Time out with T.O. - Dealing with Parkinson's

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC public relations | January 21, 2019

Image with caption: Jeff Baldwin, Pharm.D.

Jeff Baldwin, Pharm.D.

Life's not fair.

After completing a stellar 45-year career in the UNMC College of Pharmacy, Jeff Baldwin, Pharm.D., heads into retirement this month with one more major challenge ahead of him -- dealing with Parkinson's disease.

The Baldwin file

  • Born near Binghamton N.Y., moved to Austin, Pa. at age 3, then to western New York after his high school junior year, graduating from Falconer (N.Y.) High School in 1965
  • 1967 - associate degree, pre-pharmacy, Jamestown (N.Y.) Community College
  • 1970 - bachelor of science, pharmacy, summa cum laude, State University of New York at Buffalo School of Pharmacy
  • 1973 - doctor of pharmacy, University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy
  • 1973-1979, assistant professor, UNMC College of Pharmacy
  • 1979-2009, associate professor
  • 2009-present, professor
  • 2008-2017, vice chair for education
  • 2009-2010, president, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
  • 1994-1996, president, Nebraska Pharmacists Association
  • Active in numerous pharmacy organizations, including American Pharmacists Association (APhA), American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), American Pharmaceutical Association (APA), and American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP)
  • 2012-Hugo H. Schaefer Award for lifetime contributions to APhA and pharmacy profession
  • 2010-Paul F. Parker Award, University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy
  • 2017-Camp CoHoLo Outstanding Service Award, for 33 years of service to children's cancer camps in Nebraska

Awards for his heroism during 2008 tornado at Little Sioux Scout Ranch:

  • Silent Heroes Award, D.J.'s Hero Awards, Salvation Army
  • UNMC Spirit of Community Service Award
  • Honor Medal with Crossed Palms, Boy Scouts of America
  • Nebraska National Guard Individual Achievement Medal
  • State of Iowa Governor's Recognition for Bravery

Other awards:

  • 2007-Alumnus of the Year Award, University of Utah School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies Alumni Association
  • 2006-Distinguished Teaching Award, UNMC College of Pharmacy
  • 1998-Fellow, ASHP
  • 1997-Fellow, APhA
  • Married to wife, Sue, for 49 years; two sons; four grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren

It's not exactly the way you would script it, but overcoming adversity is nothing new for Dr. Baldwin.

A former heavy drinker, Dr. Baldwin recognized he had an abuse issue in 1982 when he was having health problems due to an enlarged liver.

He checked into an Omaha rehabilitation center for "37 revelatory days -- the best thing I ever did."

Since then, Dr. Baldwin has dedicated much of his life to helping others deal with their substance abuse issues. He has been the organizer for health professional addiction recovery support groups in the area for the past 25 years.

At UNMC, he has taught pharmacy elective courses on substance abuse and addiction recovery principles, and for more than 30 years, he has attended a five-day addiction program at the University of Utah for pharmacists, pharmacy faculty, and student pharmacists.

Dr. Baldwin is an associate editor and book chapter author for "The Pharmacists' Guide to Opioid Use Disorders" that was released by ASHP Publications in 2018.

The Parkinson's first manifested itself in 2009. His voice became hoarse. He started having occasional drooling. His walking and eating slowed, his handwriting became small (micrographia) and hard to read, and his left hand showed minor shaking. But, it wasn't until 2013 that a definitive diagnosis was made.

In retirement, Dr. Baldwin has been given emeritus professor status in the College of Pharmacy. During his illustrious career, one of the key posts he held was president of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 2009-2010.

"When I gave presidential addresses at general sessions at the AACP annual meetings, my voice would become faint," he said. "AACP organizers thought I was having stage fright. I knew it wasn't that. Speaking before a group was never a problem for me. It was the Parkinson's. With microphone amplification, I have been able to continue to do my Substance Abuse course and other lectures."

For the past five years, Dr. Baldwin has been taking a commonly-used dopamine replacement combination medication for his Parkinson's. This requires doses at 5 and 11 a.m., 5 p.m. and a controlled release dose at bedtime.

"So far, it's been a slight inconvenience," he said, "mainly because the medication works best when taken on an empty stomach. I used to be a fast eater. Now, I'm the last one done and have trouble with foods requiring much chewing such as lettuce.

"With Parkinson's, when you've seen one case, you've seen one case. Every case is different."

Active in Boy Scouts almost his entire life, Dr. Baldwin received numerous awards for his heroic, lifesaving efforts when a tornado roared through the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in 2008.

Now, as he heads into retirement, he takes special pride in the outstanding students in and graduates of the College of Pharmacy.

"They are routinely exceptional. Every year, their average score on the national board exam is above the national average," he said. "It's been a great ride . . . a real honor."

But, he might have things transposed. Having you grace our halls the past 45 years, Dr. Baldwin, the honor has been all ours.

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Jane Barsumian
January 22, 2019 at 1:56 PM

Terrific story of an admirable fellow!

Keith D. Swarts
January 21, 2019 at 1:10 PM

I have known Jeff since the day he arrived on campus. He was one of the pioneers in the program change of awarding the Pharm.D., relocating the program from Lincoln to Omaha, recruiting faculty and playing a large role in the status and structure of how the college exists today. Jeff valued people. Always teaching. Wanting to make the world a better place. He just didn't talk it, he walked it. In addition, he was someone I could go to for a straight answer about the college. I will always think of you as a friend and when we meet will have those "remember when in the 70s" discussions. Plus, you never taught me the correct way to tie a BOW. Jeff, enjoy your retirement.

Greg Karst
January 21, 2019 at 11:15 AM

Jeff has had an extraordinary career in support of the mission of UNMC and other worthy causes, as T.O. has clearly documented here. Jeff is always a pleasure to work with because he is dependable, committed, thoughtful, and student-oriented, and his dry sense of humor is unparalleled. But what really sets Jeff apart is his willingness to share his personal medical history in a manner that helps destigmatize behavioral health issues and demonstrates that it is possible to have a highly productive and successful career despite the barriers imposed by serious medical issues. It has been an honor to know and work with Jeff, and I wish him the best in his retirement.

Dr. Linda Love
January 21, 2019 at 7:22 AM

Dr. Baldwin has long-standing reputation for interprofessional collaboration and was a founding member of UNMC's Education Development Committee where he has demonstrated servant leadership for more than 20 years. This committee relies on the breadth of expertise found in all health professions and colleges at UNMC, and dedication to supporting educators. He is a trusted colleague of action, not just watching or thinking about the future, but doing something about it. He is generous with his personal stories- as Tom has shown - a man who has reflected on, and is continuously reflecting on his life, and how he wants to live it. In that, he is a trusted, honest, and open difference-maker, championing real wellness. As emeritus professor, I am glad we'll still be able to tap into his wisdom!

Fran Higgins
January 21, 2019 at 6:41 AM

I’ll be skating for you, Jeff!

Lucinda Maine, Ph.D., executive vice president and CEO, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
January 15, 2019 at 3:10 PM

“Jeff leaves a legacy of servant leadership to the profession and to the broader society. I think about his amazing commitment to the scouts over decades. He has committed equally to leadership in academic pharmacy and AACP specifically. Jeff provided leadership at essentially all levels of our organization – committees at the section and special interest group levels as well as elected office. This included his years in our presidential leadership culminating in his term as AACP president in 2009-2010. And I would be remiss not to call attention to the love and support that Sue consistently provided Jeff throughout all of these volunteer commitments. She became a member of the AACP family too!”