American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

2017 Surgical Humanitarianism Award: Francis Robicsek

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS, a retired cardiothoracic surgeon from Charlotte, NC, received a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his more than 50 years of work to provide medical care, particularly cardiothoracic services, and establish a medical infrastructure in Central America.

Dr. Robicsek began his humanitarian work in the early 1960s in Honduras, treating surgical tuberculosis patients. He then expanded his surgical services to other countries, providing direct surgical care to patients in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, as well as in Eastern Europe. His contributions to cardiothoracic surgery in Central America are particularly noteworthy. Dr. Robicsek performed the first open-heart operations in Honduras and Guatemala and initiated and assisted the first open-heart surgery by a native surgeon in Belize, where he maintains an active open-heart surgery program.

Even more influential than his direct surgical skill has been the sustainable medical aid that Dr. Robicsek has brought to the region through training, supplies, and infrastructure. He was a cofounder in 1959 of Heineman Medical Outreach, Inc., a one-time research organization in Charlotte, NC. As president of the organization for nearly 50 years, Dr. Robicsek has guided its evolution to becoming a local and humanitarian aid program in partnership with the Carolinas HealthCare System.

He has been instrumental in providing surgical and health services to a historically underserved region. In the 1970s, he arranged to have patients from Guatemala flown into Charlotte for operations, and he accepted Guatemalan surgeons for training fellowships. His ties with the Guatemalan government and health care system eventually led to the founding of Unidad de Cirugía Cardiovascular de Guatemala—or UNICAR—the Guatemalan Heart Institute, where more than 700 heart operations are performed annually. These and other operations in Central America are, in part, made possible by the more than $1.5 million in new and refurbished hospital supplies that Dr. Robicsek arranges to have delivered to the region each year. UNICAR now serves patients from neighboring countries, as well.

A major component of Dr. Robicsek’s humanitarian activity centers on training Central American surgeons in Charlotte so they can return home with the skills necessary to care for their native populations. For many years, he has maintained a guest house at the Carolinas Medical Center for Central American and Caribbean surgeons and nurses to train at no cost. Dr. Robicsek’s efforts also have led to the establishment of burn units, mammography, echocardiogram networks, catheter labs, and more across Central America. Since 2010, when Heineman and the Carolinas HealthCare System established the International Medical Outreach Program, these humanitarian efforts have continued to grow in scale and effect.

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS

Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS
Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS
Francis Robicsek, MD, PhD, FACS