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The Interview Issue: Randy Sharma, physician and rock & roll devotee

Philip Emilio Palma



When Randhir (Randy) Sharma was a young kid, he was self-admittedly, a science geek. When he was in the second grade, he was fascinated by a story he saw on the news of a man who received an artificial heart transplant. But it was on a family trip to India when he was in the fourth grade that the emotional and humanitarian aspects of medicine coalesced with the clinical side of medicine. Walking through the streets of New Delhi with his mother, Sharma saw a young boy, with no legs who was pushing himself on a scooter, begging for change. His mother gave the boy some money, but the incident left Sharma in tears. He realized something at a young age that would resonate throughout his life:

“You have to help people out if you have the opportunity. You just have to.”

Sharma points to this encounter as a catalyst for why he wanted to pursue a career in medicine. “If you don’t do it for the right reasons, you’re not going to be happy, and your patients will not be happy either.”

Originally from the Cincinnati-Dayton suburb of Springboro, Sharma found himself immersed in the middle of a burgeoning alternative music scene the summer he graduated high school, thanks to the breakthrough success of now alt legends Guided By Voices, and The Breeders. Sharma would go to their shows, and subsequently, befriended members of the bands.

“The Breeders had blown up, and Guided By Voices were kinda starting to do some things. They were playing Canal Street Tavern in Dayton, and it was an 18 and up show. [Ed. note: sharma was 17 when he graduated high school.] I had to take my brother’s ID because he was older than me. I met Bob Pollard [vocalist and lyricist for GBV] after the show and he was like, ‘We play basketball at my house every weekend. You should come hang out!’ So I would go and hang out with Bob, and Kim Deal [bassist for the Pixies, and co-founder of the Breeders], and Jim Greer, who was the editor of spin Magazine, and Kim’s boyfriend at the time.”

As a result of early encounters and experiences like this, Sharma is immune to being starstruck. He also started an ongoing love affair with music, particularly going to see live shows. Sharma finished his undergrad at the University of Cincinnati, and attended Wright State University for medical school. After completing his three-year residency program at Riverside Methodist Hospital and then moving on to private practice, Sharma has been proud to call Columbus home for the last 15 years.

Through attending shows at local venues and getting to know people within the business, he was able to parlay his career in medicine into his love for music.

“Honestly, I think it’s going to enough shows—you just get to know people. I had become friends with several people at CD 101 who would call and say they had someone that needed taken care of…. I would get know them, their management, and the folks at Promowest, too.” Because of his demeanor, and his familiarity with celebrity, local venues have designated Sharma as a go-to physician, should a touring act need some sort of basic medical care, thus earning Sharma nickname “The Rock Doc.”

In what any fan of live music would call a stroke of brilliance, he plans his vacations around shows and festivals he wants to attend, such as Austin City Limits, and the Secret Solstice in Reykjavik, Iceland. The latter is where Sharma became a little part of history in 2017 when he was part of a select group that attended the first concert inside a volcano. What Sharma refers to as the best experience of his life was also quite harrowing. As a result of severe weather, the group that attended the performance was left stranded on the volcano and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard.

Whether it’s Sharma’s charity work with Columbus performer Nina West, and Steve Weaver from the Candle Lab (they co-founded a charity to help HIV patients who cannot afford the astronomical fees of their medication), or his relationship with CD 102.5, Sharma has quietly become an integral part of what makes Columbus such a unique, vibrant, and continually diverse city. That diversity runs deep for Sharma. The younger of two sons from immigrant parents, his father came to America looking for a better life for himself and eventually made his way to Ohio.

“My parents are from India. My dad moved here in 1970 with nothing really but his education. He’s a civil engineer. He went to England and got his master’s degree there. Around this time, some restrictions were being lifted immigration-wise, and they were looking for skilled people to come in. Someone he knew told him, ‘If you get the opportunity to go the United States, you should go.’ So he did.

