Fellows honored for volunteerism

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Dr. Asfaw (in suit) and nurses with the first patients at the newly opened state-of-the-art Maternal Child Health Center in Hawassa, Ethiopia, 2011.

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Dr. Landström (center, in fatigues) in Afghanistan in 2010, with orthopaedic resident Abdul Ateef Ghafoor, MD.

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Dr. Laub with a patient with a congenital hand deformity, October 1998, in the preoperative clinic at Hospital Leonardo Martinez San Pedro Sula, Honduras (Dr. Leonard Furlow in background).

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Dr. Mitchell teaching casting for an Essential Surgical Skills workshop in Mwanza, Tanzania, May 2011.


The Board of Governors’ (B/G) Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup has announced the recipients of the 2013 American College of Surgeons (ACS)/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award and Surgical Volunteerism Awards. As in previous years, the Workgroup received exceptional nominations, reflecting the remarkable commitment of ACS Fellows to providing care to underserved populations.

The extraordinary contributions of the award recipients are summarized below and will be formally recognized at the annual B/G dinner Tuesday, October 8, during the 2013 Clinical Congress in Washington, DC. Clinical Congress attendees also are invited to hear the honorees speak at a Panel Session, Humanitarian Surgical Outreach at Home and Abroad: Reports of the 2013 Volunteerism and Humanitarian Award Winners, 9:45 am–1:00 pm, Monday, October 7, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Attendees will also have the opportunity to meet them and others dedicated to surgical volunteerism at a networking reception that evening at the Carnegie Library.

Surgical Humanitarian Award

The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Humanitarian Award recognizes Fellows who have dedicated a substantial portion of their careers to ensuring that underserved populations receive surgical care, and although this work may constitute a large part of their career, they have done so without expectation of commensurate compensation.

Donald R. Laub, Sr., MD, FACS, of Redwood City, CA, has been selected to receive the 2013 Surgical Humanitarian Award for his lifetime of service to the underserved in developing nations and in recognition of the fact that individuals and organizations around the world have emulated his model of surgical humanitarian outreach (see photo).

Dr. Laub graduated from Marquette University School of Medicine (now the Medical College of Wisconsin), Milwaukee, WI, and completed his postdoctoral training at Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, and Stanford University School of Medicine, CA. During his residency, Dr. Laub observed the impact that his mentor had on a 13-year-old boy who had traveled from Mexico for cleft lip and palate repair, thus sparking his passion for humanitarian reconstructive surgery. In 1969, as an assistant professor of surgery and chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Stanford, Dr. Laub founded Interplast—now ReSurge International—the first organization to take multidisciplinary teams to developing countries on short-term surgical trips. In so doing, Dr. Laub became a pioneer in the field of global humanitarian surgery.

Dr. Laub has completed 159 surgical trips and performed 1,500 cleft lip and palate operations. His legacy, however, extends far beyond the patients he has treated. With a mission dedicated to empowering local communities, ReSurge provides hands-on training for hundreds of local medical personnel each year through its surgical trips and visiting educator workshops. ReSurge has also partnered with local personnel to ensure year-round access to high-quality reconstructive surgery and now has 11 permanent surgical outreach programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. At these sites, 3,000 operations are performed annually, accounting for 80 percent of all ReSurge procedures. To date, ReSurge has performed 95,000 operations in 15 countries.

Since ReSurge’s founding, 58 independent university or foundation-based humanitarian surgical organizations worldwide have been established, including Interplast branches in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Florida, and West Virginia, as well as OneHeart World-Wide, IVUMed, the Cinterandes Foundation, and Operation Smile. At Stanford, Dr. Laub now teaches one of the few university undergraduate courses on international humanitarian surgery, preparing the next generation of humanitarians.

Dr. Laub has received numerous awards for his humanitarian work, including the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons’ 2002 Humanitarian of the Year Award, a 1986 Private Sector Initiatives award from President Ronald Reagan, the Medal of Merit from the President of Ecuador in 1987, Award of Honor from the President of Honduras in 1984, and recognition from the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa.

Surgical Volunteerism Award

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

Ingida Asfaw, MD, FACS, of Grosse Pointe, MI, will receive the Surgical Volunteerism Award for international outreach for his commitment to improving health care in Ethiopia (see photo).

