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#2024UMMCGrad: Estelle Blair balances medical school and motherhood – single, but not alone

Posted on: May 10th, 2024 by cnstewa1 No Comments

Department of Biology BA August 2018 graduate

Published on Monday, May 6, 2024

By: Gary Pettus,

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

It’s easy to take your breath for granted, until your child loses hers.

Estelle Blair will never take it for granted again. The day her daughter stopped breathing, she did, too.

As Lucy grew older, the febrile seizures that stole her breath faded away; the impact on her mom did not.

Her emotions will follow her throughout a career that begins after her graduation this month from the University of Mississippi Medical Center School of Medicine.

“We can forget sometimes in medicine, what it’s like discovering how fragile life is,” she said, “especially seeing this with someone we love.

“Whenever a child enters a hospital or pediatrician’s office, it can be scary for their parents. I can meet those parents where they are now.”

On May 24, Blair will be one of around 159 receiving medical degrees from UMMC, but probably the only one who will have graduated from high school, college and medical school, as a single parent.

Brought up in Flowood as one of four children, she was still in high school when she learned she would be a mom – single, but not alone.

“I have this incredible family with these incredibly strong women,” she said. Namely: Anne Salvo, her mom, and Allie Blair and Rachel Blair, her sisters.

Portrait of Lyssa Weatherly

They told her that, no matter what, she should, and could, get an education. Rachel was the first to tell her she could become a doctor. Among those who saw that happen was Dr. Lyssa Weatherly.

“What I find most amazing about Estelle’s story is her humility and selflessness throughout this journey,” said Weatherly, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for student affairs in the School of Medicine.

“I’m thankful to have learned a little about motherhood from her, and I hope I can raise my own daughter and balance being a woman in medicine with the grace she has taught me along the way.”

The way wasn’t easy. “My daughter saw me fail more times than I can count,” Blair said. “But – I hope – she saw me get back up and try again. I needed her to see this; it’s what kept me going.”

While attending Hinds Community College, a scholarship came through for her. Blair moved in with Allie, in Oxford; she entered the University of Mississippi – and one of the most demanding times of her life.

Mornings at 6, she woke up and took care of Lucy. When the baby-sitter didn’t show up, Lucy went to class with her, at 8 a.m. After studying until 5 p.m., she had play time with her daughter. She needed those breaks – especially after that first test, on genetics.

“I did so badly, I thought I was going to fail the class,” she said. She called her dad, Bill Blair, who told her, “‘I would rather see you fail than see you give up.’

“We all want to believe we’re pretty tough – ‘pull yourself up by your own bootstraps’ is something we’re taught,” she said. “But some people don’t have bootstraps. I did: My family.

“And I understood it was a huge privilege to be able to go to college. It was important for me to always be there, to show up. Not many people get to be there. And many girls who get pregnant in high school don’t finish.

“It was like I was representing them. So, I didn’t give up.”

While studying at Ole Miss, Blair did research on pediatrics and obesity. She worked on the marijuana farm there: “They offer health insurance,” she said. She volunteered with the local Boys & Girls Clubs and at a nursing home. She tutored college students, as well as high school kids taking the ACT.

Dr. Jeff Crout, professor of pediatrics, is on hand as Estelle Blair examines patient Micah Warren, 8, of Starkville. Blair chose to stay at UMMC for her residency in pediatrics-neurology.
Dr. Jeff Crout, professor of pediatrics, is on hand as Estelle Blair examines patient Micah Warren, 8, of Starkville. Blair chose to stay at UMMC for her residency in pediatrics-neurology.

Along the way, she, too, was being tested. One test had a single question: How badly do you want to be a doctor?

Medicine had always captivated her. Pandemics fascinated her: She saved Newsweek issues that covered the Zika virus.

Obviously, her own daughter’s medical condition riveted her most of all. “Starting around age 2, Lucy would get sick and spike a fever,” Blair said. “Kids’ brains have a lower seizure threshold than adults’, but they usually grow out of this.”

For Lucy, it lasted about three months, as she and Blair met frequently with physicians. There will be no long-term effects, physically, for Lucy, who is 11 now; but those seizures will always affect Blair. They would even influence her choice of specialties.

