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Celebration of Biotechnology Showcases Alachua Companies

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KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

The Annual Celebration of Biotechnology brings together the medical and scientific community in one location.

ALACHUA – The city of Alachua continued to demonstrate its status as an emerging leader in biotechnology last Thursday, when RTI Surgical hosted the 13th Annual BioFlorida Celebration of Biotechnology in Progress Park.  

From 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., the showcase brought more than 80 exhibitors and 500 professionals from the state and country to network as well as present their new products.

Some of the key spokespeople included Nancy Bryan, the president and CEO of BioFlorida, David Day, the assistant vice principal and director of UF’s Office of Licensing Technology and Mark Long, the director of the UF Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator.

In an interview, Day praised RTI Surgical for its growth, calling it the largest and most successful university spinoff in the state.

“The fact that this business has been created, that has grown to 5 [500], 600 employees here and has acquired companies from around the United States and from other continents,” he said. “It has over 1,200 employees now. It’s a huge success story for us.”

Day also took the opportunity to recognize AGTC, a local biotech company that is producing cures for degenerative ocular diseases, and AxoGen, which has created products to treat nerve-related ailments.

“Those are some things that are furthest into the market place,” he said. “But we’re having a part of creating dozens of new companies this year with all sorts of interesting stuff.”

Long, who was named the new director of Sid Martin in January, said current research is also focusing on developing a vaccine for salmonella, a bacteria encountered in foodborne illnesses, and hepatitis B, a liver infection which affects a large segment of the population.

He also said Captozyme is making advancements in the treatment of kidney stones.

“Tucker-Davis Technologies makes electronic equipment for the diagnosis and early treatment of epilepsy,” Long said. “All these things are remarkable to be here in central Florida [and] north central Florida, where we have a critical mass of biotechnology companies.”

Long said the scope of the cooperation from different companies has extended internationally, to nations such as Chile, Russia and universities in China and Malaysia.

“We just had a delegation from Chile,” he said. “And we have put into practice memorandum of cooperation of the Chilean university down there to exchange companies that they have of interest to us and want to enter the U.S. market.

“Having those cooperative agreements between incubators and the power of the University of Florida behind us makes it very appealing for them to sign joint agreements with us.”

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Relay for Life: Honoring Cancer Victims and Survivors

RelayForLife

KRISTINA ORREGO/Alachua County Today

Bill and Joyce Whitelock clown around for participants at the Relay for Life event held at the High Springs Civic Center.

HIGH SPRINGS –- Firefighters, high school students and community members came out to the field at the High Springs Civic Center Friday for this year’s Relay for Life event from 6 p.m. to 12 a.m.

The track, outlined by white paper bags marked with the names of cancer victims or those currently struggling with cancer, was the path that participants continuously walked around, while lemonade and sno cones were served at tables.

Those who beat cancer proudly donned purple shirts with “Survivor” written on the back.

The event began with the survivor lap, specifically for those in purple to walk together to celebrate their victory over cancer, according to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life website.

Next was the Caregiver Lap, set aside to recognize those who had taken care of cancer patients.

The opening lap, the third, invited all teams to walk together.

The last part of the evening was the Luminaria Ceremony, where the candles inside each of the bags around the track were lit up.

“The ceremony is actually a time of honoring the people who have fought the battle and lost or are still fighting the battle and actually won,” said Vicki Cox, one of the co-event coordinators for High Springs Relay for Life and also a co-chair for the ceremony. “It’s done in honor and memory.”

Patti Lamneck, a co-chair of the ceremony, took the stage to explain more about the ceremony. As she mentioned different groups of people who might have been impacted by cancer, those in the crowd snapped glow sticks.

“It makes you realize how widespread cancer is,” Cox said. “Usually at the end of that little section, everybody has snapped their glow sticks.”

The event is understandably very emotional for many who participate.

Kathy’s Story

Kathy Lowder doesn’t want anyone to feel bad for her.

