Local doctor's work honored nationally

Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Dr. Cynthia Wolff

AKRON -- One local doctor has recently been recognized for her contributions to the health of the community.

Dr. Cynthia Wolff, MD, was named the recipient of the President's Award at the North American Primary Care Research Group's (NAPCRG) 2015 annual meeting.

Wolff, a family physician at Akron/Mercy Medical Clinic, was honored for her commitment to inform her community about the dangers of radon gas.

Radon is a tasteless, oderless gas that kills 400 Iowa's annually from lung cancer.

"Your contributions to the health of your community and countless others, through your work on radon exposure has been an incredibly inspiring one for us at NAPCRG," stated NAPCRG president Rick Glazier in a letter informing Wolff of the recognition.

"This example you have given us, of a concerned community clinician asking important questions and tracking down the answers and the solutions, has made a wonderful contribution to our organization and to the many clinicians, researchers and community members who have heard of your work. You have greatly helped to advance NAPCRG's strategic directions of fostering patient and clinician engagement and advocacy to advance primary care practice and research," Glazier continued.

Wolff said she is humbled to receive the honor.

"Receiving this honor was very important to me because it was recognition from peers and researchers throughout the U.S. and Canada, that the work we do within our own communities, to better our patients, is making a difference, not only here but in the big picture," Wolff said.

It was at a 2012 Iowa Cancer Consortium meeting in Des Moines where Wolff first heard Dr. Charles Lynch speak on the dangers of radon gas in Iowa.

"Knowing that my community knew nothing of this danger we made plans to come back to Akron and spread the word about the dangers," she said.

Fellow meeting attendee, Dr. Barcey Levy, researcher from the University of Iowa, volunteered to write a grant that would allow Wolff to buy and dispense 750 radon kits.

"Upon receiving the grant we began giving public talks, community meetings, newspaper and TV interviews, and giving out radon kits," Wolff said. "We also collaborated with the Iowa Cancer Society and the Iowa Radon Coalition in petitioning our state legislators to consider ways to make our state safer for our citizens."

The collected radon levels were reported to the University of Iowa and showed northwest Iowa had a much higher than expected level of radon, Wolff stated.

Wolff said the research done had such startling results that it got the attention of other researchers and earned her an invite to the NAPCRG meeting in Ottawa, Canada.

"What amazed the researchers was how our entire community came together to solve this problem," Wolff said. "Because of this I was invited along with my patient, Bethene Ross, to be part of an innovative new endeavor by NAPCRG called Patient and Clinician Engagement (PaCE) to look at ways we could help others to find ways to work with researchers to improve clinical research in order to make it more applicable to patients and their communities."

Wolff said the community's efforts and research were published in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, Vol. 28, Number 5, pages 617-623.

"Obviously, this award is not just mine but belongs to many at my office and in my community. The radon project was a community/group engagement endeavor," Wolff said. "The list is exhaustive but to name only a few would be Paul Niles, Heather Morehead, my entire staff at Akron/Mercy Medical Clinic, Bethene Ross, Matt Robins, Barcey Levy, Charles Lynch, and all of the many patients and community members who gave countless hours in spreading the word."

Since the actual project ended, Wolff said the education hasn't.

"Our local school has participated in radon poster contests and radon video contests. We continue to give occasional talks or help others with information when they give the talks. Many continue to test and mitigate their homes," she said. "This month has been named by the governor as Radon Awareness Month. If even one life has been saved, it was worth it all."

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. It is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and often affects younger citizens. Without a specific test, there is no way to know if someone is in danger in their home, work place or school.

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