Newsletter – May 2019

Greetings, North Central Members!

Welcome to the May 2019 chapter newsletter. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well. And we always welcome suggestions for newsletter topics.

In this issue:





Book Club: Monday, September 30, 2019

La Casita, 1925 Perimeter Dr, Roseville, MN 55113

Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande


Join us for our next book club on September 30, 2019, at 6 pm at La Casita in Roseville. We will discuss Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. Even if you haven’t read the book, feel free to join our conversation and enjoy some good Mexican cooking. We hope to see you there. By 9 a.m. the morning of September 30, please email Book Club coordinator Paul Mamula to let him know you’re coming: paulpat (at) pclink (dot) com.

Spring Special Event: Wednesday June 19th, 2019 from 5:30 – 8 p.m.

Urban Growler Brewing Co. — 2325 Endicott Street, St Paul, MN 55114


Join us for our upcoming spring special event on June 19, 2019 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Urban Growler Brewing Co. featuring reception on arrival, annual meeting from 6 to 6:30 pm and educational talk on Trends, Opportunities and Transitioning to Medical Writing by Dr. Joy Frestedt from 6:30 – 7 p.m., followed by a 15 minute Q&A session. Networking and entertainment will follow until closing at 8 p.m. The chapter will cater for this event. Anyone interested in medical communications is welcome to attend. Please email Messac Che Neba at mcheneba(at)gmail(dot)com to RSVP on or before June 10th, 2019.


Take an Active Role — Volunteer!

We still have some additional missing links in leadership and some gracious previous volunteers working beyond their term. As you know, our chapter is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities.

Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee or serve as a chapter officer. These positions are still open:

  • Treasurer: The treasurer (3-year term) manages the chapter’s checking account, develops the annual budget in collaboration with the president and president-elect, contributes to semiannual reports, completes IRS filing, and when needed, helps other committees establish a budget for large events. The current treasurer’s term will overlap with the incoming treasurer’s term to teach you about the position.
  • Finance Committee Chair: This chair coordinates the annual audit of the chapter’s financial records at the close of the fiscal year (June) and reports the findings to the chapter treasurer.

Not ready or able to lead a committee? All of our committees welcome members to share ideas and keep the workload light.

In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month to help, contact our president, Lisa Poppenberg: president (at) Thank you!


April Book Club Notes: Blood by Douglas Starr

By Paul W. Mamula, PhD

We held our book club at a new venue, the Mirror of Korea in St Paul, on April 29, 2019, for lunch and a discussion of Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce by Douglas Starr. The food was warm, spicy, and good, and the discussion lively.

The Book

Blood traces the history of blood banking. The book consists of 17 chapters divided into 3 historical periods with an epilogue. Blood includes important steps in that history, including primitive transfusions of the 17th century, the discovery of blood typing (and safe transfusions) through plasma fractionation (which saved lives in World War II and gave birth to an industry), and eventual contamination crises (with business decisions favored over lives). It also includes plenty of historical oddities. Mary Knatterud said, “I loved the book’s emphasis on the need for healthy, thoughtful organizations.” The text makes up 357 pages, but it is well-paced; chapter notes, acknowledgments, and an index round out the book’s 441 pages.

Some of Our Reactions

We all liked the book. One interesting section details the blood fractionation process. With the help of Edwin Cohn’s insight, the production of pooled frozen plasma during World War II led to the commercialization of many additional blood products that could be cryopreserved. Although contaminated plasma caused many cases of hepatitis among battlefield casualties, it also saved many lives. Systemic contamination problems would later haunt blood bankers after the war, exploding into prominence with the AIDS epidemic beginning in the 1980s.

Starr’s “historical sweep truly was ‘epic,’ per the subtitle,” stressed Mary Knatterud who said, “I especially enjoyed the anecdote about Minnesota’s own Sinclair Lewis gamely speaking on behalf of the shy Karl Landsteiner when both were in Stockholm in 1930 to accept a Nobel Prize” (p 59). Landsteiner was responsible for discovering ABO blood typing.

