Alumni Profile

Stephen Furlong, PhD '74

Retired from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals

Service was drummed into me early,
between my high school days at Boston College High and my college years at Saint Michael’s. I’ve been looking into ways of helping others by using my experiences as a pilot and in immunology and infectious disease.  I’m exploring possibilities in Haiti after a friend-connection led me to visit there in 2012 to see some of the urgent needs. Now Jerry Flanagan ’71 of the College’s Institutional Advancement Office is helping me network with folks who might be able to help.

I majored in biology at Saint Michael’s, and then started working on a master’s at what’s now UMass Dartmouth before spending a year at University of Maine as a technician. Then I went to Michigan State to do a PhD, followed by a post-doc at Harvard Medical School where I ended up staying quite a few years on the faculty. We made some interesting discoveries there, working at the interface between infectious disease and immunology -- mostly diseases prevalent outside the U.S.

I hired a young woman who was Haitian; she had five siblings and wanted to bring them all to the U.S, which she did. She ended up at Harvard Medical School, graduated and took a job as an anesthesiologist, which she’s still doing today. Our joke – though it hasn’t happened yet -- was that someday she’d go back and be minister of public health in Haiti and I would help. We stayed in touch and -- long story short -- we visited Haiti in 2012.

In 1997 I needed to think about putting my two kids through college, so I went to work with AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals in Wilmington, Delaware. My interest in international work grew there since I ended up traveling to China at one point to work with collaborators there … and even ended up running a program in psychiatric genetics in Shanghai. Since taking early retirement, I’ve been looking for something to do. I’ve gotten my private pilot’s license late in life, and a pilots group was looking for experienced pilots who wouldn’t be intimidated flying to a place like Haiti. It’s the kind of thing I look at as an adventure.

I was inspired by a priest I met in Haiti who was a great example of one person making a huge difference just by doing very practical things. In his case, he’s helping treat a human worm parasite that causes elephantiasis, by supplying the drug that’s needed.  So that’s the type of thing I could see myself doing, beyond just flying supplies.

My vision of how I might help is not to start something new, but to work with existing aid groups, maybe help connect the dots and improve how things are done with the delivery system. Water is a huge deal since diseases we don’t see here like cholera are common without clean water supplies. When I told Jerry Flanagan about my hopes, he knew a Saint Michael’s graduate who’d flown in the military and might be a perfect collaborator on this, so we’ve been in touch and will see what comes of it. It’s been great to know I can reach out to St. Mike’s after all these years for help with a potentially worthwhile project. I hope my fellow alumni know that too.

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