- Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director
As Dean Scott Lephart said Thursday night, there must be something in the water in Somerset, Ky.
Because, coincidentally, that happens to be the hometown of both the College of Health Sciences’ Young Alumni Award winner and their Hall of Fame award recipient.
Both Iza Correll, PA-C, COC, CEO and founder of OVI Healthcare; and Kirby Mayer, DPT, PhD and assistant professor of Physical Therapy at UK, were honored during the 2022 College of Health Sciences Hall of Fame & Young Alumni Award Celebration Thursday night at The Campbell House.
“Every day, these two are living the mission of the College, and they are role models for us all,” said Lephart, Dean of the College of Health Sciences. “I could not be prouder of these wonderful alumni.”
But the two honorees had even more in common than just their hometown. Both have accomplished incredible feats, and both received their awards while showcasing their humility.
Correll, a 2017 Physician Assistant Studies graduate, is a social entrepreneur and author whose goal is a world where no child is an orphan.
She founded OVI Healthcare just after her graduation to transform the health, happiness and security of children. She was deeply affected by the death of her 4-year-old nephew Ovidio (known as Ovi), an orphan in Guatemala who was in the process of being adopted by Correll’s sister, and this tragedy inspired Correll to start the charity in his name. Today, she and her team run the charity from the OVI Children’s Hospital in Kenya.
Her vision then and now is a world where no child is alone. She says she knows what works and sees it working every day. The next step is introducing the approach across Africa and Asia to end the orphan crisis and prevent poverty.
She is a dually licensed U.S. Physician Assistant and Kenyan Clinical Officer, a bestselling author, and the youngest-ever recipient of the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award for Global Citizenship (among fellow laureates U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Michael J. Fox and Christina Aguilera).
Kevin Schuer, DrPH, PA-C, associate professor in the Physician Assistant Studies program and director of Graduate Studies for CHS, noted in his introduction that every teacher encourages their students to go out and change the world.
“She really did want to change the world,” he said. “Now, this woman is doing just that.”
In her acceptance speech, Correll explained how her hospital is changing lives in Kenya, and how she is now opening another in Bangladesh. She also described how she was not always the best student, but she worked hard — which proves that anyone can help others.
“I am unbelievably honored — this is very, very unexpected,” she said. “I love what I do. I want to inspire people. Because I did things I was not qualified to do. Anything is possible.”
Similarly, Kirby Mayer thanked others for helping his career.
A PhD researcher who focuses on muscle health and physical function in patients with critical illness, Mayer received his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Kentucky’s Center for Excellence in Rural Health in Hazard in 2014. After practicing as a staff physical therapist at Chandler Medical, he returned to school and completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree at the University of Kentucky in 2019. Mayer received his Ph.D. in Rehabilitation and Health Sciences. Dr. Mayer is also a clinician and researcher in the ICU Recovery Clinic at the University of Kentucky.
“Kirby shows promise of success in so many areas, but his research is primarily why I chose to nominate him for this award,” said Esther Dupont-Versteegden, PhD, professor and director of both the Rehabilitation and Health Sciences PhD Program and the Center for Muscle Biology.
She noted his numerous grants and funding, his ability to pivot during COVID-19, his 26 peer-reviewed publications and his biopsies.
“He has been able to obtain over 25 muscle biopsies of patients post-COVID which is an incredible accomplishment and will certainly yield important results,” she said.
Lastly, she noted his role as a mentor for CHS students, and his service, like his working for the Samaritan’s Touch pro-bono clinic.
“It is truly an honor to introduce Kirby as he receives this award,” Dupont-Versteegden said. “I am so proud of all that he has and will continue to accomplish in our field.”
“I’m humbled and honored,” Mayer said, before acknowledging his stint in Hazard, saying it made him into the person he’s become. He said the College and its professors have been “so helpful and supporting of everything I’ve done.”
He also thanked his wife and family for their sacrifices along the way.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for the College,” Lephart said of Mayer. “Thank you for all you continue to do for the discipline and your family.”
Standing ovations were given for both, and — for the first time in a couple of years — a grand, in-person celebration was had by all.
“These past couple of years have offered challenges like no other, but all of us in the College of Health Sciences can be proud of the environment we have provided for our faculty, staff, researchers — and especially our students,” Lephart said. “And by acknowledging these incredible alumni tonight, we hope to inspire our students to one day stand in their footsteps.”