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About Us

Our Team

Founder & Neurologist 

Dr. Kluger is a Colorado native who completed an undergraduate degree in psychology, medical school, and neurology residency at the University of Colorado before going to the University of Florida to complete fellowships in movement disorders and behavioral neurology. He is currently a professor of neurology with the neurology supportive and palliative care program at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. In addition to seeing patients in the supportive and palliative care clinic, he directs a very active research program working towards improving therapies for non-motor symptoms (e.g. fatigue, dementia) and improving standards of care for patients and caregivers through supportive and palliative care models.  One of Dr. Kluger’s primary beliefs is that he treats people not diseases.  He believe that everyone has unique perspectives, priorities, strengths, and weaknesses that are important to understand in working towards their health goals.  Knowing that good communication is critical to this relationship, he aims to really hear patients and to communicate his thoughts in a way that is understandable. In accordance with that approach, he is open to admitting when he does not have the answers. As the director of the neuropalliative care program it is his goal to ensure the care provided is always patient and family-centered, meaning that the patient and family directs the goals and plans of care.  In his spare time he enjoys reading, creative writing, music, lifting weights, meditation, and professional wrestling.  He volunteers his time working with the American Academy of Neurology, Davis Phinney Foundation, Parkinson's Association of the Rockies and Huntington's Disease Society, and frequently gives talks to support groups for Parkinson’s disease and other patient populations.

Vaughan, Christina_08.08.17.jpg
Neurologist & Program Director

Christina Vaughan joined the team in August, 2017, and became our Program Director in July, 2019.  She is a Board certified neurologist who is trained and previously practiced in Movement Disorders. After several years in practice, her love of neurology grew but she strived to practice in a more comprehensive way. After watching close family members live with neurodegenerative disease, she understood that these conditions affect patients more than just physically, and affect the whole family. In order to enhance her skills in caring for patients and families in a more supportive way, she completed a year-long fellowship in Palliative Medicine. She was delighted to gain more in-depth experience in management of not only the physical, but also the psychological, spiritual, and social symptoms - in an effort to optimize quality of life for patients and families. She is particularly interested in self-image in the face of illness, and in getting to know patients in the context of their lives, rather than only from the perspective of their diagnoses. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to combine her passion for neurology with the palliative care approach, and grateful to be working with an outstanding team. A native of Buffalo, NY, she is no stranger to winter weather and has been enjoying exploring the beautiful outdoors of Colorado.

Foster, Laura_web-opt_08.18.jpgLaura Foster MD​

Laura Foster joined the team in 2018. She's toured the country for her education: undergrad in Washington state, medical school in Southern California, and neurology residency in Minnesota. She completed fellowships in Neuromuscular Medicine and Palliative Care in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital,  Brigham & Women's, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She specializes in ALS. For her, neuropalliative care means making peace with the grey of some neurologic diseases--uncertainty of diagnosis or prognosis. It also means helping patients and families live as well as they can for as long as they can. She likes to hike and bake when she's not at work. 

Physician Assistant

Julie has been working as a Physician Assistant in the fields of neurosurgery and neurology since 1997. She has gained experience in caring for brain tumors, spine disease, movement disorders, deep brain stimulation management, multiple sclerosis and neuro-behavioral disorders.  She is currently in inaugural class of Master's of Science in Palliative Medicine program at University of Colorado Graduate School. In her past, she has experienced being a caregiver in her family of origin when 3 members suffered progressive genetic neurologic disease.  She has a hard earned passion for providing excellent personalized care for patients and all of their family members who cope with neurologic disease. During free time, Julie enjoys traveling to interesting places with her husband and two children or going for hikes and walks with her Goldendoodle.


Wendy Cernik.jpg​Wendy Cernik RN, BSN Nurse

Wendy Cernik, RN, BSN is the movement disorders nurse for the Neuroloy Department at UCH. She is also the nurse for the palliative care team in the Neurology Department with past experience as a home hospice nurse/care manager. Her passion is palliative care, striving to find ways for the physical, spiritual, emotional, and home care needs of the patient and their family to be met.


Cari.jpgCari Friedman LCSW, Social Worker

For the past twenty-five years, Cari Friedman, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has helped patients and families who have chronic neurological conditions. She has been with the University of Colorado Health's movement disorders, palliative and supportive care clinic since its inception in 2015. She is a native Coloradan who likes to go to the Colorado Rockies baseball games with her family. Cari likes to travel with her husband and son to different places and experience the different cultures. 

Cunningham_Be_Me_038.jpgMeghan Smith, LCSW, Social Worker

Meghan has worked within the field since 2008. Her undergraduate work was with the March of Dimes Family Support Program at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Children’s Hospital Colorado and she earned her Masters of Social Work in 2015 from the Metropolitan State University of Denver with a primary focus in Mental Health and an additional emphasis in grief counseling. Meghan worked from 2014 to 2018 creating and managing a program which focused on serving individuals with neurodevelopment disorders, such as autism and other developmental and intellectual disabilities, attain and retain employment in the community.  Most recently she worked closely with providers, nurses, and support staff to serve our patients and their families in the Neurology Outpatient at UCHealth. She works alongside Neuro Palliative Care Clinic staff to support patients and their families in attaining community resources outside of clinic as well as, provide care giver support, education, and counseling. 

