USAMMDA's Williams Pulls Double Duty in Tackling COVID-19
This article represents the latest in a series of personal interest stories designed to spotlight notable people, stories and achievements across the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command. If you would like to recommend a specific Soldier or civilian employee for this series, please contact Ramin A. Khalili, USAMRDC Public Affairs Office Writer, at firstname.lastname@example.org
For Lola Williams, success starts with the simplest of recipes: take equal parts dedication and talent, then stir with a long-term plan – after all, as the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race. While she's only been at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command's U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity since late 2019, she's been working at Fort Detrick since well before that time; which itself is a testament to gradual, eventual achievement.
Then came her appointment to the national Federal COVID Response team. And that's when that whole 'slow and steady' recipe went right out the window.
"In the beginning, it was definitely a sprint," says Williams, who was working as a program manager at USAMMDA's Warfighter Protection and Acute Care Management Program Office when she got pulled onto the FCR team (formerly known as "Operation Warp Speed") last year near the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic. "We were all working twelve hours days, thirteen hour days, we were working on the weekends – we were all kind of grouchy."
Turns out that sometimes a stark change in direction – adding a 'new ingredient' to the mix, if you will – can pay substantial dividends for both yourself and, in Williams' case, the country as well. It is, of course, the latter of which she's most proud. After initially being installed as a program manager on FCR's Therapeutics and Treatment Group, Williams was assigned to work on the then-burgeoning convalescent plasma (or, CCP) effort – a therapy which takes blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 and infuses it into patients with active infections. In August of 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an Emergency Authorization Approval for CCP use – a big win for Williams and the FCR team – and in just the past calendar year alone, more than 700 thousand units of CCP have been collected and distributed across the U.S.
"We are definitely saving lives and that's a mission that is very near and dear to me," says Williams of the FCR's sprawling efforts. "Being part of Federal COVID Response, being two levels away from General [Gustave] Perna – being three-to-four levels away from the White House, really – it is pretty exciting."
It's a level of excitement she likely didn't expect when she arrived at Fort Detrick back in 2013. Back then, she was fresh from the corporate sector – the proud owner of a pair of Masters degrees (an MBA and a Masters in Science and Biotechnology, if you're counting) with a background in biology – when she settled into a contracting position with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense, a frequent USAMRDC collaborator. She became a civilian employee in 2015 and then, in September 2019, became a program manager at USAMMDA's Warfighter Protection and Acute Care Management Program Office – a position which she currently juggles along with her bustling FCR schedule. To hear Williams tell it, those twin commitments – despite the grueling schedule – have made for a doubly-powerful impact.
"On the USAMMDA side, we help develop products that help save our Warfighters on the battlefield," she says, "and so right now I'm able translate that expertise in helping to save people's lives period."
"[Lola] was requested by name to support the Federal Response team […] due to her 'can do' attitude and superb product management experience," says USAMRDC Principal Assistant for Acquisition Dawn Rosarius, who invited Williams onto the FCR team personally following that aforementioned recommendation. "Lola is leading the way for Army medical product managers and we look forward to her full-time return to MRDC; I expect great things for her future within DOD and Army acquisition!"
For now, the path for Williams – and, hopefully, the general health of the country at-large – becomes a little clearer. She's currently working as the program manager for a 150 million dollar initiative announced at the White House level designed to expand a new type of COVID-19 treatment (one involving monoclonal antibodies) into underserved and high-risk communities across the nation. This as a variety of coronavirus vaccines become available on a more widespread basis to more and more of the country's population. Indeed, while the pace may have slowed down over the past few months – "It still kind of ebbs and flows," says Williams – the returns are just starting to roll in.
"Seeing the stories and testimonials of the people who took different treatments and it saved their life – even if it's one person – that's one less funeral that someone had to attend," says Williams. "That's definitely been rewarding and that's why I do the things that I do."
For the foreseeable future then, Williams will still be moving at a faster clip than most – up early, up late, and fielding calls on the weekends – but perhaps now she is more comfortable riding the unpredictable wave of the pandemic better than before. If so, then she'll need to make an addendum to that trusty 'recipe for success' of hers; sometimes the most satisfying results are the ones you never planned for in the first place.
"Now we're really starting to see the fruits of our labor," says Williams. "And all the sacrifices that we've made and the work we've put in – it's definitely been worth it."