Even at the slightest frown in response to the 54-year-old’s struggle with breast cancer, she says, “Don’t be sad.”

Lowder, who was present at Friday’s event, shared her story at last year’s Relay for Life in Newberry.

She wasn’t worried the first time she felt a hard lump in her left breast in early spring of 2014. Like all other things in her life, she just knew she needed to do something about it without feeling sorry for herself.

Her primary doctor suggested she get a mammogram and subsequent ultrasound. They determined it to be a hardened mammary gland and that her chances of being cancer free were 99 to 1.

She was fine, they concluded.

Nevertheless, her doctor told her she should get a lumpectomy on the off chance it might be malignant, and she had it removed on June 27 at North Florida Regional Medical Center.

On July 8, at 3:38 p.m., Lowder was home watching the FIFA World Cup when her doctor called.

The resulting pathology report from the surgery showed that the lump was an infiltrating adenocarcinoma – a cancerous tumor that was estrogen and progesterone positive.

He told her she would need to have her entire left breast removed.

She said she didn’t hear much of what he said after that – just a slew of medical terms that didn’t make sense at the time. But she refused to worry.

She decided the best approach was to get as informed as she could about her cancer so she could be prepared for whatever was next, she said.

“This is what I was dealt – let’s go ahead and deal with it, let’s get the answers that I need,” she said. “I always raised my kids – you cannot make a decision unless you make an informed decision.”

“It wasn’t what I expected, but I have two choices,” she said. “I either let cancer kick my butt, or I kick butt. And so butt kicking started to do.”

She said she told each of her family members individually, and each one was supportive of her.

“I would say that’s probably the toughest thing to do, is look your loved one in the eye and tell them,” she said.

While she was under heavy anesthesia, Dr. Bruce Brient of the Surgical Group of Gainesville, performed the bilateral mastectomy on August 11. Next, Dr. Jason Rosenberg, a reconstructive surgeon, replaced the tissue that was removed with fat from her abdominal area, she said.

Lowder said she arrived at the hospital that morning at 5:30 a.m. The work wasn’t totally finished until about 10 p.m.

A scar running from hipbone to hipbone is one of the many reminders of the surgery that saved her life.

The next six weeks were spent in complete recovery mode. As someone who is active and doesn’t like to ask for help, she said she struggled with not doing much.

“That’s very difficult for me,” she said. “So I’ve had to learn to listen to my body better as to what I can handle and what I can’t.”

She said she walked with a shuffle and stayed home in her pajamas.

She couldn’t take a shower without either her daughter or her husband’s help.

She couldn’t reach up to grab anything because of how delicate the upper half of her body was.

She couldn’t lie in bed to sleep, so she slept in a recliner for months.

“At first, we couldn’t get me to prop up and stay up, so we had to put a box under the recliner to keep me in place,” she said.

“The ones where you push your feet – well that all affects your abdomen, and somebody would have to help do that.”

Despite of all of this, her determination never faltered.

“You can’t sit around and wonder ‘Why me?’” she said. “’Poor me. Why does this have to happen?’ It doesn’t matter why it happened.”

Her cancer diagnosis spurred an entire lifestyle change – trading her regular Coca-Colas for water and adding power walking for exercise. She has lost over 60 pounds since the beginning of her journey.

“On August 1, I snuck one [Coca-Cola] because there was one in the fridge, and that was it,” she said. “I haven’t picked up one since. I even joined a gym.”

Lowder said she is continuing to participate in events for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and supporting Relay for Life.

As someone who also enjoys hosting foreign exchange students, she said she was eager to become well enough to open up her home again.

Treating them as her own kids, she’s opened her home to two Brazilian students, one from Germany and one from Norway.

One of them, 19-year-old Matheus Soares, was tragically murdered on February 2015 in Brazil. She said he is her guardian angel.

“I had made him a promise that I would kick cancer’s butt, and so I’m trying to fulfill that promise.”

