Sue Ellen Lucas, MSN, RN, had a nursing role in the pioneering medical genetics program launched in Alabama in the late 1970s. She was hired by Wayne Finley, MD, PhD, and Sara Finley, MD, as the fourth nurse to work in the medical genetics program that they headed at UAB. “I did not realize I would be working in an area that would represent the beginning of genetic education in Alabama,” Lucas says.
Retired from nursing for a number of years, Lucas is co-chair of the Board of Visitors that supports the UAB School of Nursing. She says her work in this volunteer board over the past six years has become a way “to reconnect me with my love of being a nurse.”
Although Lucas was unaware of the historical significance of the genetic education she and fellow nurses began disseminating three decades ago, she quickly saw the positive impact of such education on families. “The Finleys realized it was important that nurses have significant roles in the genetic-outreach component of Alabama’s first medical genetics program,” she says.
The Alabama Medical Genetics Program included UAB, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the State crippled Children’s service, and the University of South Alabama. After the United States Congress enacted the National Genetic Diseases act in 1976, Alabama numbered among the first 19 states to establish programs with help from federal funds under the legislation. In her education role, Lucas worked with individuals who already had or who were at risk of having children with genetic-linked health problems—such as spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, and hemophilia.
“I educated State Crippled Children’s Service patients,” Lucas says, “I gave presentations on inheritance patterns to North Alabama public health nurses, who used that information to identify patients who could benefit from genetic counseling. At UAB’s Laboratory of Medical Genetics founded by Finleys, I counseled with pregnant women who came for services, including those undergoing the amniocentesis procedure to identify certain genetic abnormalities.”
In addition to her genetic work, Lucas worked for a period in a Children’s-Hospital-based program headed by adolescent-care pioneer William “Bill” Daniel, MD. In recent years she has devoted her energies to home and community. She and her attorney husband, Mike, have a son, 19-year-old Michael, a student at Auburn University.
Lucas’s community work is extensive. With service as a past board member at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, she works with Mr. and Mrs. William M. Spencer III on the Gardens’ Virginia Beeland Spencer Lecture Series. She also helps with the Lent-season lunch program at Episcopal Cathedral Church of the Advent. She received the Junior League’s highest community honor for chairing the establishment of a “Children Can Soar” program at the Jefferson County Health Department’s Central Health Center; this was an education/entertainment program for parents and children who are waiting to see doctors.
Lucas says her volunteer work with the School of Nursing’s Board of Visitors has reminded her of why she loves nursing so much: “I have begun taking continuing education courses to make my nurse’s license active again.”
Board Member Sue Ellen Lucas was on the ground floor of UAB's genetics program
Board of Visitors member Sue Ellen Lucas had a nursing role in the pioneering medical genetics program launched in Alabama in the late 1970s, saw the beginning of genetic education.