The squabbles between the Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks were eye-opening to read about. Intense bickering and pettiness accompanied the growth of a global business in blood and plasma. The industry unfortunately has been plagued by many problems not usually associated with medical practices. For example, the global plasmapheresis business (in the United States and worldwide) met a medical need but often employed questionable practices, such as paying donors, ignoring donor health issues, and having shady business arrangements. In Central America, Nicaraguans referred to plasma collection centers as “casas de vampiros,” partly because of their cozy relationship with the dictator Anastasio Somoza. Knatterud pointed out, “How sad and apt it is that the last word of Blood’s subtitle is ‘Commerce.’” She said, ”I was appalled at the overriding focus on money of so many of the power-hoarding bureaucrats, including so many of the patient-harming physicians described in the book.”

The blood industry’s part in the growing AIDS epidemic and the fallout from business decisions are difficult to imagine today.  Blood banking and Factor IX made from contaminated blood caused many hemophilia patients to become infected with HIV. Not all this went unnoticed or unpunished, however. Trials of 4 blood bank corporate officers and government health officials in France produced guilty verdicts, because they knew a portion of their blood and Factor IX supplies were contaminated but decided to sell the inventory anyway rather than discard the suspected units. They felt that the hemophilia patients were likely already infected so receiving contaminated products wouldn’t matter! Some of these patients gained a degree of satisfaction seeing these guilty verdicts.

Regarding the issue of viruses in the blood, the powers-that-be can partly be excused for initially having no test to detect infective agents, but not for selecting inappropriate donors, selling and distributing contaminated products, and delaying testing of blood and plasma pools. The advent of the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and later polymerase chain reaction (PCR), enabled testing for selected infective agents and solved many of these issues, although both ELISA and PCR also depend on having an antibody or sequence for testing.

Editorial Issues and Mistakes

The book was not without a few flaws. We all pointed out typographical mistakes and minor factual errors. As editors, we winced at the use of “regime” for “regimen” (twice on p 24); “counsel” for “council” (p 156); ‘honor role” for “honor roll” (p 298); and “proscribed” for “prescribed” (p 333). Users of the AMA style guide will notice the use of “hemophiliac” throughout, rather than the preferred “people with hemophilia.” Starr also incorrectly located the Mayo Clinic, which is in southeastern Minnesota, not “central Minnesota” (p 257). Still, these were only minor annoyances; however, we were surprised that so many slipped through.

Next Up

Join us for our next book club on September 30, 2019, at 6 pm at La Casita in Roseville. We will discuss Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande. Even if you haven’t read the book, feel free to join our conversation and enjoy some good Mexican cooking. We hope to see you there.

Have you read a good book lately?

Whether you’ve read a professional/technical, biomedical/science nonfiction, or fiction book that you think other chapter members may enjoy, share a short review with us. Write a paragraph or a few about what you liked about the book, how it might be good for medical writers to read, or how it might fill a need. Send your submissions to jennerb (at) gmail (dot) com.

AMWA North Central Chapter Officers

President: Lisa Poppenberg, MPH, ELS, president (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

President-Elect: Jillienne Touchette

Past President: Kendra Hyland, PhD

Co-Treasurer: Ellen O’Malley, MS, treasurer (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

Co-Treasurer: vacant

Secretary: Amelia Young, BS, secretary (at) amwanorthcentral (dot) org

AMWA North Central Committee Chairs

Finance Committee: Co-Treasurer Ellen O’Malley, MS

Membership Committee: Lynelle Martinez, MBA

Program Committee: Messac Che Neba

Publications Committee: Jennifer Burton

Chapter Representative to AMWA National: Mary Knatterud, PhD

Chapter Advisory Council (CAC) Representative to AMWA National:

Mary Knatterud, PhD [Nov. 2017 through June 2019];

Paul Mamula, PhD [July 2019 through June 2020]

Questions? Ideas? Email the officers listed above or visit our website at