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Newberry, Sheriff's Office reach Agreement for Services

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CAROL WALKER/Alachua County Today
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad agree on a ceremonial proclamation signifying the county's continued provision of law enforcement services to Newberry under a direct agreement.

NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners and Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell and members of her staff met Monday to sign a ceremonial proclamation signifying a direct agreement for the Sheriff's Office to continue to provide law enforcement services to the city by contract.

The agreement, which was actually executed on April 25, provides law enforcement coverage for Newberry for the next fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2016 – Sept. 30, 2017. As part of that contract, the city will pay Alachua County $740,000.

“This is not the first time the two have contracted together,” said Sgt. Brandon Kutner, Alachua County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer. “They did so under the Oelrich administration as well.”

Since that time, the city has been paying for those services through the Law Enforcement MSTU, a municipal service taxing unit.

The city commission decided to opt out of the previous MSTU because the rate fluctuated year to year, making it difficult for the city to adequately account for it in its annual budgets.

City Manager Mike New has tried to negotiate different deals with the Sheriff where the city would know in advance what the MSTU amount would be.

“Apparently, that's not possible,” Conrad said in February while negotiations were ongoing. “So this year we decided to opt out of the MSTU and write a separate contract with the Sheriff. We think that’'s a better deal because we'll have a contract, we'll know what services we're getting and how much we're going to pay before we go into the budget cycle.”

What does all this mean for the citizens of Newberry? “Best case scenario,” said New, “is that through our budget process, there will be a reduction in our millage rate, and thus a reduction of costs for our citizens. Worst case scenario is this could be a wash for our citizens as they pay the city the same amount they would have paid the county MSTU if they were still paying into that fund. Either way, it's a no brainer.”

The City of Newberry will be paying for law enforcement either through the city's General Fund or through ad valorem taxes rather than through the separate charge that appears on tax bills called, “Law Enforcement MSTU.”

That will cause city taxes to go up considerably, somewhere between one and two mills,” said Conrad. “Right now our taxes are at about four mills. Citizens will see a significant increase in city taxes, which will be offset by a decrease in the fact that our citizens won't be paying MSTU.”

The current MSTU agreement for law enforcement services will continue through Sept. 30, 2016, after which the new agreement will be in effect.

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Future Therapy Horse 'Anthem' Debuts in Burt Reynolds Film

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Photo Special to Alachua County Today
Future therapy horse Anthem on the set of a new film, “And Then There Was Light,” with Burt Reynolds.  Anthem plays the character Light.

HIGH SPRINGS – One local three-month-old future therapy horse named Anthem plays the part of “Light” in a new film called, “And Then There Was Light,” starring Burt Reynolds.

Anthem is one of the Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses based in High Springs and known throughout the world for visiting children and others in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and disaster sites to help people overcome physical and emotional traumas.

Negotiations were underway with George and Debbie Garcia-Bengochea even before Anthem was born to provide a horse for this movie. “Anthem was perfect for the role,” said Debbie. “With her white head, beautiful coloring and black inside her ears, she was a beautiful choice.”

The couple was allowed access on the set as scenes were shot with Anthem, which they both feel was a real treat. “Some of the movie was shot in the veterinary hospital at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida,” said Debbie.

“The remarkable thing about this movie is the producer and director were all women who are into making family-friendly movies,” she said.

The movie is a story of a young girl named Bailey, played by Avery Arendes, who defines herself by her equestrian abilities. Bailey loses her eyesight after a traumatic accident, and her parents enroll her to train at Southeastern Guide Dogs.

Bailey is unable to connect to anyone or anything until the head trainer, Charles, played by Reynolds, trains Apple, a miniature horse, to be her companion and surrogate eyes. Anthem plays the role of Light, Apple's foal.

Anthem is training as a therapy horse and was able to do some commands needed for the movie at her tender age.

The movie is expected to receive world-wide distribution and is currently slated for late fall release.

