CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman, James P. Kelly, MD, and Bernard Marcus at the ceremony last spring announcing the creation of the Marcus Institute for Brain Health. Photo by Eric Stephenson Photography.
By Mark Couch
(December 2017) In spring 2017, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus a $38 million gift from the Marcus Foundation to establish the Marcus Institute for Brain Health (MIBH).
institute, which will serve military veterans with traumatic brain
injury and related psychological health issues, will be based on the
Anschutz Medical Campus and will be the hub of a network of medical
centers under development across the country.
At the announcement
of the gift, Bernard Marcus, the retired co-founder of The Home Depot
and founder of the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation, said, “Our intent
is to build a network of healing for those who served our country and
suffer the invisible wounds of war.”
James P. Kelly, MD, professor of neurology, has been named executive director of the MIBH.
led the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at the Walter
Reed National Military Medical Center for seven years. NICoE
successfully treated more than 1,300 servicemen and women suffering
from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health conditions
using a patient-centered model that Kelly brings with him to the MIBH.
You are not new to the CU faculty.
is my third tour of duty. I did my residency in neurology here in the
80s and then stayed for a year of what’s known as behavioral neurology,
which is pretty well-established here. I was the first fellow here with
Dr. Chris Filley, professor of neurology. I joined the faculty for four
years and was here as an assistant dean of graduate medical education
and a junior neurology faculty member.
Is that when you began studying traumatic brain injury?
interest in TBI started during my fellowship when a young athlete was
brought here basically brain dead after concussions two weeks apart and
then having brain swelling – that’s called second-impact syndrome – and
then dying from that.
I wanted figure that out. Several of us on
the faculty published an article in JAMA in 1991. That was my first
peer-reviewed article. From then on, the concussion world here little by
little became mine. I helped the University and Colorado Medical
Society come closer together on a sports concussion protocol for
physicians to use on the sidelines.
I left in 1993 to become the
director of the brain injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of
Chicago. I was there and on Northwestern’s faculty for 10 years, from
’93 until 2003 and served also as residency director of neurology.
Why did you return to Colorado in 2003?
wife’s a Denver native, so we’d always planned on coming back. We
didn’t figure we’d be in Chicago as long as we were. I reinserted into
the University, but through neurosurgery as opposed to neurology because
they were much more interested in trauma.
How did you get involved in providing care to members of the military?
Defense Department recognized in about ’05 that they had a problem with
guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of us with sports
concussion backgrounds were asked to advise them. I was invited
to a new committee as the national subject matter expert. They set up a
TBI subcommittee and I chaired it. The general who was tasked with
addressing TBI, PTSD, and psychiatric health problems called me into her
of-fice and said: ‘You’ve been identified by your peers as the guy. Would you like to run this thing called the National Intrepid Center?’
was in April ’08 and the plan at that point was to have a center of
excellence for the most complex and comorbid neuropsychiatric cases
coming back from the war zones, taking care of them and disseminating
lessons learned in real time so that others could benefit from that care
This center was intended to take care of the warriors
coming back from the battle zones. The referrals came from big military
centers like Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune. We received most of our
patients from those locations initially. Then the special operations
community, the Navy SEALs, the Delta Force and all the others, who had
shorter but many more deployments, started to be referred more and to be
self-referred. My job was to make sure it wasn’t just for them. I loved
that part of it, but the truth is it couldn’t just be for the elite. It
had to be for everybody. Everybody’s just as deserving, so let’s figure
How did you meet the Marcus Foundation?
was well known to the people at the Marcus Foundation in Atlanta. Marcus
Ruzek, representing the Foundation, visited the center while I was
director. He later was deployed in Iraq as a special operations guy. And
when he came back he said: ‘What do you mean Kelly left? Where did he
The center had opened in 2010. The generals and admirals in
my reporting chain had asked me to stay after my initial two-year
commitment. And I did it for five more years. At that point, things are
up and running, so I moved back to Colorado. I had figured I was going
to work at the center for two years, maybe four. Then it ended up being
seven years because it was magnificent. I was getting to do stuff that
was just unbelievable. The whole mission was like nothing else.
any case, Marcus Ruzek contacted me and I was being recruited to Emory
University at the time and so I said, ‘Listen, I’m coming down there for
a recruitment visit. Let’s talk because that’s where the Foundation is
based. I thought they wanted something on the East Coast. Or maybe in their home town. And the answer was, no. They said, ‘Where do you want it?’ And I said, ‘Really?’ I live in Colorado, it’s a magnificent place. I know a lot about it. It’s
a healing environment. One thing led to another with discussions over
the next almost two years. I left the center in August 2015. It
was May this year when we made the announcement of the Marcus Institute
for Brain Health. It was about a year and a half of ongoing discussions,
planning and working with the leadership in the Chancellor’s office and the Dean’s office.
What advantages are there being here rather than elsewhere?
as a state is among the leaders in the newly retired or veteran
population growth, so that just made logical sense. The idea is that we
have an environment where people go to decompress, a truly healing
environment. That wasn’t happening in Chicago or Washington, D.C.
the leadership at this particular campus is particularly into this
project. It’s not because they’ve been generals or admirals in the
military. It’s because they’re devoted to veterans and they understand
the history of this place. This place is so well-suited for this
You’ve got a former military medical center
for the army, where President Eisenhower once received his care. We have
a state veterans home right next door. We have veteran programs in
dentistry and in nursing that are part of the existing landscape. We
have the Buckley Air Force Base clinic. We have one of the bigger VAs in
the country, with a brand new state-of-the-art building that’s going to
be great when it opens. To have them on this campus is spectacular. If
you just put all those things together, there isn’t any other place like
that anywhere in the country.
What are next steps?
hiring right now. Making sure we hire the right people in proper
sequence. We must first administratively get this thing going and then
the clinicians come. What’s happening now is getting people through the
wickets of the hiring process and credentialing.
And we have this
building (the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center), which was built
while I was gone. I knew it was being built, but I didn’t know anything
about this place. We come back to a place that has available clinic and
office space that we can lease. It’s in a destigmatizing health and
wellness center as opposed to clinic or hospital setting. These young
veterans in their 20s and 30s want to reincorporate into places that are
alive like this. It fit our mission beautifully.
My philosophy is
that what we need to do is to help these veterans reincorporate and
make the transition to civilian life, not create yet one more
veterans-only system, but incorporate their health care into a civilian
health care system.