Our Staff

Rock Heyman, MD

Dr. Heyman is an Associate Professor of Neurology, Director of the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital , and Chief of the Division of Neuroimmunology and MS at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his medical school training at Ohio State University in 1985 and then completed his neurology residency in 1989 and fellowship training in 1990, both at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. Heyman’s interests include education and treatment of people with MS. He is board-certified in Neurology and is also a Fellow of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. He has held many national leadership positions with the National MS Society (NMSS) and the Consortium of MS Centers. He enjoys working with people with MS and related disorders to help them find the best way to improve their function.

 

Islam Zaydan, MD

Dr. Zaydan is an Associate Professor of Neurology in the Division of Neuro-Immunology, Associate Professor of Ophthalmology in the Division of Neuro-Ophthalmology at the  Multiple Sclerosis Care Center of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and Attending Neurologist at the Pittsburgh Veteran Administration Hospital MS Center of Excellence.

He completed his medical school training at Alexandria University in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1995 and neurology residency and neuro-ophthalmology fellowship both at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is board-certified in Neurology.  He sees people with MS and other neurologic-related vision issues both in the Departments of Neurology and Ophthalmology.

 

Zongqi Xia, MD, PhD

Dr. Xia is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and has joined our department as of January 1, 2016. After receiving his B.A. from Swarthmore College and M.D. and Ph.D. through the Medical Scientist Training Program at Case Western Reserve University, he completed: (1) neurology residency at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, (2) master in clinical investigation at the Harvard Medical School, and (3) post-doctoral fellowship in neurogenetics and neuroinflammation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Broad Institute.

Dr. Xia is a board-certified neurologist and an attending physician. He has developed an interdisciplinary clinical expertise in neuorinflammation, addressing the unmet needs of patients who face neurological complications from autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Xia leads a collaborative clinical and translational research program in neuroinflammation. His team harnesses multi-dimensional patient-derived data and deploys integrative computational and analytical approaches to gain insights into the disease process and translate these findings into the clinical arena to improve individualized prediction, prevention, and management in multiple sclerosis and other disorders of neuroinflammation. He will soon be inviting patients to join many of his research studies.

 

Cigdem Isitan, MD

Dr. Isitan is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, she joined the faculty in 2018. She completed her Multiple Sclerosis and Neuroimmunology training at Yale University. She did her medical training in Istanbul, Turkey and neurology residency at Boston University Medical Center.

She treats patients with a variety of conditions, including multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica, transverse myelitis, optic neuritis, neurosarcoidosis, autoimmune encephalitis, and other immune-mediated inflammatory conditions affecting the brain and spinal cord. She has research expertise in immune-mediated diseases of the central nervous system and she was involved in numerous MS clinical trials. Her specific research interest includes neuro-imaging biomarkers of MS.

Dr. Isitan also offers botulinum toxin injections for spasticity and migraine headaches. She is very passionate about teaching. She is the recipient of Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism and Excellence Award in teaching and compassion for patient care, and American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Quality Improvement & Patient Safety Award in 2016. She also received AAN fellow scholar award in 2017-2018.

 

 

Ryan Orie, MPAS, PA-C

Ryan is a Physician Assistant in the division for Drs. Heyman and Zaydan. He received his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University and his Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from Chatham University. He provides care for patients with MS and related diseases of the central nervous system in the outpatient clinical setting.

He became interested in MS because of the vast array of symptomatology and the complex treatment involved as well as the continuing research of chronic treatment. He has attended meetings and conducted lectures for patients with MS. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants.

 

Kiersten Dykstra, MOTR/L, PA-C

Kiersten is a Physician Assistant in the division for Drs. Heyman and Zaydan. She received her undergraduate degree from Duquesne University with a Master in Occupational Therapy in 2013. She received her Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from Chatham University in 2016.

Kiersten has had an interest in multiple sclerosis and neurology as a subject since working extensively in neurorehabilitation as an occupational therapist. She hopes to continue to develop a bridge between diagnostics and     rehabilitation for patients with MS. She is also a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants

 

Margie O’Leary, RN, MSN, MSCN - Clinician

Margie is a certified MS nurse and supervisor of the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center and Out Patient Infusion Center. She has more than 25 years of experience with care of MS patients with both neurological and urological issues.

