Surgeons honored for volunteerism and humanitarianism

Recipients of the 2019 American College of Surgeons (ACS) Board of Governors (B/G) Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards will be recognized Tuesday evening at the Board of Governors annual reception/dinner. Recipients were selected by the B/G Surgical Volunteerism and Humanitarian Awards Workgroup.


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, the award will be presented to two surgeons.

Dr. Meier (far right) in front of Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Camer
Dr. Meier (far right) in front of Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Camer

Donald E. Meier, MD, FACS, a general surgeon from El Paso, TX, will receive a Surgical Humanitarian Award for his decades of surgical, training, and education service around the world, primarily in West Africa. Dr. Meier and his family moved to Ogbomosho, Nigeria, in 1982 to join John Tarpley, MD, FACS, as a general surgeon at the Baptist Medical Centre. He worked as a practicing surgeon and physician in this low-resource setting until 1999, but his most lasting accomplishment was educating generations of African residents and faculty to help create a self-sustaining general surgery training program. During his 17 years in Nigeria, Dr. Meier was one of the educators in the general surgery track of the general medical practice residency program, teaching residents and medical students how to provide quality surgery with limited resources. Dr. Meier worked with the Nigerian College of General Medical Practice to improve surgical capacity and care. Physicians whom Dr. Meier trained provide fundamental surgical care at a district level in various states across Nigeria.

At age 50, Dr. Meier recognized the acute need for pediatric surgeons in Africa and returned to the U.S. and became the first pediatric surgery fellow at Children’s Medical Center, Dallas. After completing his board certification in pediatric surgery, he returned to Nigeria to care for children and to teach local physicians safe pediatric surgical techniques. Dr. Meier completed many short-term mission trips to underserved countries, including Kosovo, Albania, Afghanistan, Haiti, Cameroon, and Ethiopia, before moving to El Paso in 2003, which at the time had no pediatric surgeons, to establish pediatric surgical services for the more 1 million people in the area and to found a local medical school and children’s hospital.

Dr. Saksena during postoperative rounds with patients in Mauriti
Dr. Saksena during postoperative rounds with patients in Mauriti

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 Africa. At the recommendation of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Dr. Saksena started the program that would become the Bombay Hospital Cardiac Surgery Center, Mumbai. It became a recognized center of excellence, and after he started the Bombay Medical Aid Foundation in 1979, the hospital began providing free surgery to medically indigent patients. Dr. Saksena then began providing surgical services and training and building capacity in other locations. He and his team brought cardiothoracic surgery to the surgeons at Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Medical College Heart Center, Jaipur, and brought the center’s cardiac health care professionals to Bombay for training. Dr. Saksena also was on staff in cardiac surgery at Super Specialty Hospital, Nagpur, Maharashtra, and started the Nirmal Village Charitable Hospital, approximately 50 miles from Mumbai.

Some of Dr. Saksena’s most impactful work has occurred in Mauritius, a remote African island of approximately 1.3 million people, hundreds of miles from the closest medical center in Madagascar. Dr. Saksena, at the local government’s invitation, provided advanced heart disease care. Because the cost of transporting patients was prohibitive, in 1986 Dr. Saksena began performing cardiac operations in a camp setting. The services in Mauritius eventually evolved to include dedicated diagnostics, preoperative, and acute care. The people of Mauritius valued Dr. Saksena’s efforts so much that, in absence of a government plan, they began to voluntarily construct a heart center. Eventually, the government funded the effort and completed the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam National Hospital.


The ACS/Pfizer Surgical Volunteerism Awards recognize ACS Fellows and members who are committed to giving back to society through significant contributions to surgical care as volunteers. This year, three awards will be granted to the following individuals.

