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A doctor-patient relationship inspires an innovative initiative designed to advance understanding of autoimmune diseases, specifically Sjogren’s and Lupus.


Each day UNC physicians provide outstanding care for patients, and the courage and determination that our patients demonstrate, especially in the face of challenging diseases, is a constant source of inspiration. So, it is incredibly rewarding when our patients are inspired by the doctors that care for them, and choose to become active partners in advancing the scientific mission at Carolina.

Linda and Cecil Sewell have stayed connected with their alma mater over the 50 years since their graduation and marriage. They felt moved to commemorate these occasions with a gift to the UNC School of Medicine that will support much needed research and clinical trials in the areas of autoimmunity – specifically for conditions such as Sjogren’s and Lupus. These and other autoimmune diseases have seen a dramatic rise in occurrence in recent decades and are a significant source of morbidity and mortality for patients. In seeking treatment for Sjogren’s, Linda became a patient of Dr. Saira Sheikh. In addition to an exceptional doctor-patient relationship, they share a common goal of finding ways to help patients with autoimmune diseases.

Linda speaks fondly of her interactions with Dr. Sheikh and the residents and fellows who work with her. “They recognize what a great mentor and teacher she is, and rave that her enthusiasm is contagious. Doctor Sheikh wears many hats – physician, researcher, wife, mother – she is highly respected in her fields and an asset to UNC Health and the School of Medicine.”

Over the years, the Sewells have maintained a consistent and generous commitment to support Carolina, and they continue to believe that giving directly to the researchers makes the greatest impact. The Sewells helped create a Fund for Excellence in Lupus and Sjogren’s, that will now be translated into Dr. Sheikh’s vision for a program with potential for much larger impact – a platform to develop ground-breaking ideas, and a community of doctors, researchers, scientists and patients who are working closely together to provide healing and hope.

Dr. Saira Sheikh is trained and board certified in Internal Medicine, Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology, and is Director of the Clinical Trials Program at the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center (TARC), as well as the UNC Rheumatology Lupus Clinic. Her work focuses on answering scientific questions that directly impact the care of patients with complex immunologic diseases.

“Saira has demonstrated outstanding leadership of the programs she directs here at TARC, as well as the initiatives that she is leading on a national level,” says Dr. Richard Loeser, who is Director of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center, and is the Herman and Louise Smith Distinguished Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology. “We are proud of her exceptional qualities as a physician and researcher. We would especially like to express our gratitude to the Sewells for their generosity and the confidence that they have placed in us. We are thrilled to support Dr. Sheikh and her vision for this program.”

“This is a particularly exciting time for our Division,” says Dr. Beth Jonas, Reeves Foundation Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology. “It is gratifying to watch our talented young faculty emerging as thought leaders in their field and to see how much of their heart and soul they put into their work.

“Above all, it is truly heartwarming to see their skills and potential recognized by our patients,” adds Jonas. “This generous gift will allow Dr. Sheikh to continue to foster collaborations on campus to help us address the many challenges of autoimmune disease.”