Five surgeons receive ACS/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Awards

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Last night, five surgeons received the 2019 American College of Surgeons (ACS)/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Awards and Surgical Volunteerism Awards in recognition of their selfless efforts as volunteer surgeons who provide care to medically underserved patients.

The extraordinary contributions of these five award recipients were recognized at the ACS Clinical Congress 2019 during the annual Board of Governors reception and dinner. The awards are determined by the ACS Board of Governors Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup and are administered through the ACS Operation Giving Back program.

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award recognizes Fellows who have dedicated much of their careers to ensuring that underserved populations have access to surgical care and have done so without expecting commensurate compensation. This year, humanitarian awards were granted to two surgeons.

Donald R. Meier, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from El Paso, Texas, received a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his decades of surgical training and education service around the world, primarily in West Africa.

After completing his surgical residency at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, and serving for two years in the U.S. Army, in 1982 Dr. Meier and his family joined Dr. Meier's UT Southwestern colleague John Tarpley, MD, FACS, FWACS, at the Baptist Medical Centre, Ogbomosho, Nigeria.

Alongside Dr. Tarpley, he worked as a true general surgeon, performing urology, otorhinolaryngology, neurological, pediatric, plastic, and orthopaedic surgical procedures. He worked as a practicing surgeon and physician in this low-resource setting until 1999, periodically returning to the U.S. to rejoin faculty at UT Southwestern, but his most lasting accomplishments came through educating generations of African residents and faculty to help establish a self-sustaining general surgery training program, particularly in Nigeria.

During his 17 years in Nigeria, Dr. Meier started a general surgery residency program, teaching general medical practice residents and medical students to provide quality surgery with limited resources. Dr. Meier was a key surgeon working with the Nigerian College of General Medical Practice, a group created to address the needs of Nigerians in rural areas where access to care is limited, to improve surgical capacity and care in those settings.

After returning to the U.S. and training in pediatric surgery, Dr. Meier completed many short-term mission trips to resource-poor areas such as Kosovo, Albania, Afghanistan, and Haiti, as well as other African nations, including Cameroon and Ethiopia.

In 2003, Dr. Meier moved to El Paso, Texas, which at the time had no pediatric surgeons, to establish pediatric surgical services. For several years after his arrival in El Paso, he was the only pediatric surgeon in a metropolitan area that served more than 1 million people. Dr. Meier has since participated in establishing a local medical school and children's hospital.

Devendra S. Saksena, MBBS, FACS, a cardiothoracic surgeon in Mumbai, India, will receive a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his nearly 50 years of service in establishing cardiothoracic surgery services in India and throughout remote areas of Africa.

After completing his cardiac surgery training in the U.S. in 1971, Dr. Saksena returned to his native India and helped to launch cardiac surgery services in several underserved areas in the country.

After being given a small consulting room and one operating room slot at Bombay Hospital, Mumbai, at the recommendation of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Dr. Saksena started the program that would become the Bombay Hospital Cardiac Surgery Center, the city's first major cardiac center.

It became a recognized center of excellence, and after Dr. Saksena started the Bombay Medical Aid Foundation in 1979, the hospital provided surgery to medically indigent patients at no charge.

Some of Dr. Saksena's most impactful work has taken place in Mauritius, a remote African island nation of approximately 1.3 million people, hundreds of miles from the coast of Madagascar, leaving patients there without access to a developed medical center.

Because the cost of transporting patients was prohibitive, in 1986 Dr. Saksena began performing cardiac operations in a camp setting, where he performed more than 200 operations with a less than 2 percent mortality rate. The people of the island valued Dr. Saksena's services to such a degree that, in absence of a government plan, they began to construct a heart center.

Eventually the government funded the effort and completed the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam National Hospital, marking the first known instance where the foundation for a heart center was literally laid by local volunteers.

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Volunteerism Award recognizes ACS Fellows and members who are committed to giving back to society through significant contributions to surgical care as volunteers. This year, volunteerism awards were granted to three surgeons.

Steven Bolton, MD, FACS, a general surgeon in Pontiac, Mich., will receive the Domestic Surgical Volunteerism Award for his efforts over nearly three decades to initiate and operate a medical clinic for underserved residents in Pontiac, Mich.

