William Newsom established a community cancer center in the foothills of the Sierra so patients could obtain their care close to home. Jon Kim Andrus has worked for the past 25 years to create and strengthen life-saving immunization programs in developing countries around the world. Louis Vismara became a driving force in establishing an internationally recognized autism research center in Sacramento. Newsom, Andrus and Vismara share more than just outstanding careers and community engagement. They also are celebrated alumni of UC Davis School of Medicine.
On Saturday, Sept. 7, the School of Medicine honored the trio for their individual contributions to medicine and community service as part of this year’s Alumni Day festivities. Vismara received UC Davis’ Humanitarian Award for his outstanding community contributions through distinguished public service; Newsom was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award for his contributions to society and outstanding achievements in medicine; and Andrus received the school’s Transformational Leadership Award, which recognizes professional achievements and contributions that have enhanced the medical profession, improved the public welfare, provided for personal distinction and brought honor to UC Davis.
Andrus, who currently serves as deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, is an internationally recognized public health expert and advocate for equitable access to vaccines. He received his medical degree from UC Davis in 1979 and developed an early interest in global health as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi, Africa, where he served as the only physician in a district of 210,000 people. A subsequent focus on polio eradication and other immunization-related projects took him around the world. As a medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Andrus was a member of a specialized team that reduced measles mortality by 60 percent during a five-year period as a result of vaccinating 200 million children.
Newsom, who graduated with the first UC Davis School of Medicine class in 1972 (as did his wife, Christine Mueller Newsom), is considered by many people to have nearly single-handedly transformed cancer care in an underserved area of the Sierra foothills. After moving to Nevada City with his family in 1981, Newsom realized that his patients were struggling to find advanced cancer-treatment services that were well coordinated and accessible. It prompted him to embark on a 10-year journey that included numerous administrative and financial challenges. His hard work and dedication paved the way for a new and much-needed cancer center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital that opened in 1995 and subsequently earned Comprehensive Community Cancer Center status from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer.
Vismara spent 20 years as cardiologist before becoming a health-policy consultant with the California State Senate. He completed an internal medicine residency at UC Davis in 1971, but gave up clinical practice after his son was diagnosed with autism. He then shifted his attention to child development and the resolution of health-care disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of autism and other developmental disabilities. It enabled Vismara to focus on improving awareness and understanding about autism spectrum disorders. His work today includes helping lead a legislative task force that investigates inequities in autism services. As a prominent advocate for research, Vismara was a driving force behind the group of Sacramento-area fathers with sons affected by autism who raised millions of dollars to create the renowned UC Davis MIND Institute.
In his awards ceremony remarks, Thomas Nesbitt, UC Davis interim vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, noted that Vismara, Andrus and Newsom embody and promote the special values and qualities of UC Davis.
“We all share the exciting opportunity, and responsibility, to help define the future of health and health care in the U.S. and around the world,” Nesbitt told attendees. “Every day, alumni remind our students of what they can achieve, and what we can achieve, together.”