More than 600 adults and children from Biloxi, Miss., to Pensacola, Fla., depend on the University of South Alabama's Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center in Mobile for care.
Betty Pace, M.D., a 46-year-old pediatric hematologist and oncologist, is the associate director of pediatrics at the 18-year-old center, the nation's only telemedicine network targeting patients with sickle cell anemia.
"We're seeing a decrease in mortality among younger patients," says Pace, who attributes that to education about the latest sickle cell treatments.
The center is one of 10 such facilities around the country funded by the National Institutes of Health. It conducts research and delivers care to sickle cell patients through a series of satellite clinics. Last year, Pace was assigned the task of assembling a telemedicine network to deliver medical services, family counseling and education to patients in a nine-county area that includes Mobile.
Wil Baker, project director for the Robert Wood Johnson Southern Rural Access Project in Alabama, describes Pace as "a superb, compassionate, state-of-the-art doctor and researcher."
Pace, who was raised and educated in Wisconsin, came to Mobile after serving a fellowship in Denver.
A colleague told her about the opportunity in Mobile. Pace was reluctant. As a black female physician raised in the North, she was conflicted about moving to a state infamous for its racist past. But Pace says she's never regretted her decision. "My fears dissipated almost as soon as I came."
Pace's professional and personal support system includes Regina Benjamin, M.D., whom she met through a local nurse. They began working together when the telemedicine program was advanced.
"We'd identified her as a key player and the No. 1 person on our list," Pace says of Benjamin, the University of South Alabama's associate dean for rural health. "She's been the main reason we've moved forward so quickly."