Robert Muilenburg

One From the Heart

A minister, under the care of cardiologist P. Renee Brown Obi, once told his wife: “God didn’t make any perfect people, but he came close when he made Dr. Renee.”
      For Brown Obi, the compliment is a tribute to her dedication to tending to the physical and emotional needs of patients. “Talking to patients is like teaching in the classroom,” she says. “You can’t assume people know more than they do. Communication must be basic until the patient is educated enough to move to the next level of understanding. Good medicine and good communication work hand-in-hand to achieve a positive effect.”
      Brown Obi decided to specialize in cardiology because she wanted to help and heal patients. After graduating from SU, she earned a medical degree from Temple University and served fellowships at the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the Episcopal Heart Institute of Temple University. “Diseases of the heart frequently can be addressed to improve the health and lives of patients at a much higher rate than with other more debilitating diseases,” she says. “When patients and doctors work together, treatment plans accelerate the return to health. It’s important to remove the mysteries of the disease process.”
      Advice that is easily understood and readily accessible is a hallmark of how Brown Obi educates her patients at First Care Medical Center in Jackson, Tennessee, which she operates with her husband, Emmanuel Obi, an internist. This isn’t the first time the Nashville native has worked with a family member. Before joining her husband in business, Brown Obi worked for nine years with her father, who is also a cardiologist.
      During her days at SU, Brown Obi recalls how her parents’ guidance helped her develop personal and professional goals. “Dad always joked with me,” she says. “When I expressed an interest in studying drama or becoming a writer, he would laugh and say: ‘That’s fine—as long as it’s after you become a doctor.’”
      Brown Obi is pleased with how she’s been able to balance her private life, with her husband and 3-year-old son Olise, and her medical career. “My family instilled an ethic in me to never give up,” she says. “And that has carried me through life.”

—Joanne Arany

Courtesy of Leona Bucci

On Their Own Terms

Leona Bucci believes it’s time to talk openly about something most of us don’t like to think about: dying. As executive director of Hospice of Gaston County in Gastonia, North Carolina, she helps people die on their own terms—having their voices heard and deciding for themselves what the end of life should be. “Most people want to die at home with their loved ones, but the reality is, most die in a hospital or institution,” says Bucci, who received a graduate degree in nursing from SU.
      Perceiving her community’s need to address end-of-life issues, Bucci established the End of Life Coalition in Gastonia, a suburb of Charlotte. She invited 23 carefully selected community representatives—including the mayor, United Way administrators, key area ministers, and representatives from the Department of Family Health Services—to sit on a regional committee and begin a process of education to improve end-of-life care in the county. Bucci has since been honored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a leader of end-of-life care in the United States, and was one of 300 participants invited to the foundation’s January seminar in Newport Beach, California.
      “We’re growing,” she says of the coalition, which recently hosted two well-attended events for physicians and the community. “We have developed a curriculum to encourage other communities to improve end-of-life care—to help people talk about their vision, and to design a process for activating a living will.

—Amy Shires


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