Sanders gives all at work and at home

Mark Prichard, Ph.D., hired Shalisa Sanders seven years ago as a researcher in Infectious Diseases to help identify new therapies for viral diseases.

shalisa_sandersSanders has been everything Prichard hoped she would: she’s organized, performs her duties at a high standard and is dedicated to her work. These are key reasons she was promoted to research assistant and now is a worthy selection as July’s Employee of the Month.

Prichard said he could cite many significant, specific examples of his colleague’s technical proficiency, efficiency and personal qualities. Instead, he marvels at Sanders’ character and the significant events in her life that have proven her courage and generosity.

Several years ago, Shalisa’s mother Rosa Sanders was diagnosed with the same kidney disease that had claimed the life of her grandfather years earlier. Rosa would be able to undergo dialysis, but eventually she would need a new kidney. Shalisa didn’t hesitate.

“I wanted to give her one of my kidneys,” she says. “I knew I could have a perfectly normal life with just one kidney. My mom couldn’t live without one.”

So Shalisa and Rosa began going through type-testing to see if they matched. At first, all signs pointed to the mother and daughter matching perfectly. Then Rosa’s body began to form antibodies against Shalisa’s blood.

A promising opportunity appeared lost.

Then UAB doctors told the Sanders they could participate in the donor-swap program and be matched with other donors and recipients. Soon, a match was found. In February, Rosa received a kidney from a Florida woman, and Shalisa donated a kidney to a man from North Carolina.

“All four of us were here at UAB,” Sanders says. “The surgery was done on a Thursday morning, and we all got to meet each other on Friday. We talked for a long time, and we’ve kept in touch since. We’ve become a family, really. We’re planning vacations together, and we call each other often. It was just a good experience.”

Prichard says Sanders’ dedication to UAB is reciprocated by the dedication of the university to improve the health of Alabama’s citizens.

“This story illustrates the caring and good works performed by the UAB Health System, but it would not have been possible without the kidney donation by Shalisa Sanders,” Prichard says. “The magnanimous gestures of these selfless donors managed to change the lives of others on one spring morning.”

Commitment to her work

Prichard and other colleagues say Sanders’ story is important also because it illustrates the commitment she brings to her job as a research assistant.

Sanders evaluates more than 1,500 experimental compounds against the ortho-poxviruses each year, and she helps prepare reports for the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She performs in vitro antiviral efficacy studies, and Deb Quenelle, Ph.D., an associate professor in pediatrics, says Sanders pays strict attention to the many details in the work.

“Her work and data have been published in abstracts and manuscripts at the international level,” says Quenelle, whose idea it was to nominate Sanders.

The lab receives many drugs from sources for testing, and there is no shortage of work. Robin Conley, a research technician who shares office space with Sanders, says her co-worker is unflappable.

“Our workload can get heavy, and her organizational skills have been a treasured asset,” Conley says. “She is a dynamic young lady who has made working here easy and fun.”

It’s a job Sanders says she thoroughly enjoys. She says she wouldn’t drive 140 miles a day roundtrip from her home in Sawyerville in Hale County if she didn’t.

Her plan was to move and relocate to Birmingham after she began working here, but her mother’s condition and the need to help transport and support her teenage sister Qunisha are two reasons she decided to commute.

The way Sanders has carried herself professionally and personally has made an impression on her co-workers.

“Shalisa’s attitude almost is always upbeat, which I find amazing and awe-inspiring. If I placed myself in her shoes, I don’t think I would be able to do what she has done for seven years now,” says Kathy Keith, laboratory supervisor in Infectious Diseases. “She’s extremely knowledgeable in her work, unfailingly pleasant and very dependable. She’s just an amazing person.”

Shalisa has seen first-hand how research has helped her family and saved lives. She says her experience validates the work she is doing.

“Research led to my mom and our new friends having a chance to live longer and live productive lives,” she says. “It gives me hope that the work we do here will have the same kind of affect on many others in the future.”

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