“I realized that, in taking care of a child, you get to take care of the family, too,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it, to take care of those who have no voice.”

For about six months, while working, attending class and taking care of Lucy, she studied for the Medical College Admission Test. It paid off.

“I remember the acceptance letter,” she said. ‘I’m a crier, so I cried.”

On the first day of medical school, she and her classmates sat six feet apart and wore a mask. During those first two years of COVID, “we just kind of winged it, and we got through it,” she said.

“The administration made sure we got to the finish in a timely fashion, which I am extremely grateful for. And I’m so thankful for those online courses – because I was able to homeschool Lucy.”

During Blair’s four years of medical school, Weatherly never heard her complain. “Most medical students have one job: being a medical student,” Weatherly said. “Estelle has been a medical student, pandemic home-school teacher, researcher, advocate, caregiver, volunteer, and, most importantly, mother.

“And she has worn each hat with unwavering grace.” Soon, she’ll be wearing one more: pediatrics-neurology resident – at UMMC.

On March 15, Estelle Blair announces her residency match. With her, from left, are the daughters of her partner, Mark Adair: Quinn Adair, 6, and Ellerie Adair,7, along with her own daughter, Lucy. “I got to go up on stage with three little girls,” Blair says, “and I hope they now believe they also can do whatever they want.”
On March 15, Estelle Blair announces her residency match. With her, from left, are the daughters of her partner, Mark Adair: Quinn Adair, 6, and Ellerie Adair,7, along with her own daughter, Lucy. “I got to go up on stage with three little girls,” Blair says, “and I hope they now believe they also can do whatever they want.”


“I decided to stay in Mississippi,” Blair said. “I love Mississippi – the literature, the music – but we also have to grapple with our history. I want to work on letting people in who have been left out. To do that, I don’t have to go overseas.”

She chose pediatrics-neurology, not only because of Lucy, she said, but also because of her fascination with the brain. “The brain and children, and their relationship with their parents.”

Portrait of Austin Harrison

To her specialty, Blair brings “empathy, compassion and her experience as a single mother,” said Dr. Austin Harrison, associate professor of pediatrics. “I can think of no better field for her.”

On March 15, Blair announced that decision to hundreds of people attending the medical school’s Residency Match Day . With her were Lucy, along with Ellerie Adair, 7, and Quinn Adair, 6, the daughters of her partner, Mark Adair.

“I got to go up on stage with three little girls,” Blair said, “and I hope they now believe they also can do whatever they want.”

It was one of the happiest days of her life; she will carry it with her always, as she will the saddest: the day her best friend from high school, while recovering from addiction, died from an overdose, alone.

“The question comes up, then: Was there anything else I could have done?” she said.

So, in my medical practice, I will always have that question about my patients: Is there anything else I can do?” And try to help their parents catch their breath.

SuperTalk MS talks High School Outreach

Posted on: December 9th, 2022 by amyevans No Comments

BISC 102: Inquiry Into Life

Posted on: December 14th, 2021 by capurdo1 No Comments

Human Biology
Web Fall 2020

Course Overview
This is a survey course intended for non-biology majors and will cover a wide variety
of topics that emphasize how the human body functions. The course will have an
introduction to the process of science, genetics and inheritance in addition to an
overview of the body systems. The class applies to the science requirement of the
core curriculum at The University of Mississippi. The associated laboratory is BISC
103 and cannot be taken online.
Goals of the Course
The student will be presented information that will allow him/her to comprehend and
make informed decisions about their basic health and issues that may become
apparent over time. The information will also allow a student to evaluate and
discuss topics associated with health and nutrition and to understand the scientific
processes that are the foundation of scientific and medical advances.
Learning Objectives
In this course, you will learn about the science of life with an emphasis on the
human body. After a semester of lecture and out-of-class work, each student
should be able to:
1. explain how science proceeds and how scientific knowledge accumulates
and leads to scientific theories.
2. demonstrate an understanding of processes that cells share, including
energy production, reproduction, and communication.
3. convey an understanding of how the functioning of cells, organs, and
tissues can influence the functioning and health of the human body;
4. explain how information flows from DNA to proteins and how humans have
manipulated that process to better our health.
5. predict the inheritance of traits from one generation to the next a

BISC 322 | General Ecology with Dr. Peter Zee

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

Students in Bailey Woods measuring the circumference of a tree
Dr. Peter Zee, an evolutionary ecologist with a PhD from Indiana University. His research interests are in the evolution of species interactions in ecological communities.

