A helicopter struggled to land on a foggy night in small-town Montana. A team was on board to collect harvested organs and transport them back to Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland for a transplant. But the pilot couldn’t see, and the helicopter couldn’t land. That is, until every single resident of the town came out of their homes with flashlights to help.
Ali Olyaei can tell many stories like this. Communities rallying around the sick. People who shouldn’t be alive out living normal lives. The central themes of almost all these stories are teamwork and gratitude.
Ali is a pharmacist with a dual appointment at Oregon State University’s College of Pharmacy and OHSU. In his clinical practice, he primarily sees patients receiving kidney, heart or liver transplants. He believes a successful transplant requires a team effort.
“I am not a one-man operation,” he says. “There are so many people — from the donor’s family to the doctors to the nurses and pharmacists like me who help make it happen.”
Ali was drawn to the field of pharmacy after losing his grandfather to an anaphylactic reaction to penicillin. He became interested in treating kidney disease specifically because of the intricacies involved.
“The regimens are so complicated,” he explains. “And the patients are very compromised. Sometimes these patients are close to death at the time of a transplant.”
Having a hand in saving their lives is what keeps Ali going through long hours at the clinic and in the classroom with Oregon State pharmacy students, who spend the third year of their program studying in Portland.
“Teaching is my favorite thing to do after seeing patients,” he says.
And his favorite day of all is graduation each year in Corvallis, because just like working on a team of health care providers working with a transplant patient, he gets to be part of a team providing a great outcome.
“It’s a day I never miss because I like to celebrate with the students, and with the parents as well,” Ali says. “There are so many people behind the students that are graduating.”
Ali has lived in Portland for more than 20 years. He’s up by dawn each morning running along the waterfront or hitting the gym before work. On his days off, he enjoys hiking in the Columbia River Gorge to clear his mind. Although he says he doesn’t have much time to experience the city, he flies a lot. “And every time I get close to Portland in an airplane, I know why I live here. It’s so beautiful.”
Ali earned his Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy from Oregon State in 1988 and is proud to work for OHSU and his alma mater. He enjoys mentoring the next generation of pharmacists in a changing health care industry, where doctors, pharmacists and other health care professionals take a coordinated, team-based approach to a patient’s well-being.
“The pharmacist is often the last health care provider a person sees, and it’s very important than a pharmacist be knowledgeable about the disease and drugs they are dealing with to take the best care of patients they can.”
Ali says the Oregon State College of Pharmacy is doing a good job of giving students the knowledge and skills to help people live well.
“The Oregon State pharmacy program is exceptional, and our dean is exceptional,” he says. “They are visionary, and their mission is very clear. We are here to promote the future of health care and to teach pharmacists to have a positive impact on that future.”