By Contributing Writer - January 01, 0001
When Dr. Patrick Hwu left Texas for Florida, he bid adieu to many friends including the local band he played in for years. It wasn’t his first musical gig — Hwu has been playing in bands for more than 30 years. It’s become a meaningful creative outlet for him while dealing with a high-pressure career.
Shortly after Hwu arrived in Tampa, the new Moffitt Cancer Center CEO began recruiting fellow team members to form a new band: The ReMissions. Named in honor of the one thing that every cancer patient hopes for — their disease to be in remission — these musical team members want their positive message to highlight the great work Moffitt is doing to fight cancer.
“Being in a band is really about teamwork,” said Hwu. “As opposed to being a solo performer, the role in a band isn’t to just play, but to hear and listen to everyone else. That’s what we do here that makes Moffitt so special. We’re a team. We listen to each other, work together and make harmony together.”
Whether playing an intimate rooftop concert or performing for a crowd of patients and staff, The ReMissions are ready to share their sound with the world.
Meet The ReMissions
Dr. Dana Ataya, Breast Radiologist, Vocals
- Learned piano at age 5, acoustic guitar at 12, currently learning harmonica
- A songwriter/composer, she recorded an album of original tracks while in medical school
- Favorite vocalists range from Etta James to Adele
Music was a huge part of Ataya’s family life growing up. As a child, she sang along with her maternal grandmother who was also a talented vocalist. Taking note of those natural gifts, Ataya’s mother introduced her to piano at age 5. She’s been playing ever since.
Today, music plays a therapeutic role in Ataya’s day job as a breast radiologist. Specially trained in interpreting mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs of breast tissue, Ataya is also the expert called upon to perform additional image-guided tests when cancer is suspected. “One of the scariest things is facing the unknown with the knowledge — this could be breast cancer,” noted Ataya. She routinely asks her patients if they have a favorite type of music they’d like to hear in the background during biopsies. “And overwhelmingly, the answer is absolutely yes,” said Ataya. With help from her ultrasound technician “deejays,” Ataya has been able to accommodate some pretty diverse musical tastes — even bamboo flute relaxation tracks. And they’ve found it really does have an impact.
“Music, spirituality, that human connection to what makes us individuals is something that I think is so important to share with my patients when I’m caring for them,” said Ataya. And what those patients share with her sometimes gets poured back into Ataya’s music. “So many of the songs I’ve been writing have been inspired by something my patients will confide in me or just say.” Look for The ReMissions to perform some of those inspired originals soon.
Follow her on Twitter: @DanaAtayaMD
Dr. Patrick Hwu, President and CEO, Medical Oncologist, Researcher, Keyboard
- Plays keyboard, piano, guitar and trumpet
- Favorite song to jam to: “Stormy Monday,” The Allman Brothers Band’s version
- Favorite concert: Queen
Raised by parents who loved classical music and musicals, Hwu grew up listening to their vast record collection. He began formal piano lessons in third grade but started playing rock ’n’ roll and blues in high school. That’s also when he made his first trip to Tampa, playing trumpet with his high school marching band in the 1981 Gasparilla Parade.
Since moving to Tampa 18 months ago as Moffitt’s president and CEO, Hwu has spent his days immersing himself in the culture of the cancer center. He’s hosted more than 40 listening tours with various departments, learning about the organization and engaging in meaningful conversation with team members and leaders to develop priorities for the years to come. His leadership helped Moffitt to survive — and thrive — through the COVID-19 pandemic by putting patients first with more than 15,000 individuals vaccinated since COVID vaccines became available in December 2020, a 5,000% increase in virtual visits and our first curbside clinic offering select services to patients in their vehicles at the McKinley Campus.
He’s kept his eye on expanding Moffitt, both physically, with a new location in Wesley Chapel, a new expansion hospital under construction and plans to develop a 775-acre parcel in Pasco County; as well as reputationally, with his vision of making Moffitt a world-leader in cell therapies for cancer treatment. It’s a goal guided by his work as an internationally recognized tumor immunologist, pioneering research and clinical efforts to better understand the interactions between tumors and the immune system. Hwu’s research efforts focus on vaccines, adoptive T-cell therapies and immune resistance.
Orchestrating the efforts of Florida’s top-ranked National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center along with his own research only adds to Hwu’s appreciation for playing in a band. “It nourishes your creative side, inspires and enhances resiliency,” said Hwu. “Our No. 1 rule for The ReMissions is to have fun!”
Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickHwuMD
Jeff Leighton, Registered Nurse, Intensive Care Unit, Bass
- Plays bass and guitar
- Has been playing in bands for 45 years
- Favorite bass players: Stanley Clarke and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin)
Leighton remembers watching “American Bandstand” with his mother every afternoon when he was a kid growing up in Detroit. He also credits Detroit radio for igniting his passions for all types of music, especially blues, R&B, Motown and soul. Like many bass players, he seems unflappable onstage. “My favorite skill is that I keep my cool when everybody else is losing theirs,” he said.
