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News from the American College of Surgeons

2018 Clinical Congress
October 21-25, 2018

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ACS Honors Five Members with Surgical Humanitarian and Volunteerism Awards

BOSTON (Wednesday, October 24, 2018; 12:01 am EDT): Last night, five surgeons received the 2018 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 American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress 2018 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.

Nandakumar C. Menon, MB, BS, FACS, a general surgeon from Gudalur, Tamil Nadu, India, received the Surgical Humanitarian Award for the decades he spent providing sustainable, equitable medical services and training to the indigenous Adivasi people of southern India through the Association for Health Welfare in the Nilgiris (ASHWINI).

Dr. Menon, director of Gudalur Adivasi Hospital, left a successful surgical practice in Winchester, N.Y., in 1990 to come to the remote Gudalur valley in Tamil Nadu's Nilgiris district. His goal was to establish a health care system for the Adivasis, a historically reclusive population due to years of persecution and subjugation under colonial rule. Their reluctance to interact with outside groups left them cut off from modern medicine, and many died from gastroenteritis, pneumonia, childbirth, and other treatable conditions.

In response, Dr. Menon co-founded ASHWINI, a charitable organization with a unique vision—to create medical institutions that the Adivasi people would own and manage themselves. Training and preparing the Adivasis to participate in their own collective health care through ASHWINI has been Dr. Menon's most enduring accomplishment. Guided by Dr. Menon, the Gudalur Adivasi Hospital has transformed from its humble beginnings into a 50-bed secondary care hospital. In 2017, the ASHWINI Adivasi School of Nursing opened to provide further training to the community, and 20 young women have enrolled. Throughout all these changes, the hospital and associated primary health care outposts remain managed by the Adivasis. To date, more than 100 members of the community have completed training, and many continue to work with ASHWINI.

Dr. Menon has been a consistent advocate for the system and received donations from Indian and international funding agencies to support its programs; implemented a sickle cell disease care plan that the Indian government uses nationwide; and created the ASHWINI Disability Center to provide aid to disabled individuals, among other accomplishments.

Roland R. Stephens, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from Berrien Springs, Mich., received the Surgical Humanitarian Award for his 50 combined years of surgical care to underserved populations around the world, primarily at the Karanda Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe.

Working with The Evangelical Alliance Mission in 1962, Dr. Stephens traveled with his family to what would become the Karanda Mission Hospital in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to provide surgical care to the medically underserved population near Mt. Darwin, a remote town approximately 120 miles away from Harare, the nation's capital. He was the only physician at Karanda Mission Hospital for five years. In addition to providing all surgical care, he also treated patients afflicted with tuberculosis, malaria, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and a host of other medical problems. Dr. Stephens would regularly travel into the undeveloped Zimbabezi Valley by plane or motorbike to visit clinics and triage patients to bring them back to hospital.

Beyond direct surgical and medical treatment, Dr. Stephens was instrumental in starting the Karanda School of Nursing in 1964 alongside a nurse from the hospital. Through the school, Dr. Stephens assisted in training medical assistants, general nurses, and midwives who worked in the hospital and the community. Additionally, he initiated the hydrocephalus treatment program, which today treats more than 100 hydrocephalic children annually and oversaw the construction and opening of the hospital's tuberculosis ward, outpatient waiting shelter, and airstrip.

Dr. Stephens was forced to leave Karanda in 1978 because of the increasing danger of war. While he practiced in Michigan from 1978–1995, he frequently traveled overseas on volunteer missions to locations including Kenya, Rwanda, and Bangladesh. After retiring from active practice in the U.S. in 1995, he returned to Karanda to continue volunteering alongside his son, Daniel Stephens, MD, FACS, who had become, and remains, a leader at Karanda. The senior Dr. Stephens chose to work for the next 18 years, through his retirement and without remuneration, at Karanda to help fill the hospital's needs for medical services.

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.

Barbara Ann Barlow, MD, FACS, FAAP, a pediatric surgeon from New York, N.Y., received the Domestic Surgical Volunteerism Award for her dedication to preventing injuries to the children of Harlem and across the U.S.

Much of Dr. Barlow's career has been focused on childhood injury prevention. During her surgical training, she saw that the rate of children hospitalized for preventable injuries in Harlem was twice the national average, with the deadliest injuries occurring from falls out of unsecured windows. Dr. Barlow worked with city administrators to develop prevention strategies and was instrumental in promoting a 1979 New York City ordinance requiring landlords to install window guards. She also worked with the New York City Department of Health to develop an educational campaign, Children Can't Fly, which warned parents of the danger of children falling from open windows in high-rise buildings. By 1981, the number of injuries to children falling from windows had decreased in Harlem by 96 percent.

