At Health Connect South 2017, Mentor and Mentee are all Heart: Personifying Collaboration

John Tabellione

Monday, October 9th, 2017

As keynote speakers, Dr. Omar Lattouf, and his protégé, Dr. Havel Kelli— fellow cardiologists and associates at Emory University—exemplified the 2017 Health Connect South (HCS) agenda “to foster and promote regional health collaborations.” 

HCS held the fourth such gathering of some 500 leading health innovators and executive decision makers, as well as several of the next generation of health leaders from around the Southeast. The theme—‘Disrupting Healthcare’—reflects the mission to serve the health community as a regional platform for health collaboration with a focus on the patient (consumers), healthcare delivery, and policy, and features keynote addresses, panel sessions, and, of course, time for collaboration.


Welcome Keynote speaker, James Weyhenmeyer, PhD, Vice President for Research and Economic Development, Georgia State University called HCS “a sustainable platform for regional health conversation…as well as for collaboration.” He added a challenge to everyone in the room “to get out of your comfort zone and essentially make those connections with other individuals.”


Specifically, the keynote address—“The Power of Mentorship”—presented by the two Emory specialists, served as a unique and poignant example for past, present, and future collaboration. Their journey, which began in 2005, thrives today, and the understudy has already envisioned and implemented ways and means that he learned from his mentor to pay it forward.

Himself a Jordanian immigrant from the Middle East, Dr. Lattouf spoke highly of the power of  “one random act of kindness” and the value of mentorship, and, in his case, in the plural. So, when his daughter introduced him to a Syrian-born, third year pre-med student at Georgia State University, he recognized the potential of Dr. Kelli and proceeded to use his influence with one of his own mentors to have the undergraduate eventually accepted to Morehouse School of Medicine.  

Lattouf concluded his narrative saying, “I implore you today, each and every one of you, to mentor a child and carry out a random act of kindness. Our future is dependent upon them. They will be our business leaders, our bankers, our lawyers, our teachers, our firefighters, our policemen, our doctors and nurses. They will be our congress people, our senators, our presidents. It’s no one’s job, but yours and mine.” He called himself “very selfish” for wanting Atlanta to be the best in the world. “I want Georgia to be an example for everyone. I am so proud of our country.” He went on to introduce Dr. Kelli as an example of “someone who really grasped an American dream.”

Kelli didn’t disappoint his benefactor. The man who introduces himself as “immigrant, dishwasher, cardiologist” is no ordinary refugee, scullery cleaner, or surgeon, however. He and his family had to escape the terror of the Mukhabarat (the Syrian secret police), then, relocate to Germany for five years, before getting an opportunity to immigrate to the U.S. in September of 2001. He later took a job to support his family as a dishwasher at a restaurant near the Emory campus where med students in scrubs frequented. He not only promised himself that he, too, would some day become a doctor, he took action and added to his English vocabulary with a page read for every dish washed in preparation for eventual college. Ten years later Dr. Kelli completed the figuratively long, one-block trip from the restaurant to Emory in order to fulfill his dream as a doctor. He currently is a Katz Foundation Fellow in Preventative Cardiology at Emory. Both cardiologists conduct research, write papers, and travel together for conference appearances. 

Dr. Kelli termed Dr. Lattouf’s gamble as “the power of investment,” and in keeping with that philosophy, the two physicians have since teamed together to create and participate in several non-profit organizations for medical education mentorship, as well as for healthcare outreach. He also created the Kurdish-American Medical Association that focuses on connecting Kurdish-American doctors with college and med students. In addition, he volunteers at the Clarkston Community Health Center in the area where he lived as a young immigrant. He stated that he is proud to be an American, and later privately expressed off-stage his interest in serving U.S. veterans in the VA hospital as a sign of respect for their service.

He concluded, paraphrasing Margaret Mead, “We all think that we don’t have much power as individuals, but when we get together we could change the world. Finally, I would like to thank all of my mentors. I am blessed to have Dr. Lattouf as my life-long mentor.” 


Attendant to this inspirational epitome of a mentor/mentee story, the HCS agenda also recognized other individuals and groups for their achievements as teams of collaborators and models for growth and success during the past year.

The Best Collaboration Award for 2017, presented by Kathryn Lawler, Executive Director Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health Improvements, went to the Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research. The HCS Collaboration Award recognizes two or more organizations or individuals who have leveraged the HCS platform to develop partnerships and collaborations that have contributed to advances in healthcare in the Southeast. The award-winning group’s efforts have been critical to interdisciplinary collaboration, and producing effective solutions that go above and beyond a mere partnership to create a platform, product, or opportunity addressing challenges in healthcare.

Valerie Montgomery Rice, President and Dean, Morehouse School of Medicine, announced that the Georgia Research Alliance won the Health Connect South Unsung Hero Award for this year. The Unsung Hero Award recognizes an individual or institution that has made an immense contribution to advances in healthcare in the Southeast through forging and sustaining collaborative endeavors.  The winning institution’s efforts have gone largely unseen but have been critical to interdisciplinary collaboration, producing effective solutions to challenges and opportunities in healthcare.

