Tag Archives: University of Nebraska Medical Center

Legislating Health Care Solutions for Small Businesses

February 4, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Health care consultant Sean McGuire has a background in political science. “My first job out of college was working in Washington, D.C., which is what I always wanted to do,” McGuire says.

The Iowa native worked on the staff of the Senate Committee on Finance, headed by Chuck Grassley, from 2005-2008. This committee oversees legislation around health care, such as Medicare and Medicaid.

McGuire continued to educate himself about health care legislation, even after coming back to Omaha. When McGuire read the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare), he realized that the gray areas and sweeping size of the ACA would cause confusion.

“I recognized that this law is probably one of the biggest pieces of legislation that has ever been passed in our lifetime,” McGuire says.

McGuire then worked as the UNMC health policy adviser. A large part of this job was to inform the organization on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the university, its hospital, and the local community. The job also included organizing quarterly briefings for local media.

“Health care reform was just starting to take shape, and Sean played a lead role on a committee that included some of the Medical Center’s brightest minds…The committee served as a resource for the entire state to help people better understand what was happening with health care reform,” says Tom O’Connor, senior associate public relations director for the UNMC.

McGuire understood that the ACA would have the most impact on doctors, small hospitals, and small businesses.

“They are there to provide a service—they’re not there to figure out government regulations and compliance.” McGuire says. “Those [people] are really who we enjoy working with the most.”

To offer solutions for health care for those small businesses, McGuire founded E.D. Bellis in 2011.

E.D. Bellis is named for McGuire’s great-great-great-grandfather, who came to Omaha in 1870. Bellis was recommended by a talent agent in New York to be the first organist for Kountze Memorial Lutheran Church and would be described as the “finest organ player west of the Missouri” in his obituary.

“He was a very influential person in the Omaha community that brought music and culture to a city that really needed it,” McGuire says. “I felt that he was the perfect face for what we’re trying to build…we’re trying to bring something new, which is information and understanding to people that need it, just as he brought culture and music to a rough pioneer town.”

In 2013, E.D. Bellis began an agency and broker partnership program with the insurance company Guardian. In that capacity, ED Bellis lends their health care law and compliance expertise to customers of Guardian as a complimentary service.

“They’re unique to the marketplace,” says Doug Gillespie, group sales consultant at Guardian.

In 2015, they began working throughout Des Moines, and in 2016 they started working with the Quad Cities and Ohio.

In summer 2017, E.D. Bellis branched out to Presque Isle, Maine. It’s an area that has a shortage of health care expertise. Five or six hospitals cover a portion of the state the size of Connecticut.

McGuire liked the fact that they were innovative, exemplified by their participation in the pioneer Accountable Care Organization demonstration. ACOs were eligible for higher reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare if they met all the required standards of providing higher quality care and keeping their population healthy. While 32 health care systems were selected to take part, only a third of them made money.

E.D. Bellis plans to complement their existing programs and capitalize on new opportunities as the laws change.

“What I believe we are onto is a national concept that could be replicated all across the country,” McGuire says. “If it does, it’s going to prove our concept and we’ll open up in other parts of the country as well.”

McGuire anticipates that Omaha will remain the headquarters for E.D. Bellis, partially because Omaha and Des Moines are insurance and health care-heavy. “Almost every large building all over the Midwest is some sort of insurance,” McGuire says. Yet, many are still in the dark about health care. E.D. Bellis is there to help.

“The Affordable Care Act has caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, but it’s done good things too,” McGuire says. “I didn’t do this to make a buck. I did this to fill a need.”

Visit edbellisinc.com for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.

A Professor in Motion Stays in Motion

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sun barely penetrated the narrows of the canyon. Kris Berg, Ph.D., scrambled over dusty red rock, carefully avoiding the steep cliffs that plunged down 50 yards on either side of him. History and geology combined with each footprint he left behind.

While most come to Las Vegas to roll the dice, Berg would rather hike with his wife in the outdoors, taking in the natural beauties of the world (which he accomplished during a recent winter trip).

Berg is a self-described exercise nut. The physical fitness bug struck him at a young age. When Berg was just 12 years old, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Rather than a healthy boy, people saw him as fragile and sick. In high school, Berg’s coach even kicked him off the football team.

“I’ll show you. I’ll be so healthy that no one would do that again,” Berg thought.

