SIOUX CITY | For years, people in Sioux City could instantly recognize Linda Kalin in traffic thanks to her custom “Mrs. Yuk” vanity license plates.
The plates were a play on Mr. Yuk, the green-faced mascot that became the de-facto national mascot for poison control centers.
Adopting the moniker Mrs. Yuk is just one of the ways Kalin shows her dedication to the Sioux City-based Iowa Poison Control Center, a 24-hour operation that provides callers with immediate advice on how to handle poison emergencies and where she serves as executive director.
The 60-year-old’s commitment to the Iowa Poison Control Center has not gone unnoticed. On Tuesday, she will be one of three people recognized as a 2017 Iowa Public Health Hero.
The annual awards recognize exceptional efforts by individuals from diverse career paths who have worked to improve health and wellness throughout Iowa, according to the University of Iowa College of Public Health, which presents the awards.
Award recipients are nominated by their peers in the Iowa public health practice community.
This type of recognition shouldn’t come as a surprise to Kalin, a veteran health care official who helped found the statewide Poison Control Center.
For decades prior to her involvement, most of Iowa’s hospitals handled toxin related calls individually.
A Twin Cities native, Kalin arrived in Sioux City in 1979 to be with her husband, Bruce Kalin, the third-generation owner of Sioux City-based Kalins Indoor Comfort. The two met as undergraduates at the University of Colorado in Boulder. She later transferred to the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota to finish up her bachelor’s of science in chemistry.
In Sioux City, Linda Kalin took an emergency room position at what is today UnityPoint-St. Luke’s. As an ER nurse at the Sioux City hospital, she took more than her fair share of calls from people overdosing on drugs or parents concerned about something their child accidentally ingested they shouldn't have.
“We only had a few a day,” she said.
Despite the hectic nature of such calls, Kalin enjoyed the adrenaline rush they provided and being able to help people. After encouragement from a doctor she worked with, Kalin attended a toxicology conference at her own expense and became more enamored with the process.
“ER was a perfect fit for me, but I happened to love what all of that entailed and enjoyed all the science behind and the research and the education and the treatment behind all the diseases caused by drugs and toxins and so on,” she said of toxicology.
Kalin and other staff members at St. Luke’s poison control center soon began to specialize in toxicology. In 1989, she became the first Iowan to become a certified specialist in poison information through the American Association of Poison Control Centers. She later joined the organization's board of directors.
“We were positioned to grow that poison center and with tremendous help and support from St. Luke’s, we grew into being the poison center for a good part of the state at that time,” she said.
In 2000, the St. Luke’s center consolidated with the one being run by the University of Iowa to form the Iowa Poison Control Center headquartered in Sioux City.
Kalin has led the organization of 22 staff members made up of consultants, doctors, nurses and more as its executive director since its inception.
“It worked wonderfully,” she said. “It has a lot of what I loved about the emergency department, which was a very fast paced (environment), kind of noisy and stimulus coming from every direction.
“I’m a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie and I love not knowing what’s rolling in next and the ER and poison center are very similar there. Calls come in, you have to adapt quickly and you have to make decisions fairly quickly so I found my niche.”
Being honored alongside Kalin as 2017’s Iowa Public Health Heroes are Julie Stephens of Cedar Rapids, public health emergency preparedness and disaster recovery specialist at Linn County Public Health; and Denise Wheeler of Des Moines, family planning coordinator and Title X director at the Iowa Department of Public Health.
In a release, College of Public Health Interim Dean Keith Mueller commended all three public health workers for their dedication to improving the health and well-being of all Iowans.
“Their work makes the state stronger in emergency preparedness efforts, family planning education and services, and poisoning prevention and control, including responding to the growing opioid crisis,” he said.