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A New 'Legacy' Begins

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ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today
Alachua’s Project Legacy is underway as Tuesday’s groundbreaking of Phase I marked the official beginning of construction. L-R: Project designer Paul Stressing, City of Alachua Recreation Director Damon Messina, City Manager Traci Gresham, Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari, City Commissioner Shirley Green Brown, Vice Mayor Robert Wilford, Mayor Gib Coerper, Commissioner Gary Hardacre, Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr., former recreation director Hal Brady, and Erik Otte and Doug Wilcox of Scherer Construction.

ALACHUA – With a few turns of dirt at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, Alachua’s “Project Legacy” has transitioned from plans and drawings to the beginnings of Legacy Park, a 105-acre recreation and cultural center abutting the existing Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

On hand for the groundbreaking ceremony were City of Alachua elected officials and staff as well as members of the design team, the construction firm, area residents and representatives from Santa Fe High School. Alachua City Manager Traci Gresham offered words of welcome followed by Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari, who provided the history of the project and acknowledged the City Commission’s commitment and support to the community’s quality of life.

“We are fortunate in Alachua to have a City Commission with foresight and understanding of how a dollar’s investment today will result in a return that is exponentially greater for tomorrow and the days ahead,” Boukari said.

Tuesday’s groundbreaking kicked off Phase I, which is construction of the multi-purpose center. The initial design of the multi-purpose center calls for four full-sized dual basketball/volleyball courts with motorized bleachers seating 460 people, a performance stage, four multipurpose rooms, concession areas, multiuse trails, entry drive and related facilities.

“Project Legacy has been an exciting process for me as a city commissioner. First purchasing the 105-acre parcel right next to our Hal Brady recreation complex, then developing The Legacy Park master plan, and finally today breaking ground on the first phase,” said Commissioner Gary Hardacre. “We are going to have more both passive and active recreation for our residents and schools.”

The first phase of construction will create the main entrance off of Peggy Road along with building the approximately 36,000 square foot multi-purpose center at an estimated cost of $7.5 million, with cost of the entire park at completion estimated at between $19.7 to $20 million.

“Recreation and cultural arts are critical components to the quality of life in a community,” said Commissioner Ben Boukari, Jr. “We are fortunate in the city of Alachua to have a community that understands this and embraces these opportunities.”

Adjacent to the Hal Brady Recreation Complex, the City of Alachua purchased the 105-acre parcel in December 2011 with preliminary plans for additional recreation opportunities for the community. Prior to the purchase, the property was privately owned by a land development company and was planned for construction of approximately 200 houses.

City Commissioner Shirley Green Brown said, “In the 1980's, I volunteered at the recreation center with a roller skating program organized and started by Hal Brady and my husband, John Brown. Now, decades later, I am thrilled and excited to touch and experience the planning and implementation of the awesome construction of this multipurpose building in Legacy Park.

“This building will serve as a catalyst for all citizens, youth, young adults, seasoned and senior adults in our community for years to come.”

“Although I am very proud of our outstanding sports programs, I am especially excited about our new multipurpose building at Legacy Park,” Vice Mayor Robert Wilford said. “It will not only cater to sports activities, but will offer our citizens opportunities to see plays, musical programs, and other events. We are truly the “Good Life Community.”

The 105-acre Legacy Park will be integrated with the existing 25-acre Hal Brady Recreation Complex to create one park. The Legacy Park Master Plan proposes four phases of construction that would include regulation-size baseball fields, Little League fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, a multi-purpose center, two game fields, a tournament field with stadium seating, an amphitheater with stage, a disc golf course, two dog parks, and walking trails.

“Today should be marked as one that will go down in history in the city of Alachua. Legacy Park and the multi-purpose center we broke ground on today will change the way our community not only enjoys recreation, but also brings huge opportunities for cultural activities and events. Legacy Park will be something special in North Central Florida,” Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper said. “It is a tremendous step forward, not only for Alachua, but the entire surrounding region. When people look at our community – our jobs and educational opportunities and where they will live, Legacy Park will only serve to underscore the quality of life Alachua has to offer.”

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