After his family moved, a new doctor told Berg to experiment. So Berg lived his life, not letting diabetes limit his physical abilities.

“Exercise is such a powerful thing,” he says. “People are always looking for a magic pill. It’s right in front of us.”

He played multiple sports in high school and college. The science behind it all stimulated and fascinated him. With a doctorate in exercise physiology from the University of Missouri in hand, Berg began teaching at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

“Top to bottom, front to back, he is enthusiastic,” former student Robert Buresh says.

Kris Berg, Ph.D.

UNO had no laboratory at the time so Berg developed one with the backing of the dean. Berg, a prolific researcher, made ties with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. He developed an exercise physiology lab geared toward an investigative-driven program which would look at the human body from a scientific angle.

He soon started a special exercise program for Type 1 and 2 diabetes. His own brother had passed away from the disease at 32. Berg spent years of his career dedicated to informing the public on the positives of exercise to help regulate blood sugar.

Berg’s interest never wavered. He tackled osteoporosis next. The Strong Bones Program was born, helping the elderly build up confidence and mobility to avoid falls.

“We were very fortunate Berg initiated this program,” Berg’s former colleague Josie Metal-Corbin says. Although a dancer and yoga enthusiast, 65-year-old Metal-Corbin took the class for the added strength training and sense of community. The classes soon combined into the Adult Fitness Program.

After four books, more than 200 articles, and 45 years at UNO, Berg hung up his tennis shoes last May and retired. However, retirement didn’t stop him from doing what he loves.

Berg still finds time to visit with graduate students who need his help on papers, and he spends two hours or so a day researching.

“I wanted to go on being physically active regardless of age,” Berg explains.

Long and lean at the age of 73, Berg follows a diverse workout plan. He smacks the ball around on the tennis court four or five days a week. The physical and mental “chess match” keeps him sharp. He also still shovels snow, pulls weeds, and hikes.

“I have a tremendous enjoyment of exercise. I never get bored,” Berg says.

At the gym, Berg avoids the machines, preferring resistance training (similar to his classes). He stresses the importance of maintaining coordination and mobility. His goal—for himself and for others—is to prevent age from becoming an obstacle to living life. 

The Adult Fitness Program is open to members of the general public age 50 and older. The supervised fitness class takes place twice a week at UNO’s Health, Physical Education, and Recreation (HPER) Building. The program costs $36 for three months; parking costs $54 for three months. Contact the UNO Exercise Physiology Lab at 402-554-3221 or exphyslab@unomaha.edu to enroll.

Visit unomaha.edu for more information.

The Historian’s Personal Collection

January 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Howard Hamilton, 82, has read every issue of every Omaha newspaper dating back to 1854.

The Omaha historian, who was once fluent in 12 languages, moved to the area at age 5 with his family in 1939 and has lived here ever since (with the exception of language immersion studies at Georgetown University and a three-year stint in Pakistan with the U.S. Army).

He remembers how busy downtown Omaha used to be. “At that time, all the way from Leavenworth to Capitol was crowded during the day,” he says, remembering all the shops and the post office at 16th and Dodge streets. “It would be like if you saw a picture of New York City’s Times Square.”

hamilton1It seems fitting that a man who has seen so much of the city during so many phases of time should have a passion for history. Hamilton fondly remembers his third-grade teacher making the students recite all the U.S. presidents, from George Washington up to then-president Truman, every morning. (He can still do it today.)

Hamilton has a particular passion for Omaha history. He taught it for years at Metropolitan Community College. In 1990, he founded and served as the first president of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition Historical Association, named for the 1898 event that brought 2.6 million visitors to the city, one of them U.S. President William McKinley.

Hamilton published a book of 500 trivia stories about Omaha history, as well as a series of calendars with every day of the year marked by an event in Omaha history.

In 2012, he donated thousands of newspaper clippings to The Durham Museum. The collection’s name? The Howard Hamilton Research Archive.

Now retired, he uses his house as a storage space for artifacts he has collected over the years.

A tour of his collection reveals some amazing stuff:

hamilton4A copy of the first issue of The Omaha Daily World from 1885. And a copy of the first issue of the The Omaha World-Herald from 1889.

A piece of human hipbone from Omaha Beach. Hamilton found it when he visited in 2002 and thought it may have come from when the Allies stormed the beaches at D-Day. So, Hamilton brought it back to Nebraska with the intention of donating it to veterans.

