Fellows honored for volunteerism

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Dr. Brown performing cataract surgery, Zimbabwe, 1989.

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Dr. Brown with a patient, post-op, Philippines, 1983.

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Dr. Sakran with children in Butare, Rwanda.

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Dr. Sakran showing a clinical officer how to perform a split thickness skin graft in Embangweni, Malawi.

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Dr. Bach examining a young boy with abdominal pain.

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Dr. Bach assisting Nicaraguan surgeon Dr. Manuel Silas.

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Leckman meets with a patient in his office

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Dr. Leckman with the staff of the Health Access Project of Salt Lake City.

The Board of Governors’ (B/G) Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup has announced the recipients of the 2014 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 in this article and will be formally recognized at the 2014 Clinical Congress in San Francisco, CA, during the annual B/G reception and dinner, starting at 7:00 pm Tuesday, October 28, at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. 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 2014 Volunteerism and Humanitarian Award Winners, Monday, October 27, 9:45 am to 1:00 pm, at the Moscone Center.

Surgical Humanitarian Award

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.

Harry S. Brown, MD, FACS, an ophthalmologist from Santa Barbara, CA, will receive the Surgical Humanitarian Award for starting an international health care organization dedicated to restoring sight and preventing blindness in disadvantaged individuals.

Dr. Brown first became concerned with the issue of blindness in developing nations—home to 90 percent of the people who have the condition—as a resident at the Jules Stein Eye Institute, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He spent a year abroad working with ophthalmologists in various countries and recognized the need to develop a means of connecting the global pool of eye surgeons who had the requisite skills, desire, and tools to serve these patients, but lacked the time to participate in lengthy clinics and maintain their regular practices. Dr. Brown founded Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International in 1974. The organization connects volunteer surgeons with colleagues in low-income countries to conduct short-term surgical clinics where sight-restoring operations are performed. Through this program, physicians are able to participate periodically throughout their professional lifetime.

Dr. Brown has made more than 50 surgical trips to more than 30 developing countries. On these trips, he and the volunteers use educational seminars and skills exchange programs to teach and train local eye surgeons in ophthalmic techniques. In return, local surgeons expose visiting professionals to surgical techniques and advanced ocular diseases seldom seen in their home clinics. Supplies used to perform the operations are donated to SEE International by major ophthalmic and surgical supply companies. Members of visiting surgical teams travel at their own expense to low-income countries, while the host country provides in-country transportation, food, and lodging for the four- to five-day surgery clinics.

SEE International, headquartered in Santa Barbara, CA, recruits, organizes, and deploys 130 to 140 small surgical eye teams every year to sight-restoring eye clinics in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Pan-Pacific area, and the Caribbean. Those teams perform 15,000 to 20,000 procedures annually.

Since Dr. Brown founded SEE International 40 years ago, the organization has screened approximately 3.2 million individuals, and more than 400,000 people worldwide have received surgical care through a global volunteer network of more than 600 ophthalmic surgeons, registered nurses, and technicians from 75 countries.

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.

Joseph V. Sakran, MD, MPH, a general surgeon from Fairfax Station, VA, will receive the Surgical Resident Volunteerism Award for developing long-term interventions aimed at reducing the global burden of surgical disease, participating in numerous international disaster relief efforts, and compiling an abundance of medical supplies for communities of low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). Dr. Sakran is an assistant professor of surgery and director of global health and disaster preparedness at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Charleston. As an acute care surgeon, Dr. Sakran spends most of his time caring for critically ill and injured patients. His research interests are in biomarkers for sepsis, trauma system development, public policy, and the advancement of surgery in resource-poor settings. His interest in medicine stems partly from having nearly lost his life after a gunshot wound to the throat in his senior year of high school.

Dr. Sakran has been interested in global health care issues since he started his medical training. He has treated suicide bomb victims in Jerusalem during the second Intifada of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, provided medical care to the Bedouin population in Israel’s Negev Desert, and treated the black Hebrews in Dimona. In response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, he helped to organize a group of clinicians to provide care to patients in the damaged city of Pondicherry, India. Dr. Sakran also played a vital role in setting up a clinic after the 2010 Haiti earthquake outside Port-au-Prince. He integrated his medical studies with public health when he attended the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, where he completed a master’s degree in public health in the global health track.

As a resident, Dr. Sakran co-founded a not-for-profit organization called Surgeons for Global Health (SGH) to address the surgical burden of disease in LMIC. Dr. Sakran started this initiative when he became frustrated with how inadequately surgical care needs were addressed in many underserved countries and recognized the need for a more sustainable model that would allow for capacity- building in these settings.

SGH’s first mission occurred in the spring of 2007, when Dr. Sakran had the privilege of providing care to many Malawians who sought help at their local hospital in Embangweni. There is one physician for every 100,000 people in Malawi, according to Dr. Sakran. Hence, the backbone of the Malawi health care system is composed of clinical officers. In Malawi, he trained a number of clinical officers to perform basic surgical procedures. Those health care practitioners continue to provide surgical care in their communities today. Dr. Sakran has used this model to deliver care and sustainable solutions throughout India, the Middle East, and Africa.