RKhan.2016.JPGRyan Khan MDiv, BCC, LT USNR, Chaplain

Ryan has been working in health care chaplaincy for more than a decade in both hospital and hospice work and has been active in ministry since 1996.  He grew up in diverse inner-city Philadelphia, moved to Denver in 2009, and considers himself easy going, down-to-earth, and practical.  Ryan is motivated to care for others, providing reflective and supportive conversation for those who are hurting, confused, suffering, and/or simply desire to make sense of what is happening to them.  Ryan may help to develop practical strategies to improve coping and resilience, improve quality of live, and reduce stress.  An essential aspect of Ryan’s philosophy of spiritual care is to meet people where they are, respecting personal beliefs and values, whether spirituality, religion, and/or faith are important, somewhat important, or not at all important for you.  Ryan is married to Ishtar, a registered nurse, and they have two boys, Silas and Seth.  He enjoys hanging out with his family, spending time with their family dog Gaia (Texas heeler), and since arriving in Colorado learning to explore the great outdoors.


Alan Hall.jpgAlan Hall, Intake & Access Coordinator
Alan joined the Neurosciences team in 2013 after working many years as a sales and marketing executive in the home building industry and as a licensed Independent Real Estate Broker. In 2011 he became a care provider for a parent for the second time; first his Father, who has long since passed, and now his Mother, both from neurological disorders. It began a shift in thinking and priorities for Alan which precipitated the change of careers.  Diagnosed with a neurological disorder of his own 20 years ago, and learning of other relatives having had neurological issues, he decided he needed to know more, and do more to learn all that he could about these types of illnesses and how to better deal with the many complicated aspects that affect the family nucleus of those afflicted with these diseases. With these personal experiences he hopes to be able to bring, empathy, compassion, and a sense of caring to those families that are going through their own unique challenges in life. He enjoys traveling, making art, and spending time with his wife, son, daughter, and grandsons, especially at the cabin in the mountains!

headshot for website.jpgCandace Ellman, MA, Administrative Assistant
Candace joined the University of Colorado in April, 2016.  Prior to joining the Neurology team, she worked at the Mother's Milk Bank as a production manager and at Children's Hospital Colorado as a Project Technician.  Watching her mother and grandmother experience cognitive decline from dementia has inspired her to learn more about how we can prepare for the effects these illnesses have on indiviuals and families.  Originally from Long Island, Candace has been a Denver resident since 1990.  She received her BA from Oberlin College and her MA from the University of Denver.  She plays the oboe in local community ensembles and enjoys spending time with her two children in the great outdoors.
Malenna Sumrall.jpgMalenna Sumrall, PhD, Patient Care Partner Advocate
Malenna is a former caregiver for her husband Ray, a professor of Social Work, who passed away in 2015 after his battle with Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia. Upon moving to Colorado in 2014 he began seeing Dr. Benzi Kluger in the Neurology Supportive & Palliative Care Clinic – a very fortunate pairing for both her and her husband. During one of those visits Dr. Kluger asked Malenna to serve on his Patient & Caregiver Advisory Council for his research study examining the effectiveness of palliative care in the treatment of Parkinson’s. In that capacity she has assisted with the selection of measurement instruments, spoken to local Parkinson’s support groups to recruit volunteers, and she has helped evaluate interview transcripts. She has also participated in two international working group meetings focused on palliative care in Parkinson’s disease. She now serves as a Supportive Care Volunteer in the Neurology Supportive & Palliative Care Clinic and runs a monthly telesupport group​ for care partners of patients with neurological disorders. Malenna holds a B.S. in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Educational Research with an emphasis in Measurement Theory – both from the University of Alabama. She retired early from her faculty position in an educational research center at The University of Alabama at Birmingham to care for her husband. Her experience with her husband has made her passionate about serving the Parkinson’s community, especially care partners. She enjoys being with her family, particularly her grandchildren, attending symphony concerts, visiting and supporting The Wild Animal Sanctuary, hiking, and being the boss(?) of her pets – and last but not least, watching Alabama football!
Jeffrey Barker​Patient Care Advocate

 Jeff Barker Head Shot_.jpgWhile the physical challenges of Parkinson’s are devastating, the emotional ones can be even worse. Many people with the disease find going out too difficult, so they isolate themselves and can become severely depressed. Jeff Barker, 63, has felt that way himself at times since his Parkinson’s diagnosis five years ago. The former retail shop owner, IT manager, and architect can no longer drive.  It’s a critical part of Jeff’s treatment as he fights Parkinson’s by staying connected to people and serving others. Jeff volunteers Patient Care Provider Advocate for fellow Parkinson’s patients. Jeff says, “I accompany the physicians, nurses, social workers, and spiritual counselors in the palliative care clinic when they meet with Parkinson’s patients. I’m there to make a personal connection and help them understand the new realities they’ll be dealing with because of Parkinson’s. A lot of times they are overwhelmed and don’t grasp everything they should. It’s a relief for them to have someone like me there. I live it. I have credibility. I can share my own silly experiences, and they can know there’s someone else out there. It’s like one needy person telling another where to find bread.”