SHP Alumni

School of Health Professions Distinguished Alumnus Award

The highest honor bestowed by the SHP Alumni Association is presented annually during Homecoming to one alumnus who has made major contributions to the health profession through commitment of excellence, research, education, community service and leadership roles.

2023 SHP Distinguished Alumni

Melissa Cathcart Thurlow, MBA, OTR/L, CHT
Melissa Thurlow

Melissa (Missy) Cathcart Thurlow was born and raised in Shreveport Louisiana. After high school, she attended Baylor University to pursue therapy. Her interest was piqued after watching a late 1960s TV series, Ironside, where a police inspector was paralyzed in the line of duty and subsequently, used a wheelchair. A recruiter from UTMB visited Baylor to talk to interested students about their allied health programs. Occupational Therapy (OT) would prove to be her perfect match for years to come while UTMB would become her place of study. During her time there, she enjoyed all that Galveston and UTMB had to offer. Thurlow is s a proud alumnus of the Class of 1981.

With a degree in hand, Thurlow headed back to her Louisiana roots and took a position in Baton Rouge as a specialist in burn and upper extremity rehabilitation. She enjoyed working in a multidisciplinary setting of Physicians, Nurses, Physical Therapists, OTs, and Psychologists with a dedicated team approach to best serve their patients. There she found a love for this special population as well as Cajun food.

A move to Atlanta had her earning her Neurodevelopmental (NDT) certification and her experience in Atlanta has been extensive. Thurlow assisted with opening an in-patient rehabilitation unit for cerebrovascular, head trauma as well as orthopedic injuries. While working with a hand surgeon in 1992, Thurlow became a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT). A position in several outpatient rehabilitation clinics had her specializing in shoulder, elbow, and hand therapy. Currently, at Peachtree Orthopedics, a physician-owned practice, Thurlow collaborates with the physicians and the patients to give the best care to achieve great outcomes. While raising her family, she also received a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from Brenau University.

Thurlow believes that staying active in your chosen profession state-wise and nationally is the best form of giving back. She has donated many hours to mentoring and training OT students from universities across Georgia and maintains membership in the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT), American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH). She currently serves as the ASHTs 2023 annual conference chair, Accreditation Evaluator for AOTA, Ambassador for Georgia with the National Board of Certification for OTs, and the President of the Georgia Hand and Upper Extremity Special Interest Group. Thurlow loves getting friends and classmates together by helping organize the UTMB OT Class of 1981 reunions.

By serving the OT community well, Thurlow has received several prestigious awards. In 2023, she received the Master of Health Sciences Award given by Brenau University and in 2019 she received the Paul Brand Humanitarian Award given by ASHT.

Thurlow has the heart of a servant and has joined many mission trips in Honduras, Haiti, Juarez, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. She serves others with a smile and a friendly helpful nature. Thurlow is a mom to two sons, both engineers in Savannah, and lives with her husband of 35 years, Greg. She enjoys spending time with her grandson, Owen, and her identical twin sister, Kim. Traveling is a passion that she hopes to continue in the future.

SHP Distinguished Alumni Recipients

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SHP Distinguished Alumni Award RecipientsProgramClass YearAward Year
Dorit H. Aaron, MAOccupational Therapy19771990
Maria I. Alvarado, PhD, OT/L, FAOTAOccupational Therapy19821994
Bonnie A. Benkula, MSA, MBAHealth Care Admin19962011
Janet R. Bezner, PT, PhDPhysical Therapy19811995
James R. Bluhm, BSPTPhysical Therapy19902007
Mario M. Celis, DMSc, MS, PA-C+Physician Assistant Studies19942015
Karen R. Chapman, PT, DPTPhysical Therapy19882009
Mary Daulong, BSPhysical Therapy19701991
Chad D. Davenport, PT, DPT, SCSPhysical Therapy20112022
Ruby K. Decker*Physical Therapy19611984
Beverly A. Dickerson, BSMedical Record Admin19721993
Larry C. Feeler, BSPhysical Therapy19772001
Cecilia L. Graham, PT, PhD*Physical Therapy19782014
Arene M. Gustafson, BS*Medical Technology19531983
James F. Hury III, CLSClinical Lab Sciences20042020
Wendy B. Katzman, PT, DPTSc, OCSPhysical Therapy19732021
Jaclyn F. Low, PhDOccupational Therapy1973 & 19911997
Lodie H. Massey, MA, PA-C+Physician Assistant Studies19751999
Mary B. Murphy*Medical Technology19451996
Bert N. Nash, BSMedical Technology19742003
Claire E. Peel, PhDPhysical Therapy19732002
Michael S. Pirkle, BSOccupational Therapy19972010
The Honorable Dianna D. Puccetti, BSOccupational Therapy19742000
Richard R. Rahr, EdD, MBA, PA-C*+Physician Assistant Studies19741989
Barbara A. Railey, JDMedical Technology19792004
Diane RathPhysical Therapy19752008
Marco A. RodriguezOccupational Therapy19922018
Alterra-Zoe M. Ruppert, OTR, PhDOccupational Therapy19832013
Terrance R. Sablatura, BSPhysical Therapy19802005
Herbert J. Sauer, Jr., BS*Physical Therapy19571985
Steven R. Shelton, Sr., MBA, PA-C+Physician Assistant Studies19752012
Phillip S. Sizer, Jr., PT, PhD, OCS, FAAOMPTPhysical Therapy19852019
Edith C. St. John, MEd, MTMedical Technology19661998
Melissa C. Thurlow, MBA, OTR/L, CHTOccupational Therapy19812023
Linda E. Vaclavik, BSOccupational Therapy19732006
Linda D. Veale, BSOccupational Therapy19741992
Joseph D. Wendeborn, BSPhysical Therapy19601987
Laura L. Wiggs, PT, NCS,CBISPhysical Therapy19912017
Dana L. Wild, PhD, PT, PCSPhysical Therapy1986 & 20092016
Jeneatte Winfree*Physical Therapy19611982
Susan M. Wittjen, PT, PhDPhysical Therapy19741988
John W. Young, Jr., PA-C+Physician Assistant Studies19731986

* Deceased

+ Physician Assistant Studies Distinguished Alumni reside under their respective Alumni Association established in 2020.

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