A creative mind

A creative mind

Fullbright scholar paves her own path in neurology

By Mina Radman
Latha Stead, M.D.

Latha Stead, M.D. Photo by Jesse S. Jones

An emergency room physician with an interest in neurology, Latha Ganti Stead, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., ruffled feathers at the Mayo Clinic when, as junior faculty, she decided to study how stroke care could be improved.

“I got a lot of condescending and patronizing comments,” said Stead, the Toral Family Foundation professor in traumatic brain injury. “They asked, ‘Why is a non-neurologist doing neurology research?’ But I felt I had to do it for my patients.”

Deciding some credentials might help, she submitted a stroke-focused grant to the National Institutes of Health, hoping to receive funding for her research idea. The grant was rejected.

But then Stead’s luck changed. A student, Rachel Gilmore, offered to assist Stead with her research and work for free.

“I told her, ‘I’m no mentor for you,’” Stead said. “‘Everything I’ve tried so far in neurology research has failed. But I will not fail you.’”

The duo conducted a study that focused on the correlation between low blood pressure and the likelihood of poor outcomes and dying from a stroke. The study was published in Neurology in 2005 and Stead became well-known in the field of emergency neurological care.

Stead arrived at UF in 2010 and ironically, after already making herself a name in the field of stroke care, she decided to pursue a formal vascular neurology fellowship at UF.

Stead is the founding director of the Center for Brain Injury Research and Education, which opened in 2012.

“Dr. Stead has distinguished herself particularly through her hard work, dedication and creativity,” said Joseph Tyndall, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the College of Medicine department of emergency medicine. “She relentlessly seeks opportunities to do good and to follow through on her mission and what she believes in.”

Stead said she decided to start the center because she realized people with traumatic brain injury had nowhere to go after they were discharged from the emergency department.

The center serves as the hub for all people who would otherwise go to the emergency department with traumatic brain injuries. It’s also a place for patients to come for follow-up appointments so doctors can monitor their progress.

“Dr. Stead has become a wonderful asset to our department, and I believe that these efforts and the collaborations she continues to forge, and the results so far are just the beginning of many accomplishments she will achieve,” Tyndall said.

In February, Stead will travel to Andhra Pradesh, India, for the spring semester as a Fulbright scholar. During her time there, she plans to teach medical students about the importance of clinical research, patients’ background stories and lifestyle choices to their current health.

Stead said she thinks her experience in emergency medicine has helped her excel in her other role: mom to four young boys, whose ages range from 6 to 12 years old.

“The ER is a very eclectic mix of people and has a crazy pace, which lends great to family life because it teaches you to think on your toes, and you’re used to variety, chaos and constant interruption,” Stead said. “This isn’t much different from my household — so my kids help me work in the ER, and the ER helps me enjoy my kids.”