(A pathologist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center revealed that it was human, but not from 1944. “This bone is 3,000 years old,” Hamilton says the pathologist told him. The bone likely came from someone who drowned in the Atlantic and washed up on the beach.)

hamilton3A piece of brick from a 1904 Omaha sidewalk that reads: “DON’T SPIT ON SIDEWALK.”

An article about the only man ever to survive being scalped, as well as a picture of the man and a picture of the scalp. The man was at the Plum Creek Massacre and was brought to Omaha afterward. “They attempted to have the scalp replaced after he recovered,” Hamilton says. When that did not work, “they gave it to him, and then he donated it to Omaha.”

These days, Hamilton seems to be feeling good about a pretty incredible find.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland visited Omaha in 1887 because his wife inherited property from a Council Bluffs family. Naturally, The Omaha Daily World devoted front-page coverage to the visit on Oct. 12. But not all of the copies were on newsprint.

“In 1887, [the paper] published this and made five copies on satin,” Hamilton says. Of those five satin copies, Cleveland received one and the heirs of Gilbert Hitchcock, the founder of The Omaha Daily World—who later bought The Omaha Herald and consolidated the two papers to form The Omaha World-Herald—received another.

And one is hanging on Hamilton’s wall, framed and in mint condition.

“It was at an antique store, in an envelope,” Hamilton says. “Twenty dollars.”

The storeowner knew it was original, but thought it was one of hundreds. Now it is behind glass at Hamilton’s house, a shiny newspaper with a story about Cleveland’s visit. The fold lines are prominent in the satin.

“About the time I bought this, I had seen one in Glenwood, Iowa, tattered,” Hamilton says. “But mine was in an envelope, just like this.” 

Visit durhammuseum.org for more information.

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Doctor Blues

October 10, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sebastian Lane, at just 2 years old, strummed on the clear nylon strings of a plastic yellow guitar. At age 3, a naked Lane head-banged atop his toy chest, curly black hair whipping around his face as he jammed on his guitar while “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix played on the stereo. Eyes scrunched and head down, he mastered his “guitar face.”

Two years later, clutching that same toy guitar, Lane waited until his father lifted him so he could peer into a coffin. He rested the guitar and a note next to his grandfather’s body.

Miss you. Thanks for the guitar.

sebastian-lane-1Lane’s grandfather, Jimmy Rogers, died from colon cancer in 1997. In his career, Rogers had electrified old Chicago blues. His old-style boogie beat influenced legends like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and Jimmy Page. Lane remembers him as a larger-than-life figure who laughed, cuddled, and talked
to him.

But in that moment, next to the casket, a dualistic passion sparked into Lane’s life—blues and medicine.

He grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He ran around eating gumbo while blues masters such as Lazy Lester, Buddy Guy, and Muddy Waters visited his father, Jimmy D. Lane, and grandpa.

Lane’s father, Jimmy D. (himself a Blues Hall of Famer), continued Jimmy Rogers’ legacy, picking up the guitar to jam with musical geniuses: Mick Jagger, B.B. King, Van Morrison, and a host of others.

“Music is hard. It can be a long life of struggle,” says Jimmy D.

Growing up, Lane knew his father’s struggle. A good show, or a dry spell without gigs, could mean Lane and his younger brother were either wearing new clothes or depending on hand-me-downs.

When an opportunity came to be a musical director at Blue Heaven Studios in Salina, Kansas, Jimmy D. moved the family away from the mean streets of Chicago.

“My father basically said, ‘I choose you and your brother over being famous,’” Lane says. “And I’m so grateful for that.”

Jimmy D. never pushed his sons into the business. Lane picked up guitar playing on his own, practicing the same song for hours and hours until he could pick up patterns. He messed around with bars and chords. Jimmy D. showed his son some licks, but Lane’s skills came from a good ear.

Bash, as his friends like to call him, was well into learning the guitar by fifth grade. He won a talent show for “Sweet Child of Mine,” in a Slash rendition on the electric guitar. His tone soon became a mix of upbeat blues and nasty rock.

His fascination with medicine lingered. Ever since his grandfather’s passing, Lane wanted to understand how cancer spread, how it worked, and how it could be cured.

During a job shadow his senior year of high school, Lane saw an interventional cardiologist inject contrast that showed coronary arteries on a live X-ray. “Wow, that’s so cool,” he thought.

