Our Board

The VF Board of Directors is responsible for setting the strategic direction, policy and agenda for the Vasculitis Foundation. The Board governs on behalf of the VF members and ensures appropriate organizational performance which includes fulfilling the mission of the organization, determining its future direction, and managing the organization’s fiscal health. The Board’s role is to ensure that the VF establishes and maintains the trust of the vasculitis community by being clear in its mission, prudent and ethical in its activities, and accountable for its actions.

Karen Hirsch, President
Glenview, Illinois

Karen joined the VF Board of Directors in 2012 after a family member was diagnosed with GPA/Wegener’s. She is interested in driving the change to find the cure and improve lives of those with vasculitis through research. Karen has served on the Marketing and Awareness Committees and in 2013 created the annual V-RED Award, which recognizes early diagnosis of vasculitis in our patient community. The annual competition seeks nominations from patients honoring the physicians who helped them get diagnosed with vasculitis.

She also is co-organizer (with fellow board member, Jason Wadler) of the annual Chicago Rally in the Alley held each fall. The bowling event brings together patients, families, and supporters of the VF to raise awareness of vasculitis and funds for the VF.

Karen has a background in health care administration and coordinated strategic planning and marketing at Children’s Memorial Hospital and was previously at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and the Illinois Hospital Association. She also serves on the board of the Daughters of Ayacucho Education Foundation and the Skin of Steel Foundation where she focuses on Strategic Planning and Social Media for Skin of Steel.

Jason Wadler, Past-President
Glencoe, Illinois

Jason joined the VF Board of Directors in 2011 after being diagnosed with GPA/Wegener’s. He has served on the Marketing and Awareness Committees and his goal is to use his expertise to drive awareness of vasculitis and increase funding for research toward a cure. Jason shared, “I am a big believer in the power of community. Working together, we will have a greater chance of achieving our goals. I look forward to meeting more of the members and levering the power of this passionate community.”

Jason is also a co-organizer (with fellow board member, Karen Hirsch) of the annual Chicago Rally in the Alley held each fall. The bowling event brings together patients, families, and supporters to raise awareness of vasculitis and funds for the VF.

George Casey, MBA, Treasurer
Denver, Colorado

George joined the VF Board of Directors in 2010 and has served as Vice President of Resource Development and currently serves as the treasurer. He was diagnosed with granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA/Wegener’s) in 2006. He believes the VF has a great capacity to positively support and influence patients and caregivers by pooling resources and supporting programs and research at the aggregate level.

George is also the co-investigator of the Vasculitis Patient-Powered Research Network (V-PPRN), a partnership of the Vasculitis Foundation, investigators at the University of Pennsylvania and the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC). The V-PPRN seeks to transform how clinical research in vasculitis is conducted by directly engaging patients, investigators, care providers, and health systems to develop research methods to electronically collect health records and patient-reported data on a large number of patients with various forms of vasculitis. The goal of the V-PPRN research program is to conduct high-quality studies that will improve the care and the health of patients with vasculitis by exploring research questions that matter most to patients and advance medical knowledge about vasculitis.

Rhonda Johnson Byrd, Secretary
Arlington, Texas

Rhonda Byrd is a retired trial attorney. As an equity partner with the Dallas law firm of Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, she headed the Commercial Litigation Section of the firm where she specialized in civil trial work, with a particular emphasis in professional liability, medical malpractice, and product liability/medical device liability litigation. Ms. Byrd has represented Fortune 500 Companies in commercial litigation, pharmaceutical companies in drug product liability suits, breast implant manufacturers in product liability litigation, national insurance companies in bad faith suits, insurance companies’ insureds in personal injury, product liability, and toxic tort cases, and multi-national and foreign corporations in business disputes, including arbitration proceedings before the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) in Zurich, Switzerland, and tax credit disputes in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has traveled all over the world practicing law, from Hong Kong to London, and has a national reputation in the U.S. as a litigator for the defense in medical-related cases.

She was diagnosed with Wegener’s granulomatosis (GPA) in 1996 and has undergone 25 surgeries, 10 infusions with biologics, years of chemotherapy, and has participated in several clinical trials. She enjoys meeting with fellow vasculitis survivors and helping others develop lifestyle coping strategies. She is fond of saying, “I have Wegener’s, but Wegener’s doesn’t have me.”

Pamela Pekerman, Vice President of Resource Development
Staten Island, New York

Pamela’s father, Ilya, passed away from Wegener’s granulomatosis in December 2009 and Pamela, her mother, Malvina, and sister, Michelle, established the Ilya Pekerman Research Fund in his memory. Pamela organizes the annual Shop-4-Vasculitis fundraiser to benefit the VF. She has spent over a decade in the media industry, particularly in broadcasting and aims to help the VF land more exposure by increasing awareness and education about vasculitis. Pamela is eager to leverage her media contacts to learn how the VF can best position our story and communications and thereby always receive a green light from producers, as well as maximum coverage in print and key online publications.