That also helps in his role at Moffitt as a nurse on the Code Blue team for the McKinley Campus. “To do phase 1 clinical research (drug trials) at McKinley, we have to have a dedicated code team and that’s who I am,” Leighton explained. In addition to responding to all emergencies, he helps with screenings, starts IVs and also covers shifts in the ICU on Moffitt’s Magnolia campus. He came to the cancer center 13 years ago with two decades of critical care experience under his belt, working in emergency centers, ICUs and critical care units for open heart and neurosurgical patients.
“Thirty years of experience will give you a lot of knowledge, so I just try to pass on what I know to the newer people. And in the meantime, I make sure that everyone stabilizes on my watch.”
Leighton admits to a bit of nervousness when his email to Hwu about joining the new band garnered an invitation to band practice and a list of songs to learn. “One of the songs they wanted to do is Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ That might as well be Beethoven! I was like, you’re kidding, right?” (Not if you know Hwu’s favorite musicians!)
“There is no joy in the world like making music,” Leighton said. “Running a code is great when things turn out well. And I do get a lot of satisfaction out of my job. But playing music is a whole ’nother realm. It amazes me how a group of people can make magic out of thin air.”
Follow him on Twitter: @JeffLeightonRN
Dr. James Mulé, Researcher, Associate Center Director of Translational Science, Guitar
- Plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar and the lute — all solely by ear
- Has a collection of 29 guitars
- Favorite jam: Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page on “Kashmir”
Mulé was introduced to music at a very young age, spending Sundays with his grandfather at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Years later, he wound up listening to a different set of great artists: an eclectic mix of punk, rock and folk bands at the famous music club CBGB.
When it comes to research, Mulé is a recognized “great.” He’s been designated a Master of Immunology by the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal Cancer Immunology Research for his research and clinical trial contributions to cancer immunotherapy, particularly in solid tumors.
In his role as Moffitt’s associate center director of Translational Science, Mulé oversees four transdisciplinary Centers of Excellence, the Cell Therapies Facility, as well as the Office of Innovation and Industry Alliances. In short, he’s in charge of encouraging laboratory-based research gets translated into viable treatments and prevention strategies for cancer patients’ benefit. Fostering a collaborative environment among laboratory scientists and physicians is essential to this work.
Funny, then, that it took so long to form a musical collaboration with his longtime friend Hwu. The two met early in their careers at the National Cancer Institute, talking music almost as much as research. “We’ve always kept in touch about music,” said Mulé. “Every time I would get a new guitar, I’d send him a picture of it to get his thoughts.”
Now that Hwu has joined Mulé at Moffitt, the two can finally jam regularly through The ReMissions. But it’s still a challenge for Mulé, who plays solely by ear. “Patrick (Hwu) is so good on the piano/keyboard and reads music so well,” he explained, “but whenever he changes the key of a song, I joke and say just play it and I’ll figure it out!”
Mulé says playing music is good for the soul because it challenges and relaxes him.
Follow him on Twitter: @DrJamesMule
Ron Zalva, Security, Drums
- Plays drums, conga drums and timbales
- Loves jazz, rock, blues, soul and Latin music
- Favorite drummer: Buddy Rich
When he first started playing at age 5, Zalva fell in love with the drums and has been hooked ever since. By age 12, he already had his own band, The Shantelles. That’s him gigging out at the Palma Ceia Country Club in the photo. Playing in bands throughout central Florida has been a huge part of his life, but never his career.
Zalva spent 27 years with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a beat cop and a detective, much of it patrolling the Town ’N’ Country area near Moffitt. After two years of retirement, he needed something to keep him busy. His oldest brother, who’d worked at Moffitt, suggested it might be a good fit. The family already had their own cancer story. Ron was another brother’s donor for a bone marrow transplant in 1980 before Moffitt even opened. For the past six years, he’s been patrolling Moffitt’s multiple campuses, doing whatever it takes to help patients, families and staff feel safe and secure.
The job keeps him moving, which is partly why Hwu had to track him down to offer a spot in The ReMissions. Another Moffitt security officer had mentioned Zalva’s many bands and love of the drums to Hwu, but it took a couple of tries before Hwu connected with him. “I thought I’d done something wrong!” Zalva joked. “But he’s a very nice man, very down to earth.”
“I’ve never been in a smarter band in my life,” said Zalva. “They’re brilliant people. It’s amazing how they love to play, especially Dr. Hwu.” As for Zalva, he still plays for relaxation every day and even has his own studio at home.
Zalva believes that music feeds the soul and says his favorite quote is “Music is what feelings sound like.”
Follow him on Twitter: @RonnyZ85728502