Dr. Kenneth Polonsky<BR>Dean of the Prtizer School of Medicine at the U. of C.

Personal: Lives near Millenium Park with wife, Lydia Polonsky, and three children, Tammy, Jonathan and Daniel. He has six grandchildren.

Hobbies: Opera, books, movies, running, research.

A family of immigrants: All of Kenneth's and Lydia's siblings, and Kenneth's parents, immigrated to the U.S. after them.

You might be surprised to know: He doesn't use a briefcase. Instead, he carries around his running clothes in reusable grocery bags filled with his running clothes, even to board meetings.

Read the full profile of Kenneth Polonsky >> (February 11, 2013)

Nearly every morning, before 7 a.m., Dr. Kenneth Polonsky is dropped off near the Lakefront Trail on Chicago's South Side, a few steps from Lake Michigan.

He carries no briefcase, wears no suit and has no cup of coffee, the standard trappings of his executive contemporaries.

Instead — at least in the winter — he's covered in high-tech running gear, leaving only a small patch of skin around his eyes exposed to the weather. The outfit, he muses, must raise suspicions among cab drivers.

"It's 6:30 in the morning, it's dark and can be, maybe, 10 degrees outside," he says. "When I ask the driver to drop me by the side of (the road), they must think, 'What's going on with this guy? There's something funny here.'"

Twelve months a year, through heat waves, cold snaps, rain, sleet and snow, the top official at University of Chicago Medicine starts most mornings running 5 miles to work.

It's a routine that reflects lessons learned from decades of studying diabetes and treating patients with the disease and one he pairs with watching his diet "like a hawk." The daily run also is a vehicle for the cerebral 62-year-old M.D. to contemplate the challenges that lie ahead.

There are many, starting with the massive transformation of the way medical care is paid for and delivered as part of President Barack Obama's 2010 health care overhaul.

Polonsky also faces cuts to research funding that flows to the Pritzker School of Medicine through the National Institutes of Health and growing financial pressure from Illinois' Medicaid program, the federal-state health insurance program that serves a substantial percentage of the hospital's South Side patients.

All this while christening and trying to pay for a $700 million, 1.2 million-square-foot new hospital, a 10-story, boxy, modernist structure that towers above a campus better known for its ubiquitous, early-20th-century red-roofed Gothic buildings.

The hospital, dubbed the Center for Care and Discovery in the absence of a donor willing to lay down $50 million for naming rights, is scheduled to open Saturday.

With 240 private patient rooms, 28 supersize operating rooms and seven advanced imaging rooms, the hospital will specialize in neuroscience and the treatment of cancer and gastrointestinal diseases.

But even what is supposed to be a celebratory, clink-the-glasses moment for Polonsky and the university has been sullied by controversy.

An estimated 50 protesters entered the hospital on a Sunday afternoon in January, holding placards and using a megaphone to voice their displeasure that such a costly facility was not outfitted with a trauma unit.

University police with batons were videotaped shoving protesters to the ground. Four were arrested in the melee.

Polonsky said the system is re-evaluating its role in trauma care, "a legitimate question for discussion and debate and one we are looking at again in detail."

Managing this issue will be a major test of Polonsky's leadership in 2013 and will occur against the backdrop of the largest upheaval to the health care industry in a generation.

"We're in a really vulnerable situation at the moment; there's no question about it," Polonsky said of the shift under way in health care. "But that's one of the reasons I'm interested in my job. I believe I can impact a series of big issues."

Many people, he said, go through life wondering whether what they're doing is worthwhile or significant in the big picture of things.

"I'm very fortunate to never, ever have had that problem," Polonsky said.