Forest with some dead and some living treesEcology is a diverse field of study in biology, ranging from mathematical models to surveys in the field. Through a combination of lectures, computer labs, and field labs around the Oxford area, students learn how interactions between organisms and their environments result in the patterns of biodiversity around us. The course also focuses on helping students learn to interpret graphical information and data, skills that are useful across a wide array of careers. Applications of ecological thinking to human health, agricultural systems, and management of natural resources. Through the activities in this course, students will come away with an enriched view of the environment around them.

    The goal of this course is to enhance students’ existing curiosity about and understanding of the biological world. Students learn to understand and appreciate:

  • the scope of the field of ecology;
  • the relationships of organisms with each other and their environments;
  • how ecologists pursue ecological questions; and
  • reading and interpreting graphical information and data.

“Dr. Zee is cash money. He’s the best professor ever.”

“Dr. Zee has made this semester super easy and interesting. The thing I liked the most was on the first day of class, he made sure to show his students how Ecology was applicable from being an ecologist to how it’s used in the medical field. It helped me stay focused in the class and enjoy the material more.”

“I really enjoyed this class. It was all very interesting, and you begin to see the world around you a little differently. I think even if you aren’t the biggest fan of Ecology, you will find this course interesting.”

Bisc 578 | Cell Imaging with Dr. Joshua Bloomekatz

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

Microscopic image of cells

The field of biology has recently undergone a revolution and explosion in imaging capabilities. We can now see cellular and microscopic events at unprecedented temporal and spatial scales. These advancements have affected a wide-array of biological disciplines, reflecting the broad scope of the Department of Biology at UM.

colorful cellsDr. Joshua Bloomekatz, who earned his Ph.D. in Genetics at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in NYC, introduces students in the Cell Imaging course to the conceptual and practical aspects of the wide variety of modern light microscopes — from stereoscopes to super-resolution imaging techniques.

In particular we focus on the theoretical and practical aspects of confocal microscopy, the workhorse of modern cell biology laboratories. This focus includes training on the department’s advanced confocal microscope, a Lecia TCS SP8 X, with a white light laser. Students actively engage in all aspect of this course, which includes an imaging research project of the students’ own design involving the confocal microscope. Students also learn important skills related to experimental design as well as image processing and analysis. The important technical and conceptual skills taught in this class will help students succeed in biomedical and health science careers.

“I got time on confocal. Great microscope demos. Dr. Bloomekatz was fair and wanted students to succeed, but made you work for it in a positive way. ‘individual project’ component of course was nice; some real, hands on science.”

“Overall, this was a very informative and interesting class. Having not known much about the field of microscopy in general, I learned quite a bit about the different areas of microscopy and how to use the confocal microscope. This is a great skill to obtain.”

BISC 327 | Intro to Neuroscience with Dr. Lainy Day

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

illustration of brain with electric network
Dr. Lainy Day received her PhD from the University of Texas in Austin and completed postdoctoral research at the University of California Santa Barbara; James Cook University in Townsville, QLD, Australia; and the University of California Los Angeles. Her areas of research include behavioral neuroscience, neuroplasticity, evolution of cognition and motor-learning.

Photo illustration of neuronsThis course is an introduction to how nerve cells work singly and in concert to guide the behavior of animals. We will take a comparative approach to understand how brains have evolved to allow animals to perceive stimuli, adopt particular mating strategies, learn and guide behavior, and communicate. We will also talk about variation in individual animals abilities to cope with a range of environmental and social stimuli by means of learning and epigenetics.

    By the end of the semester, students will

  • develop a basic understanding of how nerve cells work, how brains are divided into functional units, and how evolution and development shape the nervous system;
  • learn that the nervous system filters external stimuli, processes information, and guides behavioral output; and
  • relate the text to current discoveries, politics, and the natural world.

“It is a great class. Fascinating topic, lots of information, awesome professor who wants you to succeed.”