In addition to her clinical and public health activities, Dr. Barlow founded the Injury Free Coalition for Kids in 1988. Formed as a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Injury Free Coalition for Kids consists of hospital-based, community-oriented programs focused on research, education, and advocacy. The coalition has more than 40 sites nationally and serves as a clearinghouse for childhood injury prevention resources.

Dr. Barlow has received countless city, state, and national awards for her service. Most recently, she was awarded the National Hero Award by the CDC Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by Congress which links philanthropists and the private sector to assist the Centers for Disease Control.

Michael R. Curci, MD, FACS, a pediatric surgeon from Cumberland, Maine, received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for decades of humanitarian work providing operative, training, and education services in Haiti, Tanzania, and Rwanda.

Dr. Curci began volunteering in 1967, when he took a two-month trip to Liberia as a medical student. In 1969, he traveled to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) Haiti, Deschapelles, as a resident to provide pediatric surgical care to children. He has continued to take an annual two-week volunteer trip to HAS for more than 40 years. During these trips, Dr. Curci has helped develop general surgical services at the hospital, brought in residents from the U.S. to encourage international volunteerism, and helped train local surgeons and medical staff to improve health care in Haiti from within.

Dr. Curci began volunteering more frequently in 2008, after retiring from his position of director, division of pediatric surgery, at Maine Medical Center. He worked for eight months each year over three years as a surgical educator in a rural regional hospital in Kigoma, Tanzania upgrading the surgical skills of non-physician clinicians. During that time, Dr. Curci was one of only two general surgeons in the district and served a population of 2 million people. He helped upgrade district clinics to provide essential surgical services to bring care to the population in need.

Since 2013, Dr. Curci has traveled to Rwanda every year for three months to help strengthen health education, training, and infrastructure there through the Rwanda Human Resources for Health Program. When he first arrived in Rwanda, there were no formally-trained pediatric surgeons for the 12 million people in the country, except for a visiting surgeon. Now, a surgical residency program at University Teaching Hospital in Kigali has a nascent pediatric ward and a dedicated OR, and will soon house a nearly state-of-the-art children's OR that will be collaboratively used for the surgical care of neonates, infants, and children. Dr. Curci is in his sixth year as attending pediatric surgeon at the hospital, and is training Rwandans for academic and surgical leadership roles. He continues to bring residents and pediatric surgeons from Maine Medical Center on these trips to help support the mission of the program.

Bruce C. Steffes, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from Linden, N.C., received the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for his work in administrative, surgical, and teaching roles in countries throughout Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

Dr. Steffes, a general surgeon, retired from his practice in Fayetteville, N.C., in 1997 and decided to dedicate the rest of his career to international medical volunteerism. Since early 1998, he has spent the majority of each year as a volunteer physician, general surgeon, and administrator in developing countries. Some of his most impactful work has been with the Pan African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS), a non-denominational, multinational service organization that trains African physicians who are willing to stay in Africa to become surgeons. Dr. Steffes served as the chief executive officer/executive director of PAACS from March 2006 to December 2014, and then served as its chief medical officer until 2016. Until his leadership, the organization grew from two sites in two countries to 12 sites in nine countries, and from nine trainees per year to 76 trainees per year. All PAACS graduates have stayed in Africa to practice, and 79 percent have stayed in their home countries, with the majority of these surgeons practicing in rural settings. Dr. Steffes also led efforts to raise money and gather donated surgical equipment for PAACS training sites.

In addition to his work with PAACS, Dr. Steffes serves as an external examiner for the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa (COSECSA) and the West African College of Surgeons (WACS), which are partners with PAACS and influence the design of surgical community training in Africa. He is one of only three ACS Fellows working with COSECSA at the administrative level, and is working with a team to overhaul a new distance learning curriculum. He also works with a group within WACS that uses social media to improve exam passage rates at African colleges. Dr. Steffes also worked with Samaritan's Purse in Afghanistan in 2002, and intermittently in Uganda to help build a children's teaching hospital from 2000 to 2006. He has also provided surgical services on several occasions with Mercy Ships.

Editor's Note: Photos of the award winners are available upon request from the ACS Office of Public Information. Email: pressinquiry@facs.org.

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About the American College of Surgeons
The American College of Surgeons is a scientific and educational organization of surgeons that was founded in 1913 to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The College is dedicated to the ethical and competent practice of surgery. Its achievements have significantly influenced the course of scientific surgery in America and have established it as an important advocate for all surgical patients. The College has more than 80,000 members and is the largest organization of surgeons in the world. For more information, visit www.facs.org.