She is a past board member of the International Organization of MS Nurses (IOMSN) and an author of many journal articles and abstracts. Margie enjoys writing in her spare time as well as bicycle riding with her family. She is always willing to come and speak at a National MS Support group meeting. Just ask!

 

Zoe Ribar, Operations Manager

Zoe joined the MS Care Center in May of 2019 as our Operations Manager. In 2018, she graduated from University of Iowa College of Public Health with her Masters of Health Administration. Prior to joining UPMC, she worked in project management in the Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinic. In her free time, she enjoys exercise, trying new vegetarian recipes, and watching anything on HBO.

 

 

 

Mary Skoff, RN, BSN

Mary joined the Department of Neurology's MS Division in January 2014. She was excited to be joining and working with a caring and passionate team of health professionals. She really enjoys working with patients in both the infusion setting and via phone contact. In her off time, she enjoys time with family and is addicted to running.

 

 

Jessica Serdy, RN  

Jess graduated from the CCAC Allegheny Campus nursing program in 2009.  She has experience in inpatient medical and emergency room nursing, as well as inpatient and outpatient care management.  She is excited to now be working as an MS Outpatient Infusion Nurse and is eager to learn more about the care of MS patients.  Jess has a German shepherd, four cats and a Greek tortoise named Stanley.  She enjoys reading, hiking and traveling in her spare time.

 

 

Julia Miller, RN, BSN

Julia is one of our infusion nurses.  She has a background in Trauma, Neurosurgery and Neurology. I enjoy working with patients and helping them understand their condition and treatment here in infusion.

I have covered MS infusion since 2011 and was hired at Magee Women’s hospital full time in January 2018.

 

 

Malinda Hunkele, RN, BSN

Mindy is a nurse in the infusion center. She graduated with her associate’s degree from CCAC in 2011. She received her bachelor’s degree at Drexel University in 2016. Mindy began her nursing career on an inpatient unit at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in 2012. She has experience in med/surg and stepdown nursing. When she is away from work she enjoys spending time with her fiancé and two boxers, Duke and Olivia.

 

 

Liliy Watson, RN, BSN

Lily graduated from Shadyside School of Nursing in 2014 and completed her BSN through Ohio University in 2017. She has worked at Magee since graduating nursing school in 2014 on the inpatient med-surg unit. Lily is excited to be a new member of the MS Infusion team and looks forward to getting to know all of the patients. When Lily isn’t at work, she loves spending time with her family and doing outdoor activities.

 

 

Ardrena Hill - Authorization Specialist

Ardrena is from Pittsburgh. She has been with the Department of Neurology since June 2011 as a Patient Information Coordinator. While she enjoyed being at the front desk and interacting with patients, she transferred to the MS Division in October 2014 as a Surgical Scheduler, responsible for completing prior authorizations for medications such as Tecfidera, Avonex, Ampyra, Tysabri, and Provigil.

 

 

Sandra Palmieri - Authorization Specialist

Sandy is from right here in Oakland. In fact, her family still lives here. She has been with UPMC for thirty years and has worked for twenty years in the Voice Center. She started full time with the Department of Neurology in early August 2015.

She enjoys anything “Italian”, cooking, and gardening.

 

Jenna Pyle - Administrative Assistant

Jenna is an Administrative Assistant for the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center and Outpatient Infusion Center. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in 2012. When she is not in the office, you can find Jenna walking homeless dogs for a local shelter.

 

 

 

Hugh, Hart - Medical Assistant II

Hugh joins us after 8 years at Falk Clinic.  He also has several years’ experience in pre hospital (Ambulance)Hugh joins us after 8 years at Falk Clinic.  He also has several years’ experience in pre hospital (Ambulance) and  hospitality service.  

Hugh is service oriented and looks forward to working with patients.  He enjoys flea markets and listening to old time radio.  Hugh lives in McKeesport with his wife, Chrissy.

