New! Spotlight on Medical Power Couples: Their Extraordinary Lives


Medscape Medical power couples is a new series highlighting important spouses or domestic partners in healthcare. Both have achieved high level professional success and have made significant contributions in their respective fields..

Carlos del Rio, MD, and Jeannette Guarner, MD

Carlos del Rio, MD, and Jeannette Guarner, MD, pose during a trip to Vail, Colorado.

When people started dying to death anthrax spores mailed in 2001, infectious disease expert Jeannette Guarner, MD, was called to Florida and Connecticut to analyze the bodies. She and her pathology team investigated how the bacteria entered the victims and examined tissue samples from across the country to discern the scale of the attacks.

After performing autopsies and identifying that inhaled anthrax caused the deaths, Guarner rushed home in Atlanta just in time for Thanksgiving. Exhausted, the beloved head of the family still managed to cook the big turkey that day, but asked for help with dessert.

“She got home on Thanksgiving around 3 am,” recalls Carlos del Rio. “She said to me, ‘In order for us to have Thanksgiving, you have to be in charge of the pies.’ When I told my daughter about it, she said, ‘It’s going to be a disaster! If mom doesn’t cook, it won’t be good.’ “

“It didn’t go so bad,” Guarner laughs. “There was dessert.

As two of the country’s top infectious disease experts, Guarner and del Rio are no strangers to juggling their personal lives with epidemics, last-minute travel and urgent research.

Former director of the clinical laboratory at the National Cancer Institute of Mexico, Guarner worked for 10 years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) where she was instrumental in the discovery of SARS. She and her team identified that a coronavirus was in cultures taken from a healthcare worker who died after working in Asia, and determined through molecular testing that the virus was different from all other coronaviruses at the time. .

Guarner then looked for the new virus in tissue samples and determined that it was SARS that had caused the damage. She is now a Professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Emory University, Medical Director of the Clinical Laboratory at Emory Midtown Teaching Hospital, and Vice President of Faculty Affairs.

Del Rio, who served as director of the National AIDS Council of Mexico, is a distinguished professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Faculty of Medicine at Emory University and professor of global health and epidemiology at the Rollins School. of Public Health from Emory University. He is also Co-Director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research and Co-Principal Investigator of the Emory-CDC HIV Clinical Trials Unit and Emory Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit.

Del Rio’s work in HIV prevention and care has made great strides in developing the concept of HIV prevention and care. HIV care continuum, a public health model that describes the stages that HIV patients go through, from diagnosis to viral suppression. Del Rio, who is Minister of Foreign Affairs at the National Academy of Medicine, has also worked on emerging infections such as the pandemic influenza and was a member of the WHO Influenza A (H1N1) Clinical Advisory Group and the CDC Influenza A Working Group during the 2009 pandemic.

Carlos del Rio, MD, and Jeannette Guarner, MD, on a trip to Dubai.

Del Rio and Guarner met while studying medicine in Mexico City. At first the two carpooled to classes, but when Guarner fell ill with hepatitis A, del Rio brought Guarner the class notes so that she wouldn’t fall behind. The study buddies later became a couple and got married just before coming to the United States for the residency.

With their expertise in infectious diseases, del Rio and Guarner have worked together in the past, but the couple say they have always maintained separate professional identities.

“We are trying to create our own spaces,” said del Rio. “You try to keep your personal and professional identity as independent as possible. You don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, you have this or you are doing that because you are married to this other person. “You want intellectual independence to some extent.”

It was easier in some ways as del Rio and Guarner have different last names. Over the years, they frequently met people who did not know they were married.

“One time we were both in the lab and Jeanette was discussing a case, and she started teasing me or teasing me, mocking me,” del Rio recalls. “Some of the ID types were like, ‘Oh my God, who the hell is this woman?’ They didn’t know she was my wife. “

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Guarner and del Rio have been involved in the pandemic in different ways. Del Rio has seen patients, conducted clinical trials and given hundreds of local and national talks about the virus. As laboratory director, Guarner validated tests for the diagnosis of COVID-19 and advised staff on exposure issues.

“An important aspect has also been making sure that our laboratory technologists understand the disease and the need for the different protective elements that we have had to use in the hospital,” she said. “In many ways, I had to reduce the fears the technicians had when handling samples from these patients.”

In their own words

What was one of your most surprising discoveries?

Jeannette: During the anthrax attacks, we received a lot of tissue from living patients, especially skin biopsies from different parts of the country where pathologists feared there was anthrax. From New York, we received over 50 skin biopsies and found that the suspected necrotic lesions of anthrax had Rickettsia in them. In other words, we discovered that rickettsialpox – an infectious disease transmitted by mites – was circulating in the city, which was unknown at the time.

Describe a challenge you overcame:

Carlos: When I was appointed director of the National Council for the Fight against AIDS of Mexico (CONASIDA), I was quite young, barely 32 years old. I had to learn to listen to others who had expertise and institutional memory, to respect their opinions and at the same time to push for change. A huge challenge was the role of the Catholic Church and conservative groups that were adamantly against condom promotion. Thus, I learned to advance science-based policies without being confrontational.

Have you ever been famous for anything other than your job?

Jeannette: In 2017, a tree fell on our house during Hurricane Irma. It just fell on my husband’s desk a few minutes after he left the room. Fortunately, I’ve always been small and flexible, and crawled through the rubble to save our valuables before they were ruined by the rain. Later, a local Atlanta TV news crew was around to report the damage, and I told them to come to our house if they wanted to see real damage. That night we were on the local news.

NEXT: Power Couple Paul & Mary Klotman.


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