“This class is amazing and so interesting. Day is a really good instructor and wants to see her students succeed. This is a great biology elective to take! 10/10”

“Dr. Day is very knowledgeable about neuroscience and is very approachable when it comes to you needing help outside of class. By far the BEST biology professor thus far….ever”

BISC 579 | Ecology & Evolution of Infectious Disease with Dr. Susan Balenger

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

Illustration of nerve cell getting attacked by disease particles
Dr. Susan Balenger received her Ph.D. at Auburn University and was a postdoctoral researcher in the Division of Genetics and Physiology at the University of Turku in Finland, and at the University of Minnesota. Her research addresses why and how environmental stressors and phenotypic plasticity influence sexual signal evolution and population divergence. In the Balenger lab research activities utilize genetics and genomics approaches, laboratory experimental manipulations, and field observations of natural populations.

Illustration of virion and red blood cellsIn recent years there has been an unprecedented rise in the global incidence and severity of infectious diseases in human, animal, and plant populations across nearly all of the world’s terrestrial, aquatic, and marine ecosystems. At the same time, the ways in which we approach the prevention and management of diseases have changed little in the past 50-100 years. It is becoming increasingly clear that the intensification of diseases around the world is, in part, due to human activities, which have brought about habitat transformation, biological invasions, environmental contamination, climate change, and ensuing losses of biodiversity. Although disease outbreaks have historically been studied in relative isolation, the ecological complexities of disease development and spread have been clearly illustrated by such famous examples as the plague, smallpox, and flu epidemics, the Irish potato blight, and more recently, the swine flu epidemic, amphibian chytridiomycosis, white nose disease of bats, Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, bee colony collapse disease, various forest declines, SARS, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and Zika virus.

In this course students examine and discuss current concepts and trends in infectious disease biology, assessing our basic understanding of human and wildlife diseases and their impacts on one another. On a most basic level, this is a class based around problem solving and critical thinking. We will focus on problems related to the ecological and evolutionary processes that drive the transmission of pathogens between hosts; the impact of disease on host populations; and what causes the emergence of an infectious disease. The course content includes a theoretical framework and extensive discussion of wildlife and human diseases.

    The student learning objectives include

  • an appreciation for the complexity of disease, including the number of disciplines that are involved in a thorough understanding of any given disease (e.g., ecology, evolution, epidemiology, clinical medicine, economics, politics, agriculture, wildlife management, public health, etc);
  • the ability to integrate ecological and evolutionary concepts and theory in ways that inform disease models/predictions/control;
  • basic knowledge of parasite diversity and host defensive repertoires;
  • ability to skillfully read and synthesize primary literature; and
  • ability to effectively convey the natural history and current literature pertaining to an infectious disease in an oral presentation.

“Dr. Balenger is one of the best professors at this university. She’s funny and really cares about her students and wants them to learn. You can go to her office at any time to talk about class or other struggles you’re having. The class was very interesting and I feel like I still learned a lot because it was discussion based. All in all…an amazing class and would take again.”

“I had a great experience with this class. I feel like I learned more here than in many classrooms; particularly, I learned how to better express my thoughts in an intellectual discussion with my peers. I really enjoyed the opportunity to read scientific journals as the text for this class. If you like discussing science, this is the class for you!”

BISC 334 | Ornithology with Dr. Jason Hoeksema

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

Dr. Hoeksema teaches Ornithology class outside
Dr. Jason Hoeksema, an ecology expert with a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis, teaches Ornithology. The course introduces students to all aspects of the biology of birds — development, anatomy, physiology, behavior, ecology, evolution, systematics, field identification, and conservation — through a combination of lectures, laboratory exercises, and field trips. Field trips teach students to recognize how particular bird species depend on unique habitats, and students learn to identify dozens of bird species by sight and sound.

Students reconstructing bird skeletonOrnithology helps to prepare students for almost any career in biology, as it brings together concepts from across the broad field of biology, allowing students to synthesize fundamental biological principles through the example of birds. Preparation for graduate and professional school programs is supported by lectures grounded in recent scientific literature and by laboratory activities that teach fundamental skills such as specimen dissection. Overall, students’ lives are enriched by learning to recognize the value and complexity of birds all around us.

