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Alumni: Winter 2017
Author: Harry Esteve, Kathryn Kirkland
Posted: January 27, 2017

Reconstructing lives with microsurgery

THE EMAIL had a familiar, desperate tone. A 4-week-old Romanian infant had developed a giant growth on her neck that would kill her if she didn’t get emergency surgery. Dr. Daniel Petrisor was the child’s last hope.

“They said if I didn’t come they would be forced to make a difficult decision,” says Petrisor ’99, a Portland State alumnus and leading cancer surgeon.

Petrisor made the trip to his native country and performed hours of intense surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct the girl’s neck and jaw. She survived, and a recent photo shows barely a trace of her malady.

It was the second time Petrisor had been called to an urgent need in Romania, the country he fled as a young child with his family to escape an oppressive communist government. In 2010, he responded to pleas from the parents of 6-month-old Matia Simion to save their child from a mouth cancer that was threatening his life. With help from churches, the child was flown to Louisiana, where Petrisor was practicing. He sliced apart the jaw, removed the tumor and reconstructed the boy’s lower face. Later, media coverage of the successful surgery turned Petrisor into a minor celebrity in Romania and his hometown of Beaverton.

NOW AT Oregon Health & Science University, Petrisor, 41, has become a go-to surgeon for some of the most complex head and neck cases. If cancer has invaded the mouth, eyes, throat or neck, often because of smoking, drinking or a combination, Petrisor removes it—a procedure that requires some gut-wrenching cutting and deconstruction, then painstaking reconstruction.

It’s a rare skill, with roots in his days as a biology student at Portland State. As one of the early members of PSU’s nascent Honors College, Petrisor spent time as an intern with a surgeon at the National Institutes of Health who worked on saliva glands. Fascinated by the intense, precise nature of the work, he enrolled in dental school as a steppingstone to becoming an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.

Between rounds at OHSU, Petrisor spent a few minutes reminiscing about his time at PSU. He was a member of the first group of PSU Ambassadors—a group of students who welcome newcomers to campus, lead tours and promote the University.

“That was an exciting time,” he says. “You really got to know the heart of the University and showcase it.”

That year, then-President Judith Ramaley adopted PSU’s motto “Let Knowledge Serve the City.” As their end-of-the-year gift to PSU, Petrisor’s ambassadors group installed the motto on the Broadway overpass, making it an instant PSU landmark.

Service to humanity has become Petrisor’s calling.

“My motivation is the patient,” he says. “They each have a story. They each have a family. They’re someone’s son or daughter. For them to entrust their care to me and my team is an incredible privilege.”

Alumni in the news

Dennis King ’70 retired in September when he closed his downtown restaurant Veritable Quandary. He opened VQ in 1971 and employed fellow PSU students. King sold the building at Southwest First Avenue to Multnomah County, which plans to build a new county courthouse at the location. 
Donna Darm ’77 was appointed to the Pacific Salmon Commission in November by President Obama. Darm is an administrator for the West Coast Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service. She lives in Seattle. 
Diann Owen ’86 was named a mortgage lending manager at Oregonians Credit Union in September. Oregonians is headquartered in Milwaukie.
Vickie Schray MS ’90 was promoted to executive vice president of regulatory affairs and public policy at Bridgepoint Education in November. Bridgepoint is a for-profit educational services company based in San Diego.
Leshu Torchin ’95 is a senior lecturer in film studies at University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Mindy Tran ’97 joined the Portland office of Seacoast Commercial Bank in October as a senior vice president and small business development officer.
William C. Smith ’01 is a senior policy analyst for the Global Education Monitoring Report team of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. He lives in Paris, France.
Ben Kujala ’07, MS ’09 was recently named power division director of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland. The council is a federally mandated agency that maintains a regional electric power plan that takes into account environmental needs for Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Sarah Luvaas MS ’08 received the White House Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in September. Luvaas is a third-grade teacher at Redland Elementary School in Oregon City.
Steven “Pv” Jantz ’12 was appointed by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducy to the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. Jantz has been a rehabilitation counselor for the state.
Lucy Mihajlich ’12 received more kickstarter funds than she asked for to write and publish her first book in a young adult trilogy. Interface is set in a future when the Internet is worshiped and a daughter of a powerful computer company has been kidnapped.

Tawna Sanchez MSW ’12 and Teresa Alonso Leon MPH ’13 were elected in November to the Oregon House of Representatives for Districts 43 and 22, respectively. Sanchez is the first Native American to serve in the legislature, and Leon is the first immigrant Latina.

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