Meet Casey L. O’Connell, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine in the division of hematology at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.
She focuses her research on pre-leukemic blood disorders.
“I specialize in disorders of the blood, both cancerous and noncancerous. My specific research focus has been in pre-leukemic diseases of our bone marrow. Some might know that Good Morning America Anchor Robin Roberts was diagnosed with one form of these pre-leukemic diseases. I’m very interested in how to treat patients who have these disorders so we can help prevent the disorder from evolving into leukemia. My other clinical areas include clotting and bleeding disorders and autoimmune blood disorders.”
Education is a key component of her philosophy of care.
“I really emphasize arming patients with an understanding of their disease. I tend to spend a lot of time educating the patient. This includes educating them on the disease or condition, how to find more information and how our recommended treatments will work toward alleviating the symptoms or the disease itself. This gives them the tools to be empowered to make choices in the most educated manner possible.”
She takes pride in the division’s legacy.
“We have a legacy of being excellent diagnosticians. Frequently, patients who are referred to us have undetermined diagnoses or they are referred by other experts who are stumped. Physicians refer to us to help solve the puzzle.”
A great mentor inspired her to pursue hematology.
“In my second month as an intern at LAC+USC Medical Center, I was in the hematology ward. I had the great fortune to work with Dr. Alexandra Levine, a renowned hematologist and then-chair of the hematology division at the Keck School of Medicine. She is a very special person who inspired me to pursue a specialty in hematology. I later met and had the opportunity to work with Dr. Donald Feinstein, who had been her mentor. I knew then that hematologists really embody the combination of humanism and intellect that I was looking for in my career.”
The will to help others motivated her to become a physician.
“I decided to go to medical school after my first year of college at Stanford. At the time, there was a famine in Africa, and my friends and I were all very passionate about wanting to do something – but it quickly became apparent that we didn’t have any skills to offer in that situation. That’s when I realized that my life would be more rewarding if my job could entail something that actually resulted in helping people.”
She considered a career in international business.
“When I was in college, I thought I might pursue international business because I’ve always loved to travel and learn languages, but ultimately medicine seemed the best way to use my strengths to help people. I speak decent Spanish and I studied French for many years.”
Her hobbies include competing in athletic events.
“I enjoy sports. I have run in a couple of marathons, and my husband and I ran a triathlon this year. I also love to dance.”
She’s surrounded by a family of entrepreneurs, philanthropists and physicians.
“I am from Niagara Falls, New York. My parents have an entrepreneurial spirit. They ran a tour company, a tavern and later, a trucking company. My parents-in-law are the founders of the nonprofit organization, Operation Smile. My husband is a pediatric craniofacial surgeon at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.”
Dr. O’Connell specializes in the treatment of both cancerous and noncancerous disorders of the blood with a research focus on myeloproliferative neoplasms and myelodysplastic syndromes.