Lane decided to major in pre-med at Hastings College. He was the first in his family to attend college, and he wanted to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. School wasn’t easy, and Lane had to work four jobs while studying and playing music on the side. He bartended, worked for a telefund, did shows on weekends, taught guitar lessons, and started a band called Ambur Lane.

After taking his MCATs, Lane stayed in Nebraska and is now a second-year medical student at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Lane says the program is the most difficult and time-consuming thing he’s ever done.

Yet he finds time for community and musical commitments. He’s a mentor for diversity awareness. “It is important to open people’s eyes to at least represent the dynamics of a population,” he says. And he still dedicates an hour or two to music each day, sometimes more. “It’s a struggle to balance your love and passion with playing guitar and medicine,” he says.

There is a complementary duality to his musical and medical passions. His nimble fingers fly over the maple neck of his Fender American Standard Stratocaster, and they move just as rapidly when throwing sutures.

In spring of 2015, Lane worked in Los Angeles with Capitol Records for various artists, which allowed him to interact with creative individuals who “got him.” In medical school, the situation is similar in his conversations with like-minded intellectuals.   

“Would I be happy playing music every day? Hell, yeah. Would I be happy practicing medicine every day? Hell, yeah,” Lane says, brown eyes suddenly wide and serious.

Music gives Lane a chance to de-stress and keeps his mind clear. In addition, Lane believes music, like medicine, heals.

When he finds time, Lane will play with his `90s cover band, 22 Days Short. His biggest love, however, is still the blues. When he is with the Sebastian Lane Band, he can be himself.

Like the old masters in Memphis and Chicago playing in dark corners of hole-in-the wall bars, Lane often showcases his blues at The 21st Saloon at 4727 S. 96th St.

“With blues, no rules, you know. It’s authentic. It’s in my DNA. It’s who I truly am,” Lane says.

He hopes someday to play with the big dogs.

Can Lane out-shred the old man?

“He’d like to believe he could,” Jimmy D. says, laughing.

Visit facebook.com/sebastianlanemusic for more information. Omaha Magazine.

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Beauty & the Cyborg Beast

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Less than three years ago, it dawned on scientist Jorge Zuniga why a childhood friend wanted nothing more than to play baseball.

It was odd. Growing up in Santiago, Chile, there were not many baseball fans. Just the one, as far as Zuniga knew (after all, soccer reigns supreme in Chile). Even more curious, Zuniga’s friend had just one hand.

Why baseball?

“There’s not one baseball field in the whole country,” Zuniga says, laughing at the exaggeration, “but this one kid without a hand wants to be a baseball player.”

Then, 20-odd years later, Zuniga and his 7-year-old son are playing catch in the long shadows of the front yard. Zuniga remembers his one-armed friend and his inexplicable love of baseball. Then it hits him.

“Oh,” Zuniga says, “I bet this kid that didn’t have a hand just wanted to do what every kid wants to do.” He yearned to play catch.

Biomedical2Earlier that same day, he had listened to a radio news report about “Robohand,” a project in South Africa that creates 3D-printed prosthetics for children. Zuniga—with a doctorate in exercise physiology and a lab at Creighton University—wanted to know more about the Robohand. But he had difficulty connecting with the researchers involved.

After several attempts to reach the people in South Africa, he relied on his own knowledge, resources, and expertise to make a prosthetic on his own. It took several months to perfect his prototype, but Zuniga’s journey highlights how the health care industry is utilizing new breakthroughs in 3D printing technology.

Nothing is more personal than health care. And few things are more customizable than the 3D-printed object. The field of prosthetics represents just one obvious medical application for the technology, one with many advantages: to provide a custom-fitted solution for an amputee; to shave thousands off the cost of traditional prosthetic limbs; to negate the financial burden if insurance doesn’t cover the device; and especially for children, to provide a fast solution to wear, tear, and outgrowing the artificial body part. 

But prosthetics only scratch the surface of possibilities awaiting biomedical 3D printing. The FDA, for example, recently approved the first 3D printed drug—an incredibly fast-acting seizure medication that dissolves in seconds thanks to a structure only possible through 3D printing.

Improvements to medical devices that were once too expensive to contemplate can be prototyped on the cheap. Zuniga, who now (as of August 15) works out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Biomechanics Research Building, says he has printed the model of a fetus for a blind mother who wanted to “see” her unborn baby. He has also worked with physicians at Omaha Children’s Hospital to print three-dimensional models of patient hearts so surgeons can study the organ long before they pick up a scalpel.

