You might say the fleur-de-lis is in her DNA.
That’s because Patricia Dickson, M.D., the new chief of the division of medical genetics and genomics at Washington University, grew up in New Orleans. Her grandfather had settled his family in New Orleans in the 1960’s after moving from Texas, Havana, and Los Angeles during his career in the oil business. Her parents met at Behrman High on the city’s West Bank. Young Dr. Dickson went to Isidore Newman School.
A self-proclaimed “nerd,” Dickson’s high school activities at Newman consisted of drama, chorus, Latin club, and the debate team. She was city champion in Lincoln-Douglas Debate, in which competitors argue each side of a philosophical question. In L-D, as it’s called, she became somewhat obsessed with topics of morality, truth, and the concept of “goodness.” Those passions led her to the University of Chicago. There, in the dusty stone halls of Burton-Judson courts, something happened that would forever change her life: she met her husband, Peter.
Peter was from California. After the pair graduated, he followed her to Columbia University in New York, where she attended medical school and he obtained his master’s degree in public administration. Then, they moved out west to his home state. She took a faculty job at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, a Los Angeles County hospital affiliated with UCLA and the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute. They enjoyed sunshine, beach runs, mountain hikes, and amusement parks. But the fleur-de-lis still beckoned.
“I was looking for a house in Torrance when I found one with fleurs-de-lis on the glass cabinet doors of the kitchen,” Dickson recalls. They bought the house. Perhaps it brought good luck. Dickson’s research in the genetic disease, mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) was wildly successful, developing novel therapies and bringing some to clinical trials. Now, she aims to bring that same commitment to the people of Missouri.
She was recruited, in part, to help realize Washington University’s Precision Medicine initiative, in particular the treatment of genetic disease – disease caused by harmful changes in a person’s DNA. “Dr. Silverman and Dean Perlmutter understand that Precision Medicine isn’t just about collecting information about patients. It’s about using that information to provide personalized care,” Dickson relates. The concept excited her, and after nineteen years in southern California she signed on to join the team. She and Peter moved with their two daughters to St. Louis, where they are finding greener scenery, more space, and a caring, neighborly community they are thrilled to join. And plenty of fleurs-de-lis.