By Kevin McKeough
Eugene Thonar, PhD, overcame both a disabling illness and a poor childhood education to become an internationally renowned biochemist and a leader of Rush’s efforts to accommodate the needs of patients, employees and visitors with disabilities. The namesake of Rush’s annual Thonar award and an emeritus professor of biochemistry and orthopedic surgery, Thonar retired in October after 32 years at Rush.
“Rush has been very fortunate that Dr. Thonar spent his entire career here. During that time, he made immense contributions as a researcher, a teacher and mentor, and an advocate for people with disabilities,” says Thomas A. Deutsch, MD, provost of Rush University and dean of Rush Medical College. “His influence can be seen in the design of the Tower and in many other ways that the Medical Center accommodates the needs of people with disabilities. Eugene’s impact in this area will continue to be felt long into the future.”
By Kevin McKeough
As a child stricken with polio, JoAnn Potts discovered what it meant to have a disability, and how much it meant to have help to overcome it.
Potts did overcome her disability and, inspired by her personal experience, dedicated herself to helping others by working in health care. For nearly four decades, Potts has worked for the Rush Blood Center’s transfusion services, where she’s currently the quality assurance coordinator.
In recognition of her determination and her dedication, Potts received this year’s Eugene J-M.A. Thonar, PhD, Award in October. Named for a Rush professor of biochemistry and orthopedic surgery, the award is given annually to a Rush employee, faculty member, student or volunteer whose efforts further Rush’s commitment to accessibility and to providing professional and educational opportunities to people with disabilities.
A native of Jackson, Miss., Potts was stricken with polio when she was 2 years old, during an epidemic that swept the country in the 1950s, shortly before a vaccine eradicated the paralyzing viral disease almost entirely. She initially needed crutches and a leg brace to walk, but following three corrective surgeries she regained the ability to walk on her own by age 9.
Maria Brown, DO, was an advocate for people with disabilities long before she became one herself. As a teenager growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the early 1970s, she befriended a group of young adults with disabilities who were involved in protests for greater access to public transportation.
Brown, assistant professor of family medicine and attending physician, Rush University Family Physicians, has remained passionately committed to the rights and needs of people with disabilities to this day. In the 1990s, she helped found the Association of Horizon, which raises funds for a camp for adults with muscular dystrophy. Since 2002, she has been the attending physician for Misericordia, a home for more than 600 children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities on Chicago’s far North Side.
Brown also has made an impact on the understanding of disability at Rush. She arranges for people with disabilities to speak to Rush Medical College students during the first-week orientation and the mandatory third-year family medicine clerkship. She also serves on Rush’s Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Committee.
Brown is personally familiar with disability. As an adult, she developed a degenerative spine condition, and she uses a walker to assist with her mobility. Nonetheless, she maintains a busy schedule, arriving for morning rounds at 5:30 a.m. in order to complete them before moving on to her many other duties — which also include serving as volunteer medical director of Pilsen Homeless Services, a shelter near Rush. Continue reading