Although Pontiac is the county seat of relatively affluent Oakland County, the city, with a population of approximately 60,000, is home to many low-income people. After General Motors closed manufacturing plants in the city and the primary source of work disappeared, it became increasingly necessary for the city's residents to have access to medical care that could attend to their needs without adding more financial burden. Dr. Bolton joined forces with St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital to open Mercy Place Clinic.

Mercy Place is a comprehensive patient care clinic that resembles a large, well-staffed, well-equipped physician's office, and also serves as an urgent care center. Dr. Bolton started the clinic with two examining rooms in Pontiac's St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church Annex, which was staffed by only a nurse and a volunteer physician.

After 10 years of helping poor patients and with increasing demand, Mercy Place moved to a modern 6,000 square foot medical center with a parallel increase in permanent staff. Mercy Place provides adult health care services, including surgical evaluation, case management, pharmacy, women's health, health screenings, pregnancy testing, wellness exams and physicals, disease prevention, ophthalmology and eyeglasses, and chronic disease management.

In addition to cofounding Mercy Place, Dr. Bolton has participated in other charitable related endeavors, including obtaining, packaging, and delivering leftover food from the physicians' dining room at St. Joseph to a local shelter, the Grace Center of Hope.

Richard W. Furman, MD, FACS, a cardiothoracic surgeon from Boone, N.C., will receive the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his long career of providing medical care to underserved patients around the world and for cofounding World Medical Mission (WMM).

After beginning his medical missionary work with a trip to India in 1977 to teach pacemaker insertion to local medical workers, that same year Dr. Furman and his brother, Lowell B. Furman, MD, FACS, a 2003 recipient of the ACS Surgical Volunteerism Award, worked with Samaritan's Purse International Relief to create WMM and fill a global medical need for short-term, volunteer assignments in low-income settings.

In its second year, WMM sent seven physicians to areas of need; in its third, it sent 18; more than 40 years later, WMM sends approximately 600 volunteer medical professionals annually to underserved areas and recently sent its 10,000th volunteer.

Throughout his time with the WMM, Dr. Furman has been active in visiting areas that require surgical or medical attention as the result of a natural disaster or war. During the Battle of Mogadishu, Somalia (also known as Blackhawk Down), he set up emergency care for wounds.

He and other surgeons traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, a month after the Rwandan genocide because an entire hospital had been routed. He provided surgical care after the 2010 Haitian earthquake, 2015 Nepal earthquake, and 2016 Ecuador earthquake, and he operated in an emergency field hospital outside of Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, treating both enemy combatants and Iraqi citizens.

Dr. Furman has been a long-time advocate for sending U.S. medical aid to countries that need it most. He regularly traveled to Africa with former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, MD, FACS (R-TN), to hospitals in low-income countries to assess their needs, which eventually led President George W. Bush to implement a program to provide more than $15 billion in aid to 15 countries.

Beyond this indirect influence, Dr. Furman has helped to secure medical resources for WMM's physicians and hospitals; in the last decade, the organization has sent more than 585 20-foot containers of equipment and supplies, valued in excess of $46 million, to these locations.

Alison Smith, MD, a general surgery resident at Tulane University, New Orleans, La., will receive the Resident Volunteerism Award for the dedication she has shown in her early career to provide medical service to the people of Haiti.

Dr. Smith has an extensive history as both a domestic and international volunteer, starting as a teenager and continuing in her time as a medical student and resident, including serving as a community volunteer in Minas de Oro, Honduras, in 2005; a medical student volunteer at Ozanam Inn Homeless Shelter, New Orleans, from 2007 to 2014; and a trauma/cardiopulmonary resuscitation volunteer in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2014.

Among her most impactful volunteerism efforts have been in Haiti, where she first traveled in 2008 to assist in a medical clinic. Dr. Smith's efforts grew precipitously in 2010 after the massive earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people and devastated Haiti's already fragile infrastructure.

In the deadly cholera outbreak that followed the earthquake in November 2010, Dr. Smith was involved in developing and implementing a program in Jacsonville, Haiti, to help prevent the disease's spread. More than 9,000 people across the country died, but Jacsonville, which is located in the Haiti's Central Plateau and is the poorest region of the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, had only one death.

Following these efforts, Dr. Smith and several other medical student volunteers from Tulane founded Sante Total, a not-for-profit organization with the goal of building a clinic in Jacsonville that will serve as a permanent access point to health care for the local population. With support from the Rotary Club in Ellicott City, MD, and private donors, the clinic is scheduled for completion in 2020.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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