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All in the Family

All in the Family

This article is from the Spring 2016 edition of Otterbein Towers magazine, out now. Read more articles from the latest edition online.

For some people, the qualities that define an everyday hero run in the family. That was the case for four siblings from one family who each came to Otterbein University to pursue different medical careers. Each of them found success and are helping others with their work.

Dr. Salvatore “Sal” Thomas Butera ’81 was the first sibling to come to campus.

“My best friend in high school had an older brother who was attending Otterbein and speaking very highly of his campus experience. My friend decided to attend and I found the college to be wonderful and attended also.”

A member of Kings fraternity, Sal majored in life science and chemistry. His journey to his current job as chief science officer for the Center for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Immunology and Immunogen Discovery (CHAVI-ID) at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, was a long one.

After graduating from Otterbein, Sal became the first person at the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University (OSU) to complete his doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) and master of science degrees simultaneously, completing them in 1985. He completed his Ph.D. at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

He then earned a post-doctoral fellowship at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, kicking off a 22-year career with the agency. There, he conducted HIV biomedical research and served as associate director for laboratory science in the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

In 2011, he joined the staff at The Scripps Research Institute as part of a team working to develop an HIV/AIDS vaccine.

As a research scientist, Sal doesn’t always see the faces of those whose lives he improves.

“Although I do feel that my work as a research scientist will ultimately help others, it is not evident day-to-day like it would be for a doctor, practicing veterinarian or someone that interacts directly with those they help.  So, I have to keep the motivation in mind as part of my approach and drive.”

Sal’s experience encouraged his younger sister, Dr. Melanie Butera ’81, to attend Otterbein. Although her path started in a similar manner to her brother’s, the end result would be much different.

“I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian when I was 6 years old,” she said. “It was a realization, not a conscious decision. It was a calling — every bit of me was meant to do this.”

Melanie came to Otterbein as a determined student, graduating in three years with the same two majors as her brother. She credits her professors with pushing her to be her best.

“Dr. Jerry Jenkins was smart and challenging. He made you dig deep and study hard,” she said.

Outside the classroom, her sisters in Kappa Phi Omega sorority also supported her through her studies. “I drew a lot of strength from them.”

Melanie went on to earn her DVM from OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. She spent 20 years as an emergency veterinarian and now owns the Elm Ridge Animal Hospital in Canal Fulton, Ohio.

What makes Melanie especially unique is that she is also the pet parent of an animal celebrity and the author of a memoir, Dillie the Deer: A True Story of Love, Healing, and Family.

In the summer of 2004, a farmer brought a 3-day-old, blind, dying fawn into Melanie’s clinic. She and her husband, Steve Heathman, nursed the deer they named Dillie back to health. In return, through her unconditional love, Dillie gave Melanie the motivation and inspiration to survive when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Dillie initially became a local celebrity, but soon her story spread. She has a webcam, where viewers from all over the world watch the unusual house pet sleep in her own bedroom, spend time with her poodle sibling, Willie, and enjoy lots of snacks.

Melanie and Dillie were featured in National Geographic magazine in April 2014, on television shows on Nat Geo and Animal Planet and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, among others.

Some who read about Dillie consider Melanie a hero. She disagrees. “I don’t feel like a hero. For veterinarians, it’s not uncommon to save deer or other animals that cross our paths. It’s part of the job.”

Melanie does, however, admit that Dillie has helped fans through difficult experiences. She receives letters from people telling her their stories of hardships and how Dillie’s story inspired them to keep going.

“People depend on us to share Dillie’s story,” she said. “We are happy to help people. There is so much ugliness and hate in this world that if we can provide happiness, we will.”

Dr. Sally Dillehay was the next sibling to attend Otterbein. Although her time on campus was brief, the impact it had on her was big.

Sally transferred to Otterbein as a sophomore in 1981, and after one year, received early acceptance into the College of Optometry at OSU. “My classes at Otterbein helped me gain early acceptance. The best professor I ever had was Dr. Jenkins. He spurred my love of science. The problem solving skills he taught me have stuck with me.”

Sally has served on the faculty at OSU, held leadership positions at leading vision care companies and is now chief medical officer and vice president of clinical and regulatory affairs for Visioneering Technologies, Inc., outside Atlanta.

Although her work improves the lives of others, Sally has a unique take on heroism.

“Being a hero can be as basic as smiling at someone. You don’t know what they are going through, so show them they matter,” she said. “I’ve raised my children to recognize the differences in others and to stand up for others.”

Dr. Tina Butera ’90 was the fourth sibling to attend Otterbein. She was active on campus as a member of Sigma Alpha Tau sorority, resident assistant (RA) and chemistry lab assistant and tutor.

After graduating from Otterbein, Tina attended the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, where she realized in her third year that she wanted to be an ophthalmologist.

She completed an internship in medicine and surgery at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus and an ophthalmology residency at George Washington University. She then earned a prestigious Pediatric Ophthalmology Fellowship at the University of Colorado and Denver Children’s Hospital. There are only approximately 3,000 pediatric ophthalmologists in the world. Of those, only 20 are selected into fellowships annually.

Tina went into private practice in Jacksonville, NC, in 1999, before moving to her current position with The Eye Center, a private practice in northern Virginia in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

As a pediatric ophthalmologist, Tina works with various aspects of children’s eye problems including strabismus (“crossed eye”), amblyopia (“lazy eye”), prematurity and developmental problems.

To her clients, she is a hero.

“It’s very rewarding to save someone’s vision and know you have changed part of their life forever. Working with children helps me to see the truly important things in life, which are usually the simplest,” she said.

Outside of her practice, Tina volunteers to enrich the lives of blind people. “I run a charity teaching blind people how to ice skate or play blind hockey. It helps them socialize, make new friends, become physically active and face their fears. Our motto is #nolimits,” she said.

Her advice to others who might want to be a hero? “Only good things can happen when you follow your passion.”

Learn more about Melanie and Dillie the Deer at www.dilliedeer.com. Learn more about Tina’s charity at www.facebook.com/dcblindhockey.