 

 

Lisa Levine - Medical Assistant II

This is Suzanne’s first year with the Department of Neurology’s MS Division, and her third year with UPMC. She enjoys interacting with patients, and when not at work, can be found at Starbucks with friends, drawing, or walking her dog, Rickles.

 

 

Karen Miller - Health Unit Coordinator

This is Karen's first year with the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center.  She comes from Shadyside ER with 24 years of experience.  Karen is a big Pittsburgh sports fan.  She has 2 black cats: Bailey and Molly and she likes spending time with her family and sorority sisters.

 

 

Emily Stokan - Health Unit Coordinator

Emily is a Health Unit Coordinator for the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center and Outpatient Infusion Center of UPMC Magee-Womens Hopsital. Previously, she worked at Magee Women’s Cancer Center for two years as a Health Unit Coordinator and Financial Consular. Emily enjoys interacting with the patients and helping any way she can.  She was born and raised in Pittsburgh and currently lives in Monroeville with her Fiancée and two rescue cats.

 

 

RESEARCH STAFF

Kerry Oddis, RN, CCRC - Clinical Research Coordinator

Kerry is from Lower Burrell, PA. She is the Certified Clinical Research Coordinator for the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center and Department of Neurology. Kerry worked in Labor and Delivery for 11 years and has been with the department of Neurology since 2005.  She is also a member of the International Organization of MS Nurses (IOMSN) and has displayed abstracts at the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC).

Although she loves Labor and Delivery, she gets great satisfaction working in research. She is gratified by helping patients who suffer with this terrible disease and hopes we can someday find a cure.

 

Darlene M. Punjack, RMA - Clinical Research Associate

Darlene is from Pittsburgh, born and raised. She is the Clinical Research Associate for the Multiple Sclerosis Care Center and UPMC’s Department of Neurology. Darlene is a member of the International Organization of MS Nurses (IOMSN) and has been an author of abstracts displayed at the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC).

She enjoys working with  patients and assisting in any way she can.  Darlene's main area is MS research but also helps in every area of the clinic. She has been with the Department of Neurology since 2005.

 

Sandra Alhaj - Research Coordinator

Sandra Alhaj has been with the Department of Neurology since August 2016 where she began as a nurse's aid during her undergraduate studies. Currently, she works as a research coordinator and splits her time in neurology between the MS and Epilepsy divisions. 

Sandra graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016 with a BS degree in Biology and Chemistry. She is currently applying to medical schools and hopes to one day return to neurology as a DO.

 

 

Wen Zhu - Clinical Research Assistant

Wen is a clinical research assistant for Dr. Zongqi Xia. She received her M.D. and M.S. in Neurology from Sun Yat-sen University of Medical Sciences, China. She joined the Department of Neurology as a basic research scientist in 2012. After working in the field of basic science for years, Wen became interested in clinical/translational research. She was excited to join the MS division in 2018 to expend her career in clinical research and to work with patients.

 

 

 

Shruthi Venkatesh - Clinical Research Assistant

Shruthi has been involved with undergraduate research in the Department of Neurology since August 2017. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2019 with a BS in Neuroscience and Psychology. Shruthi is currently a clinical research assistant working with Dr. Zongqi Xia. She aspires to attend medical school and stay involved in research as a physician. In her spare time, Shruthi enjoys biking, hiking and traveling.

 

 

 

 

Kathleen Brandfass, PT, MS

Kathleen is Director of Neurologic and Vestibular Outpatient Services for Centers for Rehab Services (CRS) and an adjunct instructor in the neuromuscular course series at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned a BS degree in physical therapy (PT) from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in neurologic PT from the University of Pittsburgh. She is an affiliate member of the American Academy of Neurology and a member for the NMSS regional Clinical Advisory Committee.

She has served on the Edge Task Force for outcomes in MS. Her practice focus includes Parkinson's disease, MS, ALS, stroke, and peripheral neuropathy. Ms. Brandfass has treated people with neurologic disorders for many years and has lectured nationally. She received the Excellence in Neurology award from the Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association.