Speech at the LIJ Gala 2-6-16

Mr. Marc Solazzo
Dr. Lawrence Smith
Ms. Chantal Weinhold
Mr. Michael Goldberg
Dr. Richard Schwarz
Ms. Margareth Murphy
Ms. Leslie Lindenbaum
All the Chairs of Department
All the Chiefs of Service
Dr. Inderpal Chhabra, President of the Staff Society
Dr. Michael Ziegelbaum, Vice President of the Staff Society

All the members of the Executive Committee of the Staff Society
All the Members of the Administration honoring us today by their presence
Distinguished colleagues and guests

Good evening

I want also to salute all the members of my family, my friends and members of some of the professional societies who have taken the time to take part in this memorable event.

First, I would like to pay tribute to the prominent members of the LIJ Staff community, who have previously received a Lifetime Achievement award from our Society:

Dr. Sidney Lapook
Dr. Alan Abramson
Dr. Kanti Rai
And the late Dr. John B. Chang,

all role models in their own rights, who have marked the institution over the past 40 years and have had both a national and international impact in Medicine.

When Dr. Ziegelbaum announced to me that I had been selected to be this year recipient of the Lifetime Achievement award, I truly thought that he was making fun of me. I always set the bar of my expectations very high and unless I received the Nobel Prize or invented a cure for cancer, I would consider myself a failure.

I am a mere surgical oncologist/general surgeon. I am not a vice-chairman, let alone a chairman. I am not president of the Society of Surgical Oncology. So why me? Why me?

However, over the past few months, the number of respected colleagues who stopped me in the corridors of this hallowed institution or have sent me e-mails or FaceBook posts to congratulate me for a “well deserved” award, started to convince me otherwise.

Perhaps, I had taken care of a relative or a friend of theirs.  Perhaps, we had huddled together around the bed of a critically ill patient. Perhaps, I had provided support during a difficult moment of their careers. Perhaps, I had taught them a thing or two about medicine and contributed to the development of their careers. Perhaps, I had contributed once to make their day brighter or happier.

This forced me to cast a retrospective look at the past 40 years of my life.  Next month will mark exactly 41 years since I landed in New York, from Haiti, armed with my knowledge, my enthusiasm and the firm belief that no hurdle was too high and that everything was possible. I was also armed with one particular letter of recommendation to Dr. Ira Teicher, from one of his former residents, Dr. Adrien Westerband.  Dr. Teicher took me to Long island Jewish Medical Center to meet the assistant Program director, Dr. Alex Stone.  He asked me about the metabolic derangement associated with a pyloric obstruction. I was prepared. I answered correctly and in one of the most unforgettable “blink moments” of my life, he accepted me as a preliminary resident. One of 24 vying for three chief residency positions. The competition was tough and rough, but my motto was to “always do my best.”  I worked hard. I studied hard. I read a lot. I got involved in both clinical and bench research. I learned all I could from mentors, like Drs. Teicher, Wise, Attie and Chang. 

At the end of my residency, I was qualified to be a Board-certified general surgeon. I was also fortunate to be accepted in one of the top four surgical oncology programs in the country, Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute , where I was educated by such eminent leaders as Drs. Kostas Karakousis, Harold Douglas, Arnold Mittleman, Varam Bakamjian and Hector Nava.

Back in New York, Dr. Leslie Wise recruited me to his staff. I immersed myself in research and within five years, I was already promoted to the rank of Associate Professor of Surgery. I was given the privilege to be the preceptor for the 3rd-year medical students from Stony Brook, then from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, an assignment that I cherished so much because it gave me the opportunity to mold the minds of young future physicians and plan the good seeds that would eventually blossom into successful careers.  Some of my students have become chiefs of service or chairs of department at prestigious institutions, such as NYU, Columbia Presbyterian and Johns Hopkins or successful practitioners.

I became involved in organized medicine and joined the Queens County Medical Society, the Medical Society of the State of New York and the AMA.  I would like for the delegation from the Queens County Medical Society to stand up and be recognized.  These societies have shown me the importance for physicians to join forces to protect ourselves from all the threats that continue to imperil our noble profession.

Among many other professional societies, I also joined very early the AMHE or Association des Médecins Haitiens à l’étranger. They are also represented here – please stand up and be recognized.  This association is dedicated to the promotion of health in our local communities as well as back home in Haiti.  As president of the New York Chapter, I had the privilege to lead a contingent of 107 physicians, nurses, EMTs and lay volunteers, that staffed the Main Hospital in Downtown Port-au-Prince, that was overwhelmed by the casualties resulting from the 7.1 magnitude earthquake of January 12, 2010. Thanks to generous contributions from this health system, the effort to promote health in Haiti has continued in partnership with the AMHE.  We are also grateful to physicians such as Drs. Ziegelbaum, Livingstone and Deans who have donated their time and efforts toward a good cause.

Three years ago, I was given the distinct honor to preside over the LIJ Staff Society. I embraced this opportunity with fervor and enthusiasm, because I was able to advocate for my fellow physicians, to improve their work environment, to voice their concerns to the administration, to honor their daily sacrifices and celebrate their dedication.  National Doctor’s day will no longer go unnoticed at LIJ. I also took to heart to honor with love and respect all the members of our staff who have passed on. I felt that every single one of them brought a unique contribution to the institution and they had to be memorialized appropriately.

However, for me, it all started in a town located on the Northern coast of Haiti, where I was fortunate enough to be raised by my two greatest heroes, my mother and father, surrounded by my beloved  family in a tightly knit community.

My mother, a model of selflessness, taught me love and compassion. A true artist herself, she imparted on me a yearning for beauty and perfection.

My father, a man of great culture, who knew world history better than anyone I have ever met, a man who read fluently Greek and Latin, inculcated in me his insatiable thirst for knowledge. He taught me the importance to work hard, to be honest, to be strong and courageous. One should always strive to do what is right and not what is popular. He taught me also to be kind and respect everyone, particularly the poor, the downtrodden and the mistreated.

I would be remiss not to also acknowledge the excellent education I received in Haiti, from elementary school through medical school. This education has equipped me to achieve all that I have done so far in my life.

Finally, allow me to thank my family here present with me. First, my wife who brings balance to my life and who as a social worker contributes so much to the welfare of the community. Second to my sons, achievers in their own rights, dedicated to serving humanity through philanthropic efforts both here and in Haiti. Third to my brothers and sisters, always there for me, my nephews and nieces, my cousins etc…  Thank you to my whole supporting cast of friends, particularly Dr. Chardavoyne, who allows me to go on medical missions without interrupting the care of my patients. Thank you for sharing this moment with me.

To members of the staff society, including Jessica Bimby,  I say: Thank You for honoring me! Thank you for working with me to allow me to do all that I have done.

This award is not the crowning of an achievement but a mere encouragement to continue to be more, do more and continue on my quest for that ultimate and elusive goal of a perfect world.

Thank you!


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