Dr. Asfaw grew up in Ethiopia and at age 16 traveled to the U.S. for school with the promise of returning home to provide state-of-the-art health care in his country. He attended Indiana University Medical School, Indianapolis, and completed general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery residencies at Wayne State University and Detroit Medical Center, MI, followed by a two-month fellowship in cardiovascular surgery at the Texas Heart Institute, Houston.

After he completed his training, the political climate in Ethiopia prevented his return home for 28 years. In the interim, Dr. Asfaw arranged for Ethiopian citizens needing complex medical/surgical care to travel to Michigan and other states for pro-bono care, which he helped to fund.

In 1999, Dr. Asfaw founded the Ethiopian North American Health Professionals Association (ENAHPA), a not-for-profit organization charged with improving access to quality surgical and medical care in Ethiopia. Under his leadership, ENAHPA has had a far-reaching and lasting impact on the Ethiopian health care system through initiatives dedicated to sustainable development and capacity building.

In 2003, during their first mission in Ethiopia, Dr. Asfaw and his team performed the country’s first open-heart surgery, cardiac pacemaker insertion, and laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Since then, ENAHPA has conducted more than 40 missions to Ethiopia, performing nearly 3,000 procedures across all specialties. The organization has proved instrumental in improving Ethiopia’s medical and educational infrastructure, including the presentation of the first telemedicine conference in the nation, the establishment of surgical skills laboratories at Addis Ababa and Gondar Universities, development of an emergency medicine residency training program and first responder/allied health education at Addis Ababa University and St. Paul’s General Hospital, and the procurement of a rescue ambulance.

In 2004, ENAHPA, in collaboration with the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada, established community-centered holistic HIV care and implemented the first free major anti-retroviral drug treatment distribution in Ethiopia, which became a best practice. An outreach program for orphans with HIV was created in collaboration with an Ethiopian-based grassroots organization. ENAHPA partnered with the Clinton Foundation to create a pediatric HIV wing at ALERT Hospital in Addis Ababa and in 2006 broke ground on its Maternal Child Health Center (MCHC) in Hawassa. Inaugurated in 2011, this facility is now a primary level hospital managing high-risk births and complex medical/surgical patients.

Numerous Ethiopian physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals have been trained through ENAHPA’s education programs, including trainees participating in its traveling fellowship and observership programs in North America and Europe. ENAHPA continues to provide oversight to its initiatives by collaborating with Ethiopian health care officials while transferring much of the programmatic control to the local workforce.

Dr. Asfaw has been recognized with the Volvo For Life Award of 2006, commendation from the city of Detroit, and myriad other awards from organizations in North America and Ethiopia. Dr. Asfaw is a practicing cardiothoracic surgeon and clinical associate professor of surgery at Wayne State University School of Medicine, and is chief of medical staff at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland-Trinity Health, Pontiac, MI.

Jerone T. Landström, MD, FACS, of Tamuning, Guam, will receive the Surgical Volunteerism Award for military outreach in recognition of his contributions in the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Philippines, and Afghanistan (see photo).

Dr. Landström attributes his compassion to his turbulent childhood in the U.S. and Sweden. Born to Swedish parents, Dr. Landström was raised in Florida, New York, and Sweden in multiple foster homes often marked by profound abuse. He ran away from one such environment, and after graduating from high school, he set off on his own to work to pay for college. With remarkable fortitude and determination, Dr. Landström ultimately attended Mott Community College, Flint, MI, and later graduated summa cum laude from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his medical degree at Wayne State Medical School, Detroit, with the help of a full scholarship and stipend from the U.S. Public Health Service, which required service in a physician shortage area.

After a general surgery internship at St. John Hospital, Detroit, in 1982, Dr. Landström traveled to Chuuk State, a remote area in the Federated States of Micronesia, to fulfill his scholarship obligation. This four-year experience set the course for his career, as he provided primary care, general and gynecological surgery, anesthesia, and hand surgery as the sole surgeon. He later befriended a local semi-retired surgeon who would serve as his mentor. During this time, Dr. Landström founded the first civilian not-for-profit pharmacy on Weno Island, which provided antihelminthics and other medicines and wound care materials that were in short supply. After fulfilling his service, he returned to Michigan to complete general surgery residency at Providence Hospital and Medical Centers in Detroit and Southfield.