Zuniga’s use of 3D printing carries immediate significance and practicality. A glance at the more fantastic applications, however, can be found at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. There, biomedical engineer Bin Duan is heading up a new bioprinting unit that is printing and growing bone and cartilage for regenerative purposes. Later this year, Duan and his team will implant small plugs of printed bone into animals that should eventually integrate with the animal’s existing tissue.

Bioprinting works by printing with at least two different materials. First, a biocompatible polymer creates a scaffold or lattice in the desired shape of the tissue, such as an ear or a piece of bone. The second material, living cells, are printed onto the scaffold. The cells cling to the structure, and over the course of several weeks they live and multiply as the scaffold slowly degrades and disappears. Eventually, the scaffold material is gone, but the tissue remains.

One potential application of UNMC’s bone tests could be used to help future children born with certain defects. A printed bone implant made from the child’s stem cells would then grow with the child, eliminating the need for multiple surgeries.

In a more distant future, an organ transplant might not be from a random donor, but from the patient’s own stem cells: a new, perfect organ printed when it is needed, and far less prone to rejection. Skin grafts and bone regeneration, all of it made with a patient’s personal cells.

UNMC’s bioprinting program is still in its infancy, so a breakthrough with more complex systems will likely come from a place like Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Widely regarded as the national leader for 3D bioprinting, researchers there have already printed skin, blood vessels, bladders, and muscle—some of them implanted in humans. But complex organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver remain unsolved puzzles…for now.

In the here and now, researchers like Zuniga can make accessible what was once out of reach for many.

When he finished his first 3D-printed prosthetic arm, he showed it to his young son. The elder Zuniga expected to impress his son with the level of realism it held. The boy was not impressed.

“He said, ‘If that’s for children, that’s not gonna work,’” Zuniga says. “’Daddy, that hand is too real. You need something cooler than that.’”

Inspired by his son’s insight, Zuniga created “Cyborg Beast,” a brightly colored, prosthetic, cybernetic hand that more closely resembles something out of a science fiction movie than a human limb. The plans and instructions on how to use them are open and free to anyone with access to a 3D printer.

“You’d be surprised at how many people around the world have access to (3D printing) machines,” Zuniga says. “…It’s like the start of a revolution.”

An artificial limb that once cost $4,000, can now be had for about $50—about the cost of a trip to the ballpark.

Visit cyborgbeast.org to learn more. B2B

Newsmaker Becomes Newsgatherer

August 23, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Our committee at the Omaha Press Club meets several times a year to discuss who will next be honored as the club’s “Face on the Barroom Floor.” When the committee’s chairman, Tom O’Connor, was nominated this year, only one committee member voted “no.” It was O’Connor.

O’Connor argued that the honor is meant for people who have made a difference in the community. It’s how people who cover the news give recognition to those who make the news.

For 14 years, he has chaired the committee that selects the Faces, the people whose illustrated caricatures end up on the walls of the Press Club. Everyone agrees he’s done a stellar job.

“Tom, over the years, helped make the Face an icon for Omaha,” says OPC Executive Director Steve Villamonte, who nominated the longtime member.

Tom-OConnor1Over his protests, O’Connor was roasted and toasted in February in front of a sold-out crowd. His was the 148th Face since the ritual began 45 years ago with Mayor Gene Leahy as the first honoree.

“One of the ways he has helped with awareness is with his contacts in the media world,” notes Villamonte.

O’Connor, who is senior associate director of public relations at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says knowing the community’s newsmakers is right up his alley.

“The Faces are the who’s who of Omaha,” he says. “It’s like winning the Heisman Trophy.”

Another recognizable Face is movie producer and Omaha native Alexander Payne, whose roasters included actor Will Forte. “It was one of the funniest roasts we‘ve had,” says Villamonte. “And to get someone of Forte’s stature as a roaster, well…”

The largest crowd during the Faces’ 45-year history came to salute Creighton basketball coach Greg McDermott and three-time All-American Doug McDermott who at the time played on his father’s team. The crowd was so large that O’Connor moved the dinner and roast to another venue. And the second largest was for…Tom O’Connor.