Of course, he shows up in New York, with very little money, and somehow, somebody that he knew from home knew somebody that lived in Cleveland, and he moved there. They were great to him; they let him stay there. The guy actually might have been a stereotypical Quickie Mart owner, to be honest; and my dad was having a tough time finding a job, and told the guy he would just work at this store. The guy was like, ‘No you won’t, you’re gonna get a job. You have a degree, that’s why you’re here. So we’ll take care of you.’ ”

But Sharma’s father persevered. “Eventually, my dad worked his way into a job with ODOT [Ohio Department of Transportation] down in the Lebanon area, near Kings Island. At some point, my grandmother was diagnosed with liver cancer some time after my grandparents moved to England. So, he’s stuck here, and her dying wish was to see him get married. So, he went back to India when he got a little time off work and had an arranged marriage. And that was not too long after my dad first moved here because my brother popped out in ‘73, and then I came along in ’76.”

The fact that Sharma loves his work, and gets to marry it with his passion for music is envious as it is admirable. He not only gets to help people—which is why he choose a career in medicine—but he gets to develop relationships with some of the artists as result of his work and his passion for music.

When asked if he would be able to do this in New York or Los Angeles (where the bulk of these artists reside and frequent), he was adamant that it would be impossible. He points to an accessibility in Columbus, and his relationships with CD 102.5 and the venues.

“The greatest thing about Columbus, to me, is the sense of community. When something happens, if there’s some sort of tragedy, people pull together. Whether it’s the arts community or the music community, it’s everybody coming together. Whether they are donating their time, or money; it makes it really easy to stay in an area when you can say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m worried about this issue,’ and I can reach out to people that actually want to help. During our entire conversation, the example that best illustrates his credo of, “You have got to take care of people,” as well as being the Rock Doc, is when he arranged for his sister-in-law to meet her favorite musician, Jason Mraz. His sister- in-law is battling cancer and was unable to attend her favorite musician’s concert as a result.

“I don’t call in favors for myself, but I do like to do it for other people. She was going through this very rough spell, and I just reached out to a friend of mine, who happens to work with him. I didn’t even know she was such a huge fan, but somehow it came up, and I was like, ‘Hey, listen, my sister in law, she’s really sick, she’s a big Jason Mraz fan, I saw he’s coming here in December… Is there anything you can do?’ His friend arranged for tickets to the concert as well as a private meet and greet with the artist.”

There’s that credo again.

You have got to help people.

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A Columbus icon has announced his retirement




The man who has been synonymous with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for decades is stepping down after 42 years of service.

Since 1978, Jungle Jack Hanna has played a pivotal role in inspiring positive change in the local and global zoo communities. His work as a wildlife ambassador and conservationist has transformed the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium into one of the world’s best since he took on the job. Hanna will still be recognized as the zoo’s director emeritus, a title he’s held since 1992.

Hanna had this to say in a press release:

As I approach my mid-70s with more than four decades at the Columbus Zoo, I believe it is time to wind down and officially step back while CEO Tom Stalf and the Zoo’s great leadership team continue to guide the Zoo into the future. Together with many friends and partners, we’ve come a long way to make the world a better place for people and wildlife!

Jack Hanna

Hanna wore many other hats throughout his 42-year career. Those include television personality, author, and all-around pop culture icon. As he steps away from his professional role, Hanna says that he still plans to maintain a close relationship with the zoo as its “No. 1 fan.”

At 73-years old, Hanna is the father of three and grandfather of six. His retirement will be made official on Dec. 31.

The Zoo will host special events dedicated to Hanna through the remainder of the year. Those include:

  • Jack Hanna Weekend – Oct. 3 and 4
  • Jack Hanna’s Home for the Holidays – Dec. 12

The Zoo reopens to the public on Monday.

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Penzone shares: what to expect with salons

Julian Foglietti



With the closing of Hair Salons on March 18th, buzz cuts and bowl cuts have made an appearance on the heads of Ohioans, young and old. Luckily for those desperate for a do, Dewine has announced that hair salons may begin to reopen on May 15th. To guide us through the transition, I spoke with Debbie Penzone, President and CEO of Penzone Salons, about serving on the Governor's salon advisory board, dealing with the business effect of the virus, and what we can expect from hair salons moving forward. 

I understand that you served as the chair of the Governor's committee board regarding reopening salons. What did you do in that role? 

