Neurologist & Program Director
Christina Vaughan joined the team in August, 2017, and became our Program Director in July, 2019. She is a Board certified neurologist who is trained and previously practiced in Movement Disorders. After several years in practice, her love of neurology grew but she strived to practice in a more comprehensive way. After watching close family members live with neurodegenerative disease, she understood that these conditions affect patients more than just physically, and affect the whole family. In order to enhance her skills in caring for patients and families in a more supportive way, she completed a year-long fellowship in Palliative Medicine. She was delighted to gain more in-depth experience in management of not only the physical, but also the psychological, spiritual, and social symptoms - in an effort to optimize quality of life for patients and families. She is particularly interested in self-image in the face of illness, and in getting to know patients in the context of their lives, rather than only from the perspective of their diagnoses. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to combine her passion for neurology with the palliative care approach, and grateful to be working with an outstanding team. A native of Buffalo, NY, she is no stranger to winter weather and has been enjoying exploring the beautiful outdoors of Colorado.
Laura Foster joined the team in 2018. She's toured the country for her education: undergrad in Washington state, medical school in Southern California, and neurology residency in Minnesota. She completed fellowships in Neuromuscular Medicine and Palliative Care in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital, Brigham & Women's, and Dana Farber Cancer Institute. She specializes in ALS. For her, neuropalliative care means making peace with the grey of some neurologic diseases--uncertainty of diagnosis or prognosis. It also means helping patients and families live as well as they can for as long as they can. She likes to hike and bake when she's not at work.
Julie has been working as a Physician Assistant in the fields of neurosurgery and neurology since 1997. She has gained experience in caring for brain tumors, spine disease, movement disorders, deep brain stimulation management, multiple sclerosis and neuro-behavioral disorders. She is currently in inaugural class of Master's of Science in Palliative Medicine program at University of Colorado Graduate School. In her past, she has experienced being a caregiver in her family of origin when 3 members suffered progressive genetic neurologic disease. She has a hard earned passion for providing excellent personalized care for patients and all of their family members who cope with neurologic disease. During free time, Julie enjoys traveling to interesting places with her husband and two children or going for hikes and walks with her Goldendoodle.
Nalini C. Kaplan, Rabbinic Pastor, Chaplain, Ethicist
Nalini’s journey of spiritual service began when working as a financial services partner for Deloitte Consulting in NYC. In the aftermath of 9/11, she facilitated trauma counseling sessions and helped with pastoral care. She has served as a clinical and community chaplain and ethicist since 2008, offering spiritual care to patients and their families, providing spiritual direction and performing research in spiritual care in various clinical settings and information ethics. Nalini is an ordained as a Mashpiah Ruhanit/Spiritual Director and as a Sh’lichtah D’Rabbanan / Rabbinic Pastor with a specialty in clinical chaplaincy and bioethics by ALEPH (Alliance for Jewish Renewal).
Nalini believes that no one should suffer alone and works with patients and families on connecting to their inner wisdom and resilience. She provides empathic listening, coping and communication strategies, spiritual guidance and mindfulness techniques. Nalini offers “life redesign” and life review to patients and family members as they grapple with the inevitable changes due to life-limiting illness. She works with people of all faith traditions, the “spiritual but not religious” and people for whom meaning and ritual is derived elsewhere.
Ryan Khan MDiv, BCC, LT USNR, Chaplain
Ryan has been working in health care chaplaincy for more than a decade in both hospital and hospice work and has been active in ministry since 1996. He grew up in diverse inner-city Philadelphia, moved to Denver in 2009, and considers himself easy going, down-to-earth, and practical. Ryan is motivated to care for others, providing reflective and supportive conversation for those who are hurting, confused, suffering, and/or simply desire to make sense of what is happening to them. Ryan may help to develop practical strategies to improve coping and resilience, improve quality of live, and reduce stress. An essential aspect of Ryan’s philosophy of spiritual care is to meet people where they are, respecting personal beliefs and values, whether spirituality, religion, and/or faith are important, somewhat important, or not at all important for you. Ryan is married to Ishtar, a registered nurse, and they have two boys, Silas and Seth. He enjoys hanging out with his family, spending time with their family dog Gaia (Texas heeler), and since arriving in Colorado learning to explore the great outdoors.
