August 17, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 20

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    Medenica, prolific diagnostic skin disease researcher, dies at 81

    Maria M. Medenica, Associate Professor in Medicine and an authority on the use of electron microscopy in the diagnosis of skin diseases, died Monday, June 25, at her home in Lincoln Park. She was 81.

    Three weeks before her death, she received the Golden Key Award from the University for “distinguished and loyal service to the Division of Biological Sciences, and especially for her outstanding mentoring and guidance of dermatology residents and dermatopathology fellows.” More than 60 former residents attended the June award ceremony to express in person their gratitude and admiration.

    “She was amazing,” said James Vardiman, Director of Hematopathology at the University, “particularly with benign and malignant lymphoid and histoiocytic infiltrates in the skin—a very difficult area.

    “But it was her dedication to the institution that was unparalleled by anyone else I know,” he added. “She often arose at 4:30 a.m. to catch buses so she could be at work by 6:30. She saw patients in the clinics and hospital, and then read slides until 9 p.m. or later—sometimes all night long—every day, including Sunday. What no one other than a pathologist can appreciate is that for many years she looked at, described and wrote diagnostic comments for over 18,000 skin biopsies a year.”

    Allan Lorincz, Professor Emeritus in Dermatology, also noted Medenica’s dedication to her work and students. “Dr. Medenica was an outstanding dermatological pathologist and a kind and concerned individual,” he said.

    “She was the favorite teacher of her residents and interns in terms of her ability to teach dermatological pathology and because of her dedication to keeping good relationships with those around her.”

    Born Oct. 23, 1924, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Medenica received her medical degree from Belgrade University in 1954. She completed her internship at Ravenswood Hospital in Chicago in 1958, followed by her residency at the University from 1960 to 1963. For the next three years, she remained at Chicago as a U.S. Public Health Service-supported dermatology research trainee, working chiefly in the areas of dermatopathology and electron microscopy. She received specialty certifications in dermatology in 1965 and in dermatopathology in 1974.

    Between 1967 and 1969, Medenica was a research associate at Hines V.A. Hospital in Chicago. She joined the University of Illinois as an assistant professor in 1969 and became an associate professor in 1971. She served on the dermatologic faculty until 1973, teaching dermatopathology. She also received a letter of special commendation from the American Board of Dermatology for her success in teaching this specialty to residents on the basis of their performance in the histopathology part of the board examinations.

    Medenica returned to the Chicago faculty as an Associate Professor in 1974 and remained for 31 years. Her studies on the comparative evolution of experimental primary irritant and allergic types of contact dermatitis yielded important insights into the different types of cellular interactions involved in the development of these reactions. Her electron microscopic studies in several dermatologic disorders attracted considerable attention, and subsequent investigators confirmed her results.

    In 1985, Medenica served as chair of the Membership Committee for the American Society of Dermatology and in 1979 as a member of the Tissue Committee at the University. She held memberships in the American Academy of Dermatology, the Chicago Dermatological Society, the Society for Investigative Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatopathology.

    She published more than 90 articles, book chapters, scholarly clinical reports and essays in such publications as the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, the Archives of Dermatology, the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and the Journal of Dermatological Surgical Oncology. Medenica continued helping residents publish research even after her retirement in 2005.

    “Often, one of my colleagues or I drove her home at night,” said Vardiman. “The conversation was always about lymphocytes in the skin, her patients and her trainees—the things at work that she really cared about. Members of our section sought her out continually to help with difficult biopsies. We all miss her professionally and personally very much.”

    Linda Wang, a former resident who worked with Medenica from 2001 to 2004, said, “Dr. Medenica was a gentle and kind soul with uncompromising ethical and intellectual integrity. She was my beloved teacher, my steadfast supporter and most of all, my cherished friend. I miss her and will always love her dearly.”

    After battling cancer, Medenica died peacefully at home. Two sons, Bo and Mike, her daughter-in-law, Kim, and her grandson, Logan, survive her.