    By the end of the semester, students should be able to

  • understand the structure and function of the major organ systems of birds, including skin/feathers, muscles & bones, digestive system, circulatory system, and reproductive system;
  • recognize and interpret important behaviors of birds such as song, territoriality, nesting, foraging, and migration;
  • understand the ecological factors influencing the abundance and distribution of bird species;
  • know the key characteristics and evolutionary relationships of bird lineages; and
  • identify bird species occurring in a diversity of habitats in Mississippi, by sight and sound.

“Amazing course. It was so incredibly different than any other class I’ve taken at Ole Miss. Dr. H is incredible too; I’ve never had a teacher that knew so much about the subject, actually cared about the subject, listened to the students, and cared for the students; he’s pretty funny too.”

“He makes bird watching fun and worthwhile. He teaches in a very fun way and uses many tools and other resources to get across the point or concept he is trying to make. He created an engaging learning experience, and he was very helpful and understanding.”

BISC 306 | Virology with Dr. Wayne Gray

Posted on: November 2nd, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

illustration of cell getting attacked
Virology is taught by Dr. Wayne Gray, who spent 27 years at the University of Arkansas Medical School teaching medical and graduate students and conducting research in medical virology. His research interests are in medical microbiology, virology, and vaccines.

Virus particlesVirology introduces students to the basic principles of viruses and virus diseases in human, animals, and plants. Students learn the structure of viruses and the molecular mechanisms by which they replicate in cells. In addition, they learn the pathogenesis and clinical symptoms of viral diseases, how these diseases are treated with antiviral agents, and how they are prevented with vaccines. The course provides a strong infectious disease background for students interested in human health care and veterinary medicine.

    After completing this course, students will be able to

  • describe virus structure;
  • list the steps of virus replication;
  • explain viral pathogenesis and disease symptoms;
  • identify methods of diagnosis and treatment of viral diseases; and
  • describe prevention and control of viral diseases including vaccines.

“This class is great! Material is pretty cool and relevant, and the tests are fair and relatively easy if you study. TAKE THIS CLASS. Dr. Gray is a very passionate teacher. I learned so much!”

“Dr. Gray is one of the greatest professors that I have had since I have been in college. I recommend you to take his courses if you are interested in going into any healthcare field. It is a very interesting subject matter and he really takes the time you understand the viruses and the diseases they cause making it very applicable to pre-med majors.”

BISC 310 | Human Anatomy with Dr. Carol Britson

Posted on: November 1st, 2021 by amyevans No Comments

Human Anatomy classroom featuring technology
Dr. Carol Britson, a University of Mississippi PLATO Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, offers Human Anatomy for biology and pre-health professions students. This course is more advanced than the Anatomy & Physiology sequence taught for sophomores primarily going into nursing. Laboratory resources in this course provide students with an unparalleled entry into exploration of the structure of the human organism as well as the building blocks for success in professional programs such as medicine, dentistry, physical therapy, physician assistant, etc.

Students and professor around a cadaverIn the laboratory, students engage in active examination, dissection, and study of “Gloria,” our synthetic cadaver that provides the feel and flexibility of living tissue. Students carry this new knowledge through to examination of our plastinated cadaver prosections and sections (thin 2D slices). Students connect the anatomy of the synthetic cadaver and plastinated specimens to modern technology in the use of 3D visualization software. Students manipulate CT and MRI data from multiple individuals and perspectives to problem solve in the anatomy lab by connecting two dimensions to three, nonliving to the living, and education to professional goals.

    The objectives of this course are to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • the principles of anatomical design and 3-dimensional associations between structures;
  • the relationship of evolutionary history to adult structure-function relationships;
  • the effect of embryological development on adult human anatomy; and
  • the integration of anatomical design across levels of biological organization.

“This has been one of my favorite biology classes that I have taken here at Ole Miss! It is one of the first that I feel will be extremely helpful to me for med school. Do not get me wrong– it is a hard class and needs to be taken in a semester where you could focus on the course!”

“You truly learn anatomy and how to not just memorize material, but to actually learn it. Dr. Britson is very passionate about this subject and teaches with enthusiasm. She is a great teacher that is very passionate about the course and is willing to help with organization strategies that are necessary to be successful in this class.”