R.N., president of Complementary Health & Healing Partners, a corporate wellness and health promotion services company with offices in Mequon, and a wellness columnist for Small Business Times.

"It was incredibly difficult for the judges to pick the winners from a tremendous field of nominees. We encourage anyone who was not selected this year to be renominated next year. Just like last year, the field was so strong, and there are so many people doing some amazing, noble things in the community. We salute all of them," Meyer said. The winners and their stories will be cited in a special publication that will be unveiled at the SBT Health Care Heroes Breakfast, which will take place Thursday, Dec. 8, at the Wyndham Milwaukee Center Hotel. The event will be emceed by Caroline Lyders, morning news anchor at WISN-Channel 12. The public is invited to attend the breakfast. To obtain additional information about the program, visit www.biztimes.com or call Sarah Wilson at (414) 277-8181, ext. 129.

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