On the committee, my role was pulling from my experience as a cosmetologist and business owner to assemble a group of individuals that represent our business in Ohio. We had everyone from 10 person salons to one person barbershops. braiding salons and nail salons, to schools and three health commissioners. From there, the job was building an agenda and listening to members while consulting health professionals on how to expand upon existing sanitation guidelines.  The Ohio State Board of Cosmetology has been enforcing for years. Beyond that, it was a lot of keeping time, guiding the conversations, gathering information and reporting it.  We also wanted to build plans if something did happen in a salon, and make sure that everyone could abide by these practices so we can remain safe and open.

In what ways has the virus caused you to rethink the way salons will function moving forward?

One of the things we did was go through a COVID specific certification process with Barbicide, which produces a lot of the sanitation products already used in salons and barber shops. A lot of people don’t realize that in the Ohio Administrative Code, there are very specific sanitation guidelines that you have to follow when you get your license, and there is a major component of constantly learning new sanitation practices all the time. The main difference you’ll see is us taking that sanitation to the next level: social distancing between booths, or barriers put in place, as well as reduced capacities in many salons. There will be more emphasis on reducing contact points and sanitizing things like doorknobs and counters as well. The biggest change will be the way we interact with our clients. We're a very emotional industry. We’re huggers, and we’re very close with the people we work with. Our clients are like family to us, so having to distance ourselves and not engage in that way will be different. 

What has been the greatest challenge to overcome over the past months? 

It’s really been adapting to the constant change we're all facing. We might spend all this energy sharing with our team new knowledge, but the next week it will change again. It’s been difficult to coordinate and continue to train everyone and update them with the new practices, as well as provide support for them while we're all distanced from each other. We're all scared right now, and it’s important to not lose our community so we can give each other confidence in the direction we’re heading in.

What have you witnessed over the past few months that gave you hope?

The biggest hope for me was serving on this committee. I’ve always felt so strong about our industry, so bringing so many people together and supporting one another during this difficult time. This whole thing has really brought us together as an industry, and shown that we can work together to support each other and raise each other up. There's enough clients for everybody, and it’s beautiful to see the incredible diversity of salons and see us all coming together to work with one another.

Are you worried about customers returning?

We’ve opened our booking today, but were not opening on the 15th, because we want to have a few days to go over the new procedures with our teams before we start to bring clients in. Every salon will only be operating at 50% capacity, and then we’re extending the hours to make sure everyone has the same hours they used to, and some of them are already booked out to July.

What would you say to ease the concerns of customers?

Really that we’re regulated by the state board and have so many sanitation practices in place. We have printouts posted showing the guidelines for clients that come to the stores, and for those who are high-risk, we are opening up early so they can be the first people to come in right after the salon is sanitized. What's important to remember about salons is that the regulators randomly check our spaces to make sure we're complying, and as we build on regulations, these checks are going to be taken to the next level. 

As a hairstylist, do you see any hairstyle trends emerging from this?

I definitely think there's gonna be a boom for bobs and pixie cuts, ‘cause people are just done. Maybe some bold colors, because everyone just wants to come out and say, “I’m back, baby.” Maybe just a little more attitude with the cuts people are getting.

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Meet the Saviors: from doctors on the front line to PPE makers

Mitch Hooper



While searching for Columbus’ helpers, we found that they come in many different shapes and sizes. And this month, we are telling as many of their stories as we can.

These are the stories of the saviors on the front line, working at hospitals, and assisting patients on a day-to-day basis. Or these saviors are at home and providing essential resources to these same folks on the front line. These efforts are quite literally saving lives and risking their own in the process.

Saviors: Pauline Vales, COVID-19 ICU Nurse at Riverside

It was just a little more than a week before Gov. Mike DeWine announced the state would be going into social distancing orders when Pauline Vale and her husband had already begun leaving for a vacation to Texas. And when she returned home on March 10, the events preceding have been a rollercoaster ride of long days and nights, moments of sacrifice, and above all, bravery in the face of danger.

“We have to be mindful about what we need to do each time we enter a patient room because we can’t just run in and out when we need something. It’s harder to connect with our patients because they can’t see our faces, we can’t hold their hands without gloves on, and it’s harder for them to hear us talking through a mask,” Vales explained. “It seems like there is something new every single day, so we have had to adapt and evolve many times over in the last weeks. And there is just more stress and worry in general, but my unit has really come together as a team and done so many amazing things.”

The challenges are seemingly endless for nurses in the ICU like Vales. She said beyond medical professionals having limited contact with patience, hospitals are not allowing visitors unless it's a life situation or fits a different protocol.