The third largest “Face” event was held in 2007 for Husker fan Dan Whitney, also known as comedian Larry the Cable Guy. I remember “Larry” dressed up for the occasion by adding sparkle to his trademark sleeveless plaid shirt.

Another Tom—Osborne—was a Face on the Barroom Floor in 1979. Since then he has returned to roast other newsmakers such as NFL greats Gale Sayers and Ahman Green. The former UNL football coach and athletic director was a roaster in May for UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts.

An Omaha Press Club member for 38 years, O’Connor is a past president (2001), past board member, a member of the marketing and newsletter committees, and he heads the Shatel Sports Lunch series.

“Tom has made the Face on the Barroom Floor a premier event,” says Jim Horan, the artist who has drawn the illustrated caricatures since the first one in 1971 (the artist is also my husband). “He took the roast concept to a new level, which has turned the night into 100 percent fun.”

O’Connor explains: “I tell people we’re the club with a sense of humor, the Face event is all about having fun and entertaining people. You’re always going to leave laughing.”

His quest for fun continues, as does his enthusiasm for honoring Omaha’s best. He has invited Bill and Ruth Scott to be Face No. 150 on Sept. 22. “They are unsung heroes who have transformed the city and the state with their incredible generosity. Being able to recognize great people like the Scotts, that’s what the Face on the Barroom Floor is
all about.”

He jokes that his wish list for future Face on the Barroom Floor honorees includes Pope Francis and Michael Jordan. Knowing O’Connor, I think it just might happen.

Visit omahapressclub.com/faces for more information.

Teresa Gleason

March 29, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Naming your public relations business after a close relative of the weasel family is a dicey
move for a startup. But not if you know the backstory.

Teresa Gleason and her husband, Tim McMahan (creator of the long-running music blog Lazy-i), were driving around Benson trying to figure out a name for her new PR company. McMahan suggested Polecat, the beloved, defunct Omaha band. The name stuck.

“Public relations people, a lot of times, are thought of as weasels,” Gleason says. (Polecat, incidentally, is also another term for a skunk.)

“But both weasels and public relations people are necessary to keep the world going around. I kind of like the symmetry of that.”

Wearing a grey knit stocking cap and a camouflage Lutmer Construction hoodie on an inhumanely cold Saturday in January, Gleason surveyed her Benson office. It didn’t take long.

“I’m literally in an 11 by 14 box,” Gleason says.

As Gleason spoke, a calm stream of water came out through a pipe, and flowed to a drain near her office couch.

“Every time someone runs the kitchen faucet, it drains there,” Gleason observes.

“It’s just all part of the quirky charm of Benson.”

Gleason described Polecat as a “one-shingle communications agency” that focuses on content creation and promotion for small businesses and non-profit companies. Her office is also home to her art gallery.

After graduating from Iowa State with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in journalism and mass communications, Gleason worked for small daily and alt-weekly newspapers in Iowa. Like most start-up employees, Gleason had to fit many roles as a reporter—covering sports one day, then covering city council and board meetings the next.

Gleason moved to Omaha in 1995. Her original plan was to live here for a year, then move on. She got a job as a writer and editor for the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Three years later, she joined the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she later became director of communications.

In 2006, she joined the non-profit organization Omaha by Design, where she was communications manager. In addition to writing grants and generating media releases, Gleason organized grassroots projects. Connie Spellman, former executive director of Omaha by Design, says Gleason’s defining project was her work with the $2 million sidewalk expansion project in Benson.

“Her general ability to communicate has always been something I admired and respected,” Spellman says.

Spellman retired in June 2015. Gleason says Spellman’s retirement played role in her decision to start her own business.

Gleason was drawn to Benson for its wealth of creative-minded neighbors and business owners.

“People up here are interesting, quirky, out-there…they’re not afraid to try stuff on their own,” Gleason says.

Gleason opened an art gallery within her business to give local artists a venue to display their work. In March, artist Jennifer Radil will present “You Are Here: Paintings on Paper and Wood.” Radil’s work draws heavy inspiration from landscapes, topographical maps, and wildlife.

“I really love artists,” Gleason says. “The way they think, and the way they process things, and the way they’re just not afraid.”

Visit polecatcommunications.com to learn more about the company and the gallery.

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In the Spotlight

November 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There aren’t many actresses who could say they “sculpt faces” by day and shape the local theater scene by night.