In 1990, Dr. Landström joined the U.S. Navy and served at the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam for three years while on active duty during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He volunteered for Operation Fiery Vigil to care for casualties of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in the Philippines, receiving a Certificate of Commendation for his efforts. He also spent two weeks of duty as the sole surgeon at Pohnpei State Hospital in Micronesia during a typhoon.

Dr. Landström completed a fellowship in hand and microsurgery at the Hand Center of Texas and Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and later returned to Guam to start private practice at the Pacific Hand Surgery Center. He remained a Navy reservist until 2010, when he volunteered for deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan as the sole surgeon at the Afghan National Military Hospital. Daily trips to the hospital required full body armor and an M4 rifle. He carried his 9mm pistol and a personal locator beacon in his pocket at all times, in case he was kidnapped—even as he performed and taught general, hand, and plastic surgery and intensive care to Afghan military physicians. Most notably, the reconstructive hand surgery training ensured sustainable care for patients with congenital and acquired pathology of the hand. After nine months, Dr. Landström was demobilized and returned to private practice on Guam as the only fellowship-trained, board-certified hand surgeon in the region.

Dr. Landström has also conducted multiple surgical missions to the Philippines: in 2004 to Pagansinan, and since 2008, yearly with Colorado-based International Surgical Missions to Northern Samar. In 2010, he co-founded the not-for-profit organization Pagasa (“hope” in Tagalog), which funds medical missions to impoverished areas of the Philippines.

Katrina B. Mitchell, MD, of New York, NY, will receive the Surgical Volunteerism Award for her outreach during residency and her contributions toward improving surgical care and education in Tanzania (see photo).

Dr. Mitchell is a general surgery resident at Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, NY. A native of Bakersfield, CA, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with summa cum laude in history from Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME, receiving an award for most outstanding honors thesis for her research on Native-American women’s health and the Indian Health Service. After graduation, she worked in a public health clinic in Philadelphia, PA, providing health care counseling to underserved women. She then completed her post-baccalaureate premedical studies at Bryn Mawr College, PA. At Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH, she was honored as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow and C. Everett Koop Scholar for her dedication to community service and development of a court-alternative program for teenagers with substance abuse disorders. In addition, she assisted a Costa Rican physician in assessing the need for improved emergency medical care for indigenous populations in Panama and Costa Rica.

During her general surgery residency, Dr. Mitchell has spent two years as a Weill Cornell Global Health Fellow at the Weill Medical College of Weill Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania. There, as a teaching assistant in the department of surgery, she helped create a surgical curriculum for medical students and ultimately raised funds and spearheaded the effort to establish at Weill Medical College the Canadian Network for International Surgery’s Essential Surgical Skills workshop.

While in Tanzania, Dr. Mitchell volunteered with the African Medical Education and Research Foundation (AMREF) Flying Doctors, traveling to remote villages with a Weill Bugando surgeon to provide surgical care to local patients. In addition, she served as a volunteer flight physician for AMREF’s continent-wide emergency air evacuation service. Outside of surgery, Dr. Mitchell collected data for a study on female urogenital schistosomiasis in the Lake Zone region, and worked with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to advocate for increased government funding to address nodding syndrome in northern Uganda. For these efforts, Dr. Mitchell was awarded the inaugural Pioneers in Diversity award from Weill Cornell Medical College in 2011.

From 2011 to 2012, Dr. Mitchell collaborated with Weill Bugando surgical partners, the ELMA Foundation, and the Tanzania Ministry of Health to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a pediatric burn unit for the northwestern Tanzania Lake Zone region. Dr. Mitchell ultimately secured a $191,000 grant from the ELMA Foundation for her plan for burn unit development in a resource-limited environment. It will be the first and only multidisciplinary burn unit to serve the 15-million population Lake Zone region and represents a significant advancement in specialized surgical care for the location.

In New York, Dr. Mitchell has been active in the Park Avenue Christian Church’s outreach group and is collaborating with other members to establish a church partnership in Haiti and provide support to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. After graduation, Dr. Mitchell intends to practice surgery in an underserved area and continue her involvement with global surgery.

Details on the Clinical Congress events involving these award recipients will be published in the Program Book and on the Operation Giving Back website.

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