“I have a passion to ensure that everyone has access to knowledgeable doctors and proper medical care for their vasculitis disease,” said Pamela when asked why she wanted to join the VF Board of Directors.

Jason M. Springer, MD, MS
Chair, Research Committee

Kansas City, Kansas

Dr. Springer is an Assistant Professor in Rheumatology and director of the Kansas University Medical Center Vasculitis Clinic. Prior to starting medical school, his father was diagnosed with vasculitis after developing symptoms of numbness in his feet. Although treated aggressively, he passed away six months after the initial diagnosis and the family was left with many unanswered questions.

During Dr. Springer’s residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Utah, he met and worked with Dr. Curry Koening, the director of the Utah Vasculitis Center. Dr. Koening encouraged Dr. Springer to complete his general rheumatology and Vasculitis fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Vasculitis Care and Research.

In 2013 he joined the KU Medical Center and in 2015 officially opened the KU Vasculitis Clinic. The center provides patient care and also participates in multi-center research studies. Dr. Springer has compiled a team of specialists to care for patients with vasculitis. In addition, he hosts one-day regional conferences for patients and family members every other year.

Suzanne DePaolis
Los Gatos, California

Suzanne DePaolis’ passion for education led her through a career in teaching, but a diagnosis of EGPA abruptly changed that life path. She found herself in a position to channel her teaching to directly help other patients understand and manage their illness.

During the 2017 Symposium, Suzanne was publicly recognized for her outstanding work at helping educate patients and raise awareness about vasculitis. When the VF Board invited her to join, she readily accepted.

“ I bring a unique point of view which is the patient perspective,” said Suzanne. “I understand what patients need, and I also understand what we may need in the future. Sharing these patient needs to the Board is very important. I’m both honored and excited to be in that role.”

Jeffrey A. Fishbein, PsyD
Deerfield, Illinois

Dr. Fishbein was diagnosed with non-systemic micro vasculitis with multiple neuropathies in 2013 and writes the column “Fish’s Focus on Health” for the VF’s bimonthly newsletter and website. He and his family host the annual Chicagoland Golf Open each year, which helps fund the VCRC-VF Fellowship Program and the recently opened Northwestern Vasculitis Clinical Research Program.

Dr. Fishbein is a clinical and sports psychologist with Fishbein Performance Consulting in Deerfield, Illinois. He works with individuals, families, athletes and teams on overcoming adversities in their lives, among many other things of course. He teaches others the need to find the positive in an otherwise negative event, to interpret life events optimistically, and to find purpose and meaning in the most uncertain times.

As he wrote in his board application, “Being a patient allows a unique perspective from which I draw on to enhance the skills above as well as to be empathetic toward the people we are all trying to positively effect.”

Peter C. Grayson, MD, MSC
Bethesda, Maryland

Dr. Grayson is the founder and principal investigator of the Translational Program in Vasculitis, established in 2013, and is the associate program director of the NIAMS Rheumatology Fellowship Training Program. He serves as the representative to a major international collaboration to develop novel diagnostic and updated classification criteria in several forms of systemic vasculitis. His research focus includes biomarker discovery and development through gene expression profiling and other genomic techniques, disease classification, clinical epidemiology, and immunology, and clinical trials in vasculitis.

Dr. Grayson is also an investigator with the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium (VCRC), which is an integrated group of academic medical centers, patient support organizations, and clinical research resources dedicated to conducting clinical research in different forms of vasculitis. The goal to improve the care of patients with vasculitis.

Click here to watch a video of Dr. Grayson discussing his research.

Greg Lesko
Hampton, Virginia

Greg and his wife, Lynn, lost their son, Mark, on March 8, 2009, from Wegener’s granulomatosis (GPA, WG). Greg joined the board in 2011 to expand their efforts to raise awareness and understanding of vasculitis on a global basis so that other families don’t lose their loved ones. He and Lynn host informational tables at local health fairs and other venues to raise awareness of vasculitis and the Vasculitis Foundation. Greg serves on the Support and Education Committee as well as the Awareness Month committee. In April 2012 he arranged for fellow board member, Dr. Robert Lebovics, to be the featured guest on the Health and Home Report, a monthly syndicated program which airs nationwide on syndicated cable channels. The interview is one of the most-watched videos on the VF’s YouTube Education Channel.

Don Nagle
Glen Rock, New Jersey

Fifteen years ago, at the age of 19, Don’s daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with vasculitis. Today, she continues to manage her illness and live a relatively normal life with her family. Don credits the VF with being an invaluable source of information and support.

“The VF exposed us to vasculitis experts, and to other patients,” says Don. “They gave us hope to manage her illness. I joined the Board because I believe in how the VF improves patient lives.”

Don is Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President for the Asia Society. “I’m excited to bring my knowledge of non-profits, as well as my financial experience to help the VF fulfill its mission.”