Dr. Bolton visiting with a patient at Mercy Place
Dr. Bolton visiting with a patient at Mercy Place

Steven Bolton, MD, FACS, a general surgeon in Pontiac, MI, will receive the Domestic Surgical Volunteerism Award for his efforts to initiate and operate a medical clinic for underserved residents of the city. After General Motors closed manufacturing plants in the city and the primary source of work disappeared, it became increasingly necessary for the city’s 60,000 residents to have access to medical care without adding to their financial burden. Dr. Bolton joined forces with St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital to open Mercy Place Clinic—a comprehensive patient care clinic that also serves as an urgent care center. Dr. Bolton started the clinic with two examining rooms in a church annex, 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. Since Mercy Place opened, Dr. Bolton has operated at and had oversight of the facility. Today, specialty surgeons, including orthopaedic surgeons, urologists, and neurosurgeons, are enlisted from St. Joseph for major operations. Dr. Bolton has solicited donations and grants to maintain and improve the clinic, as well as helped to obtain necessary contributions, such as furniture, medical equipment and supplies, and medications.

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.

Dr. Furman in 2005 moving a gunshot wound patient approximately
Dr. Furman (far right) in 2005 moving a gunshot wound patient approximately 10 miles—from Lui Mission Hospital, South Sudan, into air transport headed to Kenya

Richard W. Furman, MD, FACS, a cardiothoracic surgeon from Boone, NC, will receive the International Surgical Volunteerism Award for providing care to underserved patients around the world and for cofounding World Medical Mission (WMM). After a medical mission to India in 1977, Dr. Furman and his brother, Lowell B. Furman, MD, FACS, a 2003 recipient of the ACS Surgical Volunteerism Loma de Luz, Honduras, mission hospital in 1989 Award, worked with Samaritan’s Purse International Relief to create WMM to fill a global need for volunteer medical assistance in low-income countries. WMM recently sent its 10,000th volunteer.

As many hospitals in LICs closed or were turned into nurse-run clinics, it became evident that these locations needed more U.S. physicians. To fill that gap, WMM began a two-year, on-site fellowship in global medicine to place physicians in locations for long-term commitments. Since 2004, more than 185 physicians have participated in the fellowship program; more than 80 percent have stayed beyond their initial commitment.

Dr. Furman has visited 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 Haiti, 2015 Nepal, and 2016 Ecuador earthquakes, and operated in an emergency field hospital outside of Mosul, Iraq, in 2017.

Dr. Furman regularly traveled to Africa with former U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, MD, FACS (R-TN) to hospitals in LICs, which eventually led President George W. Bush to implement a program to provide more than $15 billion in aid to 15 countries. Under his leadership, medical equipment and supplies valued at more than $46 million have been sent to WMM physicians and hospitals.

Dr. Smith in Haiti’s Central Plateau following a travel clinic
Dr. Smith in Haiti’s Central Plateau following a travel clinic in 2014, with young school children who presented for medical exams

Alison Smith, MD, a general surgery resident at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, will receive the Resident Volunteerism Award. 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 in 2010 after the earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people and devastated Haiti’s fragile infrastructure. She was one of the first medical volunteers to arrive at General Hospital, Port-au-Prince, just 96 hours after the earthquake. She worked for two weeks helping to triage patients in the field and to direct patients from remote areas to surgical care. In the deadly cholera outbreak that followed the earthquake, Dr. Smith helped develop and implement a program in Jacsonville to help prevent the disease’s spread. More than 9,000 Haitians died in the epidemic, but Jacsonville, located in the poorest region of the country, had only one death.

Dr. Smith and several other medical students from Tulane subsequently founded Sante Total 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, Ellicott City, MD, and private donors, the clinic is scheduled for completion in 2020. Meanwhile, volunteers have constructed latrines to improve public sanitation; instituted a program to provide meals to elderly residents; and conducted public health programs aimed at improving hygiene, empowering women, and teaching about disease transmission. Sante Total also has worked to provide medical education scholarships to Jacsonville’s young adults, with the goal of having these individuals eventually run the clinic.

Previously, Dr. Smith served as a community volunteer in Minas de Oro, Honduras; a medical student volunteer at Ozanam Inn Homeless Shelter, New Orleans; and a trauma/cardiopulmonary resuscitation volunteer in Kathmandu, Nepal.