There’s also the battle of resources; now more than ever, folks on the front line need protection like gloves and N95 face masks. Luckily, that call is being heard by larger corporations who can do something, such as Battelle. Battelle now works with hospitals, including Riverside, to decontaminate face masks for these front line workers.  And coincidentally, Vale’s husband works as a virologist at Battelle while she was also a former microbiologist for Battelle.

“I have been able to share my knowledge about virus research and testing with my co-workers at the hospital. It has been very helpful to understand the challenges in developing reliable testing and treatments,” she said. “When we first realized that PPE supplies were a real concern, we were worried about how we would be able to protect ourselves and still care for our patients. The relief of having enough PPE available was really palpable on the unit.”

Vales also faces challenges in her personal life. As a mother to a six-year-old boy, the outbreak of COVID-19 has severely changed his day-to-day without much preparation. Like most young children, social distancing is stopping him from going out and playing like he normally would.

“It’s difficult to convey the situation without scaring him,” she said.

But still, Vales and the rest of the team at Riverside continue to fight on the front line, day-in and day-out. And through all the adversity and tough times, she is still taking a moment to recognize the silver lining on these cloudy days.

“The outpouring of support for health care workers has been amazing and people have been so generous to our unit. We have gotten sweet treats, thank you cards, coffee, and so many encouraging words, which has been very much appreciated,” she said. “Different departments in the hospital have been doing kind things for each other, and our food service staff have been a huge support. I have seen many kind acts across Columbus as well. Food drives, to organizing financial help for families in need, to the support of local businesses. It has been great to see so many people doing what they can to help others.”


Saviors: Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP

Sometimes the battle against COVID-19 in Columbus means taking your talents elsewhere; and that’s what Travis Ulmer, MD, FACEP, is doing. And even then, it’s an uphill battle.

“The toughest thing I’ve had to deal with is that I’ve been applying and registering to help New York City for multiple weeks,” Ulmer said. “But extensive red tape has prevented me from being where the healthcare workers are truly overwhelmed and need us the most.”

Ulmer specializes in emergency medicine here in Central Ohio. As someone who has worked on the front lines here, he’s been reminded of the importance physicians like himself can have—especially during an international pandemic. And all the extra steps medical workers have made to further protect their families, he said the outbreak has been eye-opening within his own life.

“I will never take for granted the impact and importance of being present for our families when we are home,” he said.

But, while there have been many struggles, he’s found the silver lining in moments like this.

“The most beautiful thing I’ve seen is that so many people appreciate the entire medical staff, not just us as physicians. There is an incredible workforce that collectively cares for patients. I am so glad they are being recognized and appreciated for the heroes that they are.”


Saviors: Kim and Kallie Mallett, Mask Makers

Life was normal for Kim and Kallie Mallett just a few months ago. While Kim worked at Burn Boot Camp, Kallie was busy as an American Sign Language interpreter. And then in a flash, as it has been for most of us, life was far from normal.

Gyms were one of the first of businesses to close due to COVID-19 so Kim was out of work. And Kallie was also temporarily laid off from her position. Though the financial losses have been tough to manage, the biggest thing the two said they miss is getting to interact with and help all the people they meet through their jobs. So it makes sense that the two found a way, even through social distancing and shelter-in-place, to help by making face masks.

“I have been sewing off and on for years so when an EMT friend expressed a need for homemade masks as a way to extend the life of hers and her fire stations N95 masks, we felt called to help,” Kim said. “We quickly realized how significant the shortage of PPE was across all essential workers and just kept going. In the three weeks we’ve been making masks, we have completed almost 700.”

Through mask making, they’ve been able to raise more than $900 in donations—$700 of which will be donated to the Mid Ohio Food Bank and the rest will be used to purchase more fabrics to make more masks.

“It’s been amazing to see Ohio come together and lend a helping hand to their neighbors—from six feet away, of course,” Kim said.

“I’m further reminded of how interconnected we all are and how we need to continue to rely on each other because we truly are all in this together.”

And of course, they’ve learned lessons along the way.

“I’ve learned to take it slowly and one day at a time,” Kalie said “I will be more appreciative of time with friends, the ability to workout with my gym family—really, just normal life in general.”

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