Stepping Up to Help Fight COVID-19

Melissa F. Neumann, MD
Melissa F. Neumann, MD

When Melissa F. Neumann, MD, and her husband, James Crichton, made a $150,000 pledge earlier this year to the Laszlo Ormandy Professorship Fund in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine, they did not know how fast their gift would change its purpose.

Neumann wished to continue the legacy of her late great uncle, Laszlo Ormandy, MD, HS’42, who did his internship in orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine in the early 1940s. Fifty-five years after he graduated from Duke, Ormandy started the endowment fund to support the recruitment of scholars in the field of orthopaedic surgery.

“My uncle adored Duke, and I wanted to continue his support of the institution,” says Neumann.

Neumann and Crichton paid the first $50,000 of their pledge to the endowment, but when COVID-19 hit, the New York couple immediately lent their hands to Duke’s efforts to combat the pandemic. They decided to fulfill the remaining portion of their pledge by giving $100,000 to the Duke Health COVID-19 Response Funds to support patients and caregivers, and to enhance Duke researchers’ efforts to develop and test new tools to combat the virus.

We wanted to give the money right now and to help fight COVID-19,” says Neumann. “It is a time of crisis, and it is important for donors to step up and help great research organizations like Duke, who can fight this disease. We know the gift will be deployed in a productive way, because Duke did such a great job managing and growing my uncle's funds.”

Recently, Steven George, PT, PhD, vice chair of clinical research, was named the Laszlo Ormandy Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery.

A Turning Point

Melissa Neumann at her White Coat Ceremony with her daughters, Eva and Lita Crichton.
Melissa Neumann at her White Coat Ceremony with her daughters, Eva and Lita Crichton.

Neumann, a Harvard Business School graduate, was involved in finance and entrepreneurship for more than two decades. She and her late mother, Delores, co-founded The First Wave, a children’s educational media company. In 1993, Neumann co-founded GenArt, a company that helped emerging visual artists showcase their work in New York City’s galleries.

Ten years ago, when Neumann’s son was five years old, he broke his arm. It was what is known as a pathological fracture, meaning it was caused by a disease rather than an injury. The doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center thought that it might be cancer. Luckily, it turned out that it was just a bone cyst.

“It was the scariest moment of my life,” Neumann says. “We met incredible doctors and surgeons, and I simply thought, ‘Why am I not doing this, helping people the way they are helping us?’”

Neumann decided to make a career change. Seven years ago she went back to school and enrolled in a pre-med program at Columbia University. She then worked in a diabetic research lab at Mount Sinai Hospital. In 2016, she enrolled in Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and graduated in April 2020 with an MD degree. “I really enjoyed school,” says Neumann. “Medicine is a profession that balances intellect and compassion, and it's constantly evolving. I've really enjoyed the interaction with patients.”

Neumann will start her residency in internal medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell in June. She then hopes to do an internship in hematology-oncology or pulmonary critical care. “These areas are very interesting and challenging,” she says. “They are intellectually complicated, and that’s the kind of work that I like.”

By Aliza Inbari