As a resident, Dr. Sakran also led an effort to collect surgical supplies for LMIC. At MUSC, he is the physician champion for the Recovered Medical Equipment for the Developing World (REMEDY) program. MUSC recruited Dr. Sakran as part of an effort to develop a program to continue reducing the global burden of surgical disease, while integrating domestic and international trainees into the process. His goal is to bring other academic institutions and organizations together so that more like-minded individuals would work together rather than in silos. The development phase of this program has taken him on exploratory trips to Kenya and Rwanda.

Dr. Sakran has been actively involved in the ACS and is the Vice-Chair of the Resident and Associate Society (RAS). At present, Dr. Sakran is spending a year at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Boston, MA, where he is developing a unique skill set focused on economics, public policy, and leadership development in underserved and minority populations.

Robert D. Bach, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from North Haven, ME, will receive the Surgical Volunteerism International Award for his decades of medical service to the impoverished and isolated population of northeastern Nicaragua. Through the establishment of a not-for-profit organization called Partners in Health of Maine (PIHM), he continues to provide Nicaraguans with free medical care, equipment, and education.

Dr. Bach has been performing volunteer surgery since he first traveled to Nicaragua’s north Atlantic coastal region in 1976, where he performed many surgical procedures in a well-known mission hospital run by the Moravian Church. During the Sandanista-Contra war, he volunteered in Honduras, Guatemala, and St. Lucia. He returned to Nicaragua in 1990 and found that Puerto Cabezas had become a refugee center for the indigenous Miskito Indians who had been deported from the war zone, with the population increasing from 15,000 to more than 35,000. The regional hospital was deteriorating dramatically, prompting him to push for construction of a new hospital. Funds were obtained from the United Nations through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with the agreement that PIHM would fully equip the hospital. Partners collected more than 66,000 pounds of equipment from hospitals in Maine, which the Maine Air National Guard and the U.S. Air Force transported to Puerto Cabezas. The new hospital was dedicated in 1992, bearing the name of Dr. Bach’s late wife, Nancy. It was named Hospital Nuevo Amanecer de Enfermera Nancy Bach, which translates to New Hospital Sunrise Nurse Nancy Bach.

Dr. Bach develops teams of nurses, dentists, pediatricians, surgeons, emergency physicians, and medical technicians to serve the population. He performs operations during his visits every spring and fall, and volunteers have established outreach programs in the villages along the Rio Coco River to the north on the Honduras border. In 2007, the organization provided food, shelter, and public health assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Felix. The latest project will be to provide wells, clean water, and waste disposal for rural communities.

Dr. Bach has always emphasized the importance of volunteers establishing one-to-one relationships with the Nicaraguan providers. Nicaraguan physicians, surgeons, and nurses have been included as volunteer members of PIHM, providing for sustainability.

Dr. Bach was awarded the Orden de Rubén Darío, or the Nicaraguan Humanitarian Award, from the country’s president in 2006 for his contributions to the health and well-being of the Nicaraguan people. He is currently an active staff member of the palliative care team at Eastern Maine Medical Center, Bangor.

Scott A. Leckman, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from Salt Lake City, UT, will receive the Surgical Volunteerism Domestic Award for his efforts to provide free health care to low-income, uninsured residents of Salt Lake County. Dr. Leckman helped establish the Health Access Project (HAP) in 2001 after he traveled to Buncombe County, NC, to learn how a similar program—the only one in the U.S. at that time—was being implemented. As president-elect and later president of the Utah Medical Association, Dr. Leckman led the effort to recruit members of the Salt Lake County Medical Society to participate in HAP’s volunteer provider network, speaking at medical meetings throughout the country. The network currently includes more than 600 physicians who provide a wide range of health care services.

Dr. Leckman is also chairman of the board of RESULTS, a not-for-profit organization that creates political will to end poverty, where he has volunteered for 30 years. He is involved in lobbying for the fight against the diseases of poverty, such as the human immunodeficiency virus, tuberculosis, and malaria, as well as for microfinance and universal access to basic education. He is also leading an effort to lobby Congress to support a resolution at the World Health Assembly that would call for making access to essential surgical and anesthesia services a priority in low- and middle-income countries.

Dr. Leckman served as a volunteer surgeon with the U.S. Navy as part of Project HOPE (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere). Project HOPE provides medical training, health education, and humanitarian assistance around the world. Dr. Leckman has served on U.S. Navy ships in Indonesia after the tsunami; Latin America; Papua, New Guinea; the Solomon Islands; and off the coast of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Leckman furthermore has also trained native surgeons in Nigeria, Peru, Cambodia, and Ecuador to repair hernias using mesh from mosquito nets.

Dr. Leckman is the past-president of the Rotary Club of Salt Lake City, and assistant governor for Utah’s District 5420. As the district’s PolioPlus chairman, he regularly organizes trips for Utah Rotarians to India, where they work to eradicate polio through childhood immunization.

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