Last summer, as a new virus outbreak threatened a health care system trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Shira Heisler, M.D., rushed back to the front line.
As medical director of the Detroit Public Health STD Clinic and an assistant professor in Wayne State University’s Division of Infectious Disease, Dr. Heisler wasted no time in addressing the monkeypox virus – a disease that was impacting multiple marginalized communities.
Dr. Heisler, who completed her Internal Medicine/Pediatrics residency training at Wayne State/Detroit Medical Center, led the charge against the virus, evaluating, testing, treating and vaccinating patients and their close contacts and families. Other health care facilities routinely contacted Dr. Heisler to refer patients for testing due to lack of standardization and initial unknowns for logistics of care.
Because of her unselfish dedication and care for others, Dr. Heisler received the 2022 Wayne State Warriors of Distinction Alumni Award, presented by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Career Development Committee. The annual honor is given to a Wayne State alumnus or alumna who has demonstrated a sustained commitment to women and/or issues of diversity, equity and inclusion at Wayne State.
“Being a part of Wayne State University allows me to do this work because I am supported by a university that shares these values. I am so grateful,” Dr. Heisler said. “Not everyone can work in a place that says and lives out in practice this idea of giving actual representation to women, to people of color. It’s just not lip service; it is actually what I think people in leadership believe. And that feels really awesome to be here.”
Dr. Heisler was recognized during a virtual ceremony on Nov. 17. Also honored were Krista Brumley, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology, who received the Warriors of Distinction Employee award, and Sarah Battiston, a third-year medical student, who received the Warriors of Distinction Student award.
More than 40 individuals attended the virtual ceremony, including President M. Roy Wilson and 36th District Judge Jacquelyn McClinton, the event’s keynote speaker.
“Addressing you today, I am reminded of a quote from the former United Kingdom prime minister, Margaret Thatcher,” Wilson said. “‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’ Today, we’re recognizing those doers — people who don’t just pay lip service to gender equity but do the hard work and make tangible improvements.
“We’re honoring three women: Sarah Battiston, Dr. Shira Heisler and Dr. Krista Brumley, who made extraordinary contributions to the community through their research, clinical care, advocacy and volunteer work. I’d like to congratulate them on this richly-deserved recognition.”
Similar to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when testing and care management was in chaos, monkeypox was equally stressful. But Dr. Heisler was not deterred. She treated more patients than anyone in Detroit and called each patient’s family to make sure their loved ones who may had been exposed were vaccinated.
She did so during a time when there were many unknowns about the virus; yet, as each question arose, she reviewed the evidence and made the best decision possible as a leader.
Lea Marie Monday, M.D., applauded Heisler for her bravery.
“What made me want to nominate her was her work with the monkeypox outbreak,” said Dr. Monday, a WSU School of Medicine graduate. “We have queer men of color; we have transgender women of color. These are the people who are really impacted by this. During Pride Month, people were getting together, sharing their time together, dancing, having close contact. This sort of hit our country like a ton of bricks.”
Dr. Heisler regularly works with and helps patients of color in the inner city who are referred to her with life-altering diagnoses such as HIV or other sexually-transmitted infections like syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
“I am so inspired by her love for this community and everything she had done,” Dr. Monday said. “I’m really grateful that we could give her this award today.”