But that’s the story of leading lady Leanne Hill Carlson of Omaha, who has squeezed in more starring roles, costume changes, and hair colorings than she can count—all while building a family and a medical career.

“I have been so blessed with all the opportunities I’ve had here in Omaha,” Carlson says. “It’s not the plan I would have picked from the beginning, but it’s been amazing.”

That’s a good word for the star performances Carlson has logged since getting her start as a sophomore at Papillion-La Vista High School—one of five times she has played Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof (all requiring dye for hair that is naturally perfect for a lead in Legally Blonde).

Carlson knew she desired a career in musical theater after that role and others in high school that included Sandy in Grease and Ado Annie in Oklahoma. “I had two wonderful teachers who fostered my interest in theater and music,” Carlson says. “I was hooked.”

From there, Carlson pursued a musical theatre degree at Sam Houston State. She was part of the College Light Opera Company, which performed nine shows in 11 weeks on Cape Cod and gave her the chance to play Nellie in South Pacific and Lalume in Kismet.

Carlson had aspirations of making a theatrical run in New York City, “but the cards never turned that way for me,” she says.

Instead, she came home to Omaha and turned an interest in medicine into a master’s of physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She is a physician assistant at a dermatology clinic and uses her artistic eye to change the faces of Omaha.

“I’ve had a few patients recognize me from the theater,” says Carlson, who also performs regularly as an in-demand vocalist. “They’ve asked me to sing and dance in the office, and I’ve done it a couple times.”

The proverbial go-to leading lady thrives on the big stage. She has played in roles at the Omaha Community Playhouse, The Rose, the Orpheum, and others.

Along with playing the role of Pitti-Sing in Opera Omaha’s The Mikado, Carlson has starred in Annie, 42nd Street, Beauty & the Beast, The Sound of Music, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has been cast in two movies.

Her favorite theatrical role has been Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, probably because that character most mirrors her personality. “That was so intense,” says Carlson, who is married to physician Mark Carlson and has two children. “I never had a moment off stage, and there were 14 costume changes. But it was so fun!”

Carlson recently had the chance to fly as Mary Poppins in a blockbuster run at The Rose—a feat that went smoothly until the last of 13 songs in her final performance. Carlson was ready to soar when she got stuck in the lights. Making a quick midair maneuver, she avoided a serious mishap and brought down the house.

“The whole cast was waiting for me backstage, and we got a huge ovation,” she says. “It was wonderful—the kind of moment you relish when you love something as much as this.”

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Meet the Hughes

June 22, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the June 2015 issue of Her Family.

Chris Hughes is a father of three who spends most Monday and Wednesday evenings toiling away in his upstairs workshop on Farnam Street. It is a curious space filled with antiquities and tools akin to his trade—custom leather bags.

He fulfills orders from across the world, assembling packages containing his hand-constructed waterproof tote bags, briefcases, and artisanal aprons crafted with quality materials.

“I wanted the items that I designed and sold to have a timeless quality to them. I wanted someone to look at them years in the future and say ‘look at this artifact,’” Hughes says. Hence, you have the evolution of the name of his business, Artifact Bag Co., a thriving online business that Hughes started more than four years ago

Hughes says that being an entrepreneur is a constantly evolving process of new experiences. “The minute I get comfortable with something, I take on a new challenge. I’m always throwing myself into the fire so that I’m never comfortable. When you come home from days of that, you really just feel like your legs are rubber bands. You feel like you could just collapse.”

Hughes2In a flip-the-switch moment, Hughes dons his daddy hat before stepping in the door at home. “The minute I cross that threshold into my house, I’ve got two boys and a girl that are jumping up onto me. I have to kick in the afterburners. I just have to be present because for them they’re fresh and they want to see their dad,” he says. His children are Kit, 6, Levi, 4, and Jane, 2.

Hughes’ schedule has him spending weekdays at his shop, surrounded by a small team of craftsmen and craftswomen who assist him as business demands. He also works until almost 11 p.m. a few nights of the week and at least one weekend day.

He says his demanding schedule sometimes frustrates his children. “It pulls me away from them so often.” But they do enjoy visiting their dad’s cool space. “They’re fascinated by the workspace because of all of the machines and all of the materials.”

His wife is Beth Hughes, who works as a speech-language pathologist at the RiteCare Speech and Language Clinic located in the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The couple went to school together at Westside High School, but didn’t actually date until years later when the two crossed paths again while Beth was in graduate school.

