Our Team


Sandra Boek Werness

Executive Director

Sandy personally experienced a common story of delayed and misdiagnosis of autoimmune disease. It took over 7 years for her daughter to be diagnosed with Celiac Disease, followed by another 11 years of continued excruciating pain, chronic fatigue, constantly recurring illnesses, and many other symptoms, until she was diagnosed with thyroid disease and POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia).  In the meantime, Sandy’s concerns and her daughter’s suffering were dismissed, and neurological, gastroenterological, and many other symptoms were ignored. Sandy and her daughter were told the symptoms either did not exist or were “psychological”; they were imagined, and even that Sandy was making her daughter ill.  The challenges of ignorance and misconceptions that they faced serve as a driver for Sandy’s actions to bring about change so that autoimmune disease will be properly diagnosed and treated, and that patients and their families will be afforded the educational and psychosocial support they need.

Sandy has worked full time most of her adult life; on Capitol Hill, in private law practice, and as Vice President of Northern Virginia Pathology, P.C. She is a graduate of Duke University and the law school of the College of William and Mary.  In 2013 she embarked upon her leadership of an existing nonprofit organization to create the Global Autoimmune Institute, which addresses the many pressing needs of the autoimmune disease and chronic illness community; patients, families, physicians, and other health care providers, and the public at large.


Alfreda Jones, M.D., OBGYN

Treasurer, Board of Directors

Freda is a double graduate of the University of North Carolina, earning her Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry, followed by her degree in medicine from the University of North Carolina Medical School, which she received in 1987 along with completing extensive coursework towards a Masters in Public Health. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at George Washington University in 1991. 

Freda is a Fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and has practiced Obstetrics and Gynecology in Northern Virginia for 28 years. She has held Associate Clinical Professorships at George Washington University and the Medical College of Virginia. She is an attending physician at INOVA Fairfax Hospital and HCA Reston Hospital. Freda is a member of the American Medical Society and the Northern Virginia Medical Society. She has a passionate interest in obstetrics and gynecology, partnering with her patients to ensure that they are well-educated in all aspects of their healthcare. She is devoted to furthering the progressive evolution of the practice of medicine.

Freda and her husband Bill Garcia (also an Obstetrician and Gynecologist) have four young adult children and live in McLean, Virginia. She enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, skiing, boating, and spending time with her friends and family. She looks forward to a time when she can take up additional graduate studies.

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Lukshmi Solos

Program Development Strategist

Before joining the GAI team, Lukshmi worked on a newly initiated program at St. Joseph’s/Candler hospitals to provide palliative care resources for patients living with certain progressive illnesses. 

Lukshmi is passionate about clinical and public health ethics, and earned her M.A. in Bioethics from King’s College London. She completed her undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. For her senior thesis, she studied the connection between advances in agricultural biotechnology and the increased prevalence of chronic illness and cancer on a global level.

Lukshmi is an experienced patient advocate and is excited to use her background and skill-set to help develop initiatives that drive the mission of the Global Autoimmune Institute forward.

Carolyn Serraino

Director of Research & Digital Media

While earning her B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Neuroscience, Carolyn worked in the Sheriff’s Office’s Background Investigations Unit. Though seemingly unrelated to her degree, her experience ultimately inspired her thesis project, which studied the assessment of deception utilizing pupillometry.

Her subsequent work experience, which included reviewing research articles for an academic journal, reminded Carolyn of her passion for the field of research. It sparked her desire to continue trying to find answers to the biggest enigma out there – what is going on in our own bodies. Her inquisitive nature and strong drive to always learn more and find ways to better others’ lives make her an excellent fit for the work being done at GAI.

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