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Making the most of it

School of Medicine alumnus Mark Dowell and his wife Caryn strive to make a difference wherever, and whenever, they can

Date Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2021

 

Dowell, Mark and Caryn IMG_1330_cr.jpg
Caryn and Mark Dowell

Mark Dowell, MD’85, leans into opportunities whenever and wherever they present themselves. As the medical director of Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases in Casper, Wyo., he has seen firsthand how a sliver of understanding can lead to a wider analysis of how a disease operates—an experience that has helped him navigate the unexpected and move toward positive outcomes.

He’s applied this ethos to other areas of his life as well, transforming various gateways into defining moments. For example, working with AIDS patients in Texas uncovered his passion for infectious disease treatment. The decision to open an infectious disease practice out west directed him to become Wyoming’s first specialist in the field. Reconnecting with his college girlfriend Caryn led to a marriage that occurred decades after they first dated.  

So, it was no surprise, then, that the Dowells turned a sudden and frightening auto accident into a way to help others.

“We’re season ticket holders for the University of Wyoming football team,” Dr. Dowell said. “During a two-and-a-half-hour drive to a game on a sunny afternoon at the end of August, I’m slowing down, putting on my directional and starting to turn left, when I feel our vehicle move and hear a crash. The next thing I know, I wake up with Caryn next to me, and we’re rolling back into a field.”

An 18-wheeler going 75 miles an hour had struck the back of the Dowells’ pickup truck and propelled it into a nearby pasture. Caryn wasn’t injured, but Mark suffered a broken collarbone and a severe concussion that put him out of work for six months.

“It was a game-changer,” he said. “I thought I was going to lose my career.”

Upon receiving a settlement as compensation for the crash, their first thought was, as Mark put it: “Let’s make something good come out of something so bad.” As regular supporters of UMass Medical School, they decided to make a $125,000 donation to create The Dowell Infection Connection Scholarship for students who are members of a UMass Medical School diversity organization.

“If I hadn’t gone to UMass, I never would have had the career that I have,” Dr. Dowell said. “The university set a foundation for me and gave me an opportunity to find myself and launch my career. I never thought I’d reach the amount of professional satisfaction and pride that I’ve been able to develop, and it’s because of the education I received at UMass.”

Dr. Dowell’s first encounter with UMass was in the sixth grade, when his father took a position as a virologist at UMass Amherst and moved their family from California to Massachusetts. Mark attended UMass Amherst as an undergrad, then went on to graduate from the Medical School in 1985.

It was in Amherst where he first met Caryn, who was a student at Mount Holyoke College in nearby South Hadley. The two dated throughout college and while he was in medical school, but broke up when Mark, a Texas native, completed his infectious disease fellowship training at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"We want to do our part to say, 'We hear you, we understand, and we want to make your medical education possible.'"

After completing his fellowship in Texas, Mark received a recruiting postcard to work in Wyoming. The nation’s least populous state had never had an infectious disease specialist, he said, so he started Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases and built a practice that now serves all of the state’s residents.

Meanwhile, Caryn served as a research assistant in psychology after college at both Northwestern University and Princeton University before earning a master’s degree at the City University of New York. After marrying and raising two children, she returned to the workplace and, in short order, was named president of a multicounty chamber of commerce in New Jersey.

During those years Caryn often wondered where Mark ended up. When curiosity finally got the better of her, she found him through an internet search and called him on his 50th birthday. That phone call was brief, however, and they didn’t connect again until four years later, when Mark was encouraged by a friend in his practice to reach out. Even though it had been 30 years, with marriages, kids and divorces for both, these college sweethearts said it was like no time had passed.

Caryn then settled in Casper, Wyo., with Mark, and became the executive director of the Wyoming Medical Center Foundation, a position she held for more than three years. The couple married in January 2017. They both love the state and see Dr. Dowell’s practice and community involvement, which includes serving on the board of Wyoming Medical Center and as the Natrona County Health Officer, as a way to give back to the place they now call home together.

The Dowells also remain very grateful for their deep connection to UMass Medical School. Mark credits the school’s emphasis on hands-on patient care as setting the stage for his professional success. He hopes the Dowell Scholarship will lay the foundation for students from diverse backgrounds who have the talent and drive to become accomplished doctors, but may not have considered medical school because of barriers like access and cost.

“We created this scholarship because we’re thankful,” he said. “We want to do our part to say, ‘We hear you, we understand, and we want to make your medical education possible.’”