PANEL DISCUSSION: Skin in the Game of Healthcare: Bridging the gap between investors and providers and researchers. 

The top-tier regional health gathering featured a series of panel discussions, including “Skin in the Game: Investing and Partnering in Health,” moderated by L.A. Galyon, Managing Director, Brentwood Capital Advisors, who noted that “capital markets are healthy.” The panel consisted of a variety of firms, ranging from seed investors to multinational giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. Justin Sabet-Peyman of KKR addressed the aging population within an inefficient and ineffective system, so “by necessity this system is going to have to change, and we believe that creates a very interesting set of opportunities for both investors and entrepreneurs who drive innovation and new business models.” 

Bob Crutchfield, Executive Director, Innovate Birmingham, seconded the aging issue as a macro driver, but added, while the healthcare system may be broken, “we have the best resources, the best technology in the world.” Since that population cannot be cared for in a traditional way, “providers are going to have to come up with strategies for where they work and play, and in a remote environment, but in a way that the patient is part of their clinical care team.” He added, “So that’s a really great opportunity for disruption. Costs are really being driven by the variation in care.” The solution lies in “finding ways that we can narrow the variation of care to a predictable, repeatable, sustainable way.”

With regard to areas of growth and investment, whereas digital technologies were hot four years ago, that segment is now plateauing, according to Jordan Amadio, M.D., Managing Partner, NeuroLaunch. The panelists concurred that focus for investments has shifted from health to care, for example: exercise, sleep, and diet, or companies that emphasize and address chronic health care and reduction of readmissions. 

For Lee Herron, VP of Venture Development, Georgia Research Alliance Ventures, he stated that his guiding principle for choosing new companies in which to invest, reads: “Does the technology make sense? Does it require suspension of disbelief?” He added, “Our challenge is to convert uncertainty to risk, then manage the risk. What’s the greatest risk? Is it technology risk? Is it market risk? Is it regulatory risk, or is it property risk? Those are a few of our checkboxes: technology, market, intellectual property. We also look at management requirements. What kind of management team is employing its number one person? What’s it going to take to transfer this technology from the lab to the marketplace and then how much money is it going to take?”

As for a recipe for success, each of the panelists agreed that a strong, quality management team, often those with different discipline backgrounds, is integral and critical to a good investment opportunity. 

PANEL DISCUSSION: Consumers in the Driver's Seat: How consumers can drive healthcare delivery.

Disruption regarding consumers encompasses various aspects, according to the panelists, ranging from “listening to the patient’s voice,” (Guy Scull, CEO and President, Carelink of Northwest Georgia, Inc.) to “partnering with other organizations and business colleagues” (Marie Cameron, FACHE, Professor, Health Administration, Georgia State University).

Howard Jacob, PhD, Chief Medical Genomics Officer, Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology, discussed rare and undiagnosed illnesses caused by many thousands of genes. “They’re largely unknown because medicine practices ‘on average.’ Fortunately, with genome sequencing, the rate of diagnoses (of rare maladies) has increased to 40 percent from five per cent.” However, two percent of the patients with these rare illnesses consume over 10 percent of the resources. A typical diagnostic odyssey may cost up to $20 thousand for a workup. Jacob called it a “nightmare scenario.” He noted, “One hundred thousand deaths in the U.S. each year are due to adverse drug reactions. This cost is responsible for two million admissions into the health care system.” However, he maintained that if a patient were to know his or her genome, such information could help a doctor by working as a blueprint to allow the physician to practice much better.

Moderator Russell Allen, President and CEO of GeorgiaBio asked the panelists to give advice to the HCS audience. 

Scull spoke of nighttime hours and hours on Saturdays. “Be more conscious of what the patient is requiring,” adding, “We want to make sure that this is a long term process with regard to patients who come into CareLink.” He encouraged everyone to get involved with health care clinics and what they need.

Professor Cameron asked people to look at GSU for collaboration. “Bring your ideas to us.”

Steve Fraime , Director, Center for Health Transformation, Wellstar Health Systems, said, “Know your customer. Who is the customer of a new technology? The ultimate customer is the patient.” 

From that same patient viewpoint, Dr. Jacob, using the analogy of automobiles, spoke of how that industry went from providing reactive car care to prospective car care. “We need to do the same thing with healthcare. It’s time to change from reactive, expensive medicine to prospective healthcare to benefit the patient.”

About John Tabellione

John Tabellione is an award-winning, professional business writer, complemented by over twenty-five years of strategic communication responsibilities as a Marketing, New Business Development and National Account Sales Executive in consumer goods and commercial industries. 

Experience with Fortune 500 companies, as well as with smaller firms and non-profits, encompassing a variety of products, including those of Georgia-Pacific, Kimberly-Clark and Stanley Works. 

John has a B.A. in English from Fairfield University and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Hartford. In addition, he has studied Russian at the Defense Language Institute at Syracuse University, and Italian language and culture at Kennesaw State University.