Major storms sweeping through Connecticut failed to dampen the spirits of those attending the fifth annual Doctors of Distinction event, held May 15 at the Italian Center in Stamford.
The awards, to 10 doctors and a future urologist, were presented by Westfair Communications Inc., publisher of the Fairfield County Business Journal, Westchester County Business Journal and WAG magazine. Stamford Health; Yale New Haven Health; St. Vincent’s Medical Center; business management consultancy Sandler Training; The Bristal Assisted Living centers; Corporate Audiovisual Services; Val’s Putnam Wine & Liquors; were sponsors and Westmed Medical Group and Americares free clinics were supporters.
The evening began with remarks by Paul LaHiff, a member of the board of directors of the ALS Association’s Connecticut chapter. Calling the organization “a great resource” for those like him suffering from the disease, LaHiff said the association’s support was particularly valuable when he was first diagnosed. His first support group meeting featured the message, “Calm down, you weren’t hit by a bus!” he recalled.
Keynote speaker Paul Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon in Greenwich, was stranded in his car by the deluge but managed to make some remarks by phone. Decrying the nation’s opioid crisis — which he said has contributed to the average American’s life expectancy going down for the first time in history — Sethi said that hope is at hand with a refocus on non opioid pain medications, even including the likes of Tylenol and Advil.
He then introduced Cutting Edge Award winner Robert Michler of the Montefiore Health System. A Greenwich resident for 25 years, Michler said that it has “truly been a distinct privilege to care for a neighbor.”
Michler is also founder and chairman of Greenwich nonprofit Heart Care International, which has treated more than 1,500 children with heart disease and has performed heart surgery on 1,000-plus children and adults. Among those he thanked was his team, which he said was performing a heart transplant and a double-lung transplant at that very moment.
Camelia Lawrence, director of breast surgery services at Hartford Healthcare Medical Group in Plainville, presented the Female Trailblazers Awards to a trio of practitioners. Sasanka Jayasuriya, a Greenwich resident who works as an interventional cardiologist at Greenwich Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital, noted that cardiology is still mostly a male domain. Invoking the #MeToo movement, she called for greater support for budding female practitioners before concluding by thanking “all the men who support women appropriately.”
Katherine Wehri Takayasu, a Darien resident who works at Stamford Hospital, listed her top five ways to succeed, ranging from having great parents and siblings (“who kept me in check and beat me up when I was little”), a supportive spouse and her “super high-energy” six-year-old twins, to her nanny and the “inspiring community” in which she works.
Patricia Tietjen, vice president of medical affairs at Western Connecticut Health Network, was recognized for, among other achievements, being the first woman to be chairman of medicine at Danbury Hospital and the only woman to hold that same post among the 10 hospitals affiliated with Yale Medical School at the time.
Noting that she was wearing a pin she’d made when she was 10 — “my mother was my first business manager,” she quipped — Tietjen also credited her team, noting that many of her colleagues in attendance were working their phones to offer advice and help people affected by the storms outside.
Dean Brown, director of business development at The Bristal, handed the Caring For All Award to rheumatologist Sharon Wolfsohn Karp of Shoreline Medical. She noted that the event came just after Mother’s Day and her son’s wedding, indicative of the sometimes difficult task of balancing work with one’s family.
Karp also expressed enthusiasm for the development of biologics over the past 30 years. “How fortunate to be practicing at a time when we can really help the lame to walk,” she marveled.
Ed Schultek, founder and managing principal at Sandler Training, gave the All in the Family Award to a trio consisting of ophthalmologist Arnold Pearlstone, his daughter Melissa and his daughter-in-law Leslie for their work with Americares. The senior Pearlstone noted that he’d begun working with Americares in 2010, following an earlier trip to Jamaica where he found a hospital inhabited in part by dogs, cows and goats.
“They tell me I’ve put in 1,000 hours” on behalf of Americares, he said. “That’s okay!”
Among those thanked by Melissa Pearlstone was Karen Gottlieb, executive director of Americares Free Clinics, who coincidentally presented the next award, No Land Too Far, to Charles Morgan, chairman of the department of psychiatry at Bridgeport Hospital. Morgan remarked that he grew up about 30 miles from where Pearlstone practiced in Jamaica, and included a pair of aphorisms in his remarks: “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
The Lifetime Achievement Award was given by Nicolas Viner, a urologist at Urological Associates of Bridgeport/Trumbull, to Frank Scifo. A family practice physician in Bridgeport, Scifo hosted “Health Talk,” a radio call-in show that aired for more over 24 years. He is chairman of St. Vincent’s SWIM Across the Sound cancer charity, which has raised more than $25 million since his involvement began 19 years ago.
“Although this is a lifetime achievement award,” Scifo remarked, “I certainly hope this is the beginning of a chapter, as I’m going on. There are a lot of things we need to do!”
Miyad Movassaghi, a recent graduate from the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, was honored with the Promise For The Future Award. He was unable to attend — not due to the weather, but because he was on his honeymoon. His classmate Corey Hassell accepted on his behalf.