Beth says that having an Internet-based business can make finding the right balance between family and work challenging. “The Internet never stops. So it’s not like Chris can just walk away at 5 p.m. and say, ‘Oh, the shop’s closed for the day.’ There are always more things to do in terms of emails to respond to and social media stuff to post and promote and things to research for projects that he has coming up,” she says.Hughes3

But knowing that the family sets aside evenings for sit-down meals and plans one day out of each weekend to spend together provides a home base for sanity. “Getting some sort of schedule just so that we all know what to expect has been helpful,” she says.

As a mother, Beth says she feels privileged to help her children grow and develop into the people that they’re meant to be. “I like to help foster their interests and teach them things and to see things through their eyes. It’s just fascinating.”

She finds strength in her support system of mommy friends. “I’m learning every day and I make mistakes every day. I’m very fortunate to have a great group of friends who’ve been on this parenting road a little bit longer than I have that I can learn from,” Hughes says.

The kids keep active with swim lessons, fishing, tee-ball, and riding bikes. Some Sunday mornings, one might find the Hughes family over at the Bagel Bin—a family favorite. They also love going
to the zoo.

Friday nights are family movie nights. “I’ll make popcorn on the stove,” Chris says. “They love watching Star Wars over and over again. They like that good versus evil kind of stuff.”

Hughes is inspired by his children’s creativity. “All of the sudden a card table becomes a fort to drape blankets over, or a stick becomes a rifle. They’re just constantly interpreting their environment in very imaginative ways.”

“They haven’t really been taught that they are not artists or those other things that happen in life when people dash people’s dreams and hopes. They are still very optimistic,” he says.

“In many ways, I never lost sight of that either, so on some level, I relate with them.”

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Camp Time

April 10, 2015 by

Originally published in April 2015 HerFamily.

The benefits of summer camps extend well beyond keeping children busy during summer vacation. Social interaction with a new group of people, focused exploration in a particular area of interest, introduction to fun new activities, and learning to be more independent and self-reliant can greatly enhance a child’s confidence.

But summer camp also means immersion into an unfamiliar environment, adjustment to a new group of peers and adults in authority, and time away from family that some children aren’t ready for.

Holly J. Roberts, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and associate professor of pediatrics with the Munroe-Meyer Institute at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says readiness varies from child to child, but there are some indicators that can help guide parents in determining when and if their child would enjoy a day camp or overnight camp experience.

“Children younger than 4 are likely to not really be ready for this level of transition from a predictable routine,” she says.

However, children between 4 and 7 may be ready for day camp if they’re able to separate from parents fairly easily, and especially if they’re enthusiastic about the camp theme or activities. For this age group, Roberts says, school-based or childcare center-based summer programs provide a great opportunity to sample the day camp experience in a familiar environment. Children over 7 who are accustomed to spending the day in school usually handle traditional day camps just fine.

However, overnight camp readiness may take a few more years. “Generally, kids are usually ready for overnight camp around 11, and they begin to be comfortable being away from their parents around that age. Typically, children younger than 7 are not ready for an overnight camp,” Roberts says.

“This is not a hard-and-set rule, either, it’s based on development and the child,” she emphasizes. “Can the child manage their own hygiene, like showering? Do they have full control over toileting? Is the child able to ask for help or state their needs if they need something? One of the best indicators of readiness for a summer sleepover camp is that a child can successfully spend a night or two with a friend or a relative.”

Even the most eager child can experience pangs of homesickness, and it won’t surprise a good camp staff, Roberts says. Parents should be familiar with the process the camp has in place to address homesickness, but in the care of experienced and compassionate staffers, children usually don’t pine away for home sweet home very long.

“Homesickness is a common thing, and there’s probably going to be a wave of that even in kids that are ready,” Roberts says. Packing some comfort items and a few prepared letters from home (with a positive tone rather than a lament of how much the parent misses the child) can help alleviate pangs.

Sometimes it’s the parent who’s not ready to separate, and that can lead to what Roberts calls, somewhat tongue in cheek, “kidsickness.” Finding a quality camp with managers who welcome questions and offer tours, that conducts background checks when hiring staff, and that has strong safety policies in place can help alleviate parental fears.

“I think a parent really needs to be ready for this before a child is ready,” Roberts says. “A lot of kids receive their cues from their parents.”

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