Alan Hall, Intake & Access Coordinator
Alan joined the Neurosciences team in 2013 after working many years as a sales and marketing executive in the home building industry and as a licensed Independent Real Estate Broker. In 2011 he became a care provider for a parent for the second time; first his Father, who has long since passed, and now his Mother, both from neurological disorders. It began a shift in thinking and priorities for Alan which precipitated the change of careers. Diagnosed with a neurological disorder of his own 20 years ago, and learning of other relatives having had neurological issues, he decided he needed to know more, and do more to learn all that he could about these types of illnesses and how to better deal with the many complicated aspects that affect the family nucleus of those afflicted with these diseases. With these personal experiences he hopes to be able to bring, empathy, compassion, and a sense of caring to those families that are going through their own unique challenges in life. He enjoys traveling, making art, and spending time with his wife, son, daughter, and grandsons, especially at the cabin in the mountains!
Candace Ellman, MA, Business Services Professional
Candace joined the University of Colorado in April, 2016. Prior to joining the Neurology team, she worked at the Mother's Milk Bank as a production manager and at Children's Hospital Colorado as a Project Technician. Watching her mother and grandmother experience cognitive decline from dementia has inspired her to learn more about how we can prepare for the effects these illnesses have on individuals and families. Originally from Long Island, Candace has been a Denver resident since 1990. She received her BA from Oberlin College and her MA from the University of Denver. She plays the oboe in local community ensembles and enjoys spending time with her two children in the great outdoors.
Malenna Sumrall, PhD, Patient Care Partner Advocate
Malenna is a former caregiver for her husband Ray, a professor of Social Work, who passed away in 2015 after his battle with Parkinson’s Disease with Dementia. Upon moving to Colorado in 2014 he began seeing Dr. Benzi Kluger in the Neurology Supportive & Palliative Care Clinic – a very fortunate pairing for both her and her husband. During one of those visits Dr. Kluger asked Malenna to serve on his Patient & Caregiver Advisory Council for his research study examining the effectiveness of palliative care in the treatment of Parkinson’s. In that capacity she has assisted with the selection of measurement instruments, spoken to local Parkinson’s support groups to recruit volunteers, and she has helped evaluate interview transcripts. She has also participated in two international working group meetings focused on palliative care in Parkinson’s disease. She now serves as a Supportive Care Volunteer in the Neurology Supportive & Palliative Care Clinic and runs a monthly telesupport group for care partners of patients with neurological disorders. Malenna holds a B.S. in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Educational Research with an emphasis in Measurement Theory – both from the University of Alabama. She retired early from her faculty position in an educational research center at The University of Alabama at Birmingham to care for her husband. Her experience with her husband has made her passionate about serving the Parkinson’s community, especially care partners. She enjoys being with her family, particularly her grandchildren, attending symphony concerts, visiting and supporting The Wild Animal Sanctuary, hiking, and being the boss(?) of her pets – and last but not least, watching Alabama football!
Benzi M. Kluger MD, MS, Founder and Former Director
Dr. Kluger began the neuro-palliative care clinic in 2013 with an initial quality improvement grant entitled, “Improving Quality of Care, Outcomes and Cost in Neurologic Disease through an Interdisciplinary Outpatient Palliative Care Clinic”. This allowed the clinic to get up and running and led to many larger grants which focused on the role of palliative care in the management of Parkinson’s disease. Eventually he created a Section of Neuro-palliative care within the Department of Neurology to serve patients with all chronic neurologic diseases and this was the first of its kind in the nation. After serving at the University of Colorado since 2008, he relocated to the University of Rochester in January, 2020 where is currently a Professor of Neurology and Medicine.
Wendy Cernik RN, BSN Nurse, Founding & Honorary Member
Wendy Cernik, RN, BSN was a movement disorders nurse for the Neurology Department at UCH and retired in 2021 after a long and successful career. She was also the founding nurse for the palliative care team in the Neurology Department with past experience as a home hospice nurse/care manager. Her passion is palliative care, striving to find ways for the physical, spiritual, emotional, and home care needs of the patient and their family to be met.