A group of Westchester County’s most distinguished doctors – and one promising student – was recognized Sept. 20 at the annual Doctors of Distinction Awards at the Doral Arrowwood in Rye Brook.
The awards were presented by the Westchester County Business Journal and the law firm Brown, Gaujean, Kraus & Sastow PLLC.
The first award, for Cutting Edge Research, went to Dr. Mitchell C. Benson, a urologist with NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and emeritus chair of the Department of Urology at Columbia University.
Benson, in prepared remarks read by NYP Lawrence Vice President Timothy Hughes, noted his specialty in urological oncology and praised NewYork-Presbyterian’s “commitment to oncology” at Lawrence Hospital. He cited the cancer center the Bronxville hospital opened in 2016.
“(NewYork-Presbyterian) made a significant commitment to providing unsurpassed cancer care to our patients in Westchester County,” he said.
Also accepting the Cutting Edge award was Dr. Elias S. Hyams, an associate professor of urology at Columbia University School of Medicine with practice sites in Bronxville and Tarrytown.
In his remarks, Hyams described research as “fundamentally important” and enriching to his professional life.
“I try to view research organically and try to look at my practice for questions, uncertainties, that I may be able to look into more deeply and may be able to find answers for to improve my practice and improve patient experiences,” Hyams said.
Dr. Tanya Dutta, a noninvasive cardiologist at Westchester Medical Center, accepted the award for Female Trailblazer. Dutta is a lifelong advocate for women’s heart health and described the current moment as an especially exciting time to be a female cardiologist. Throughout her career, she has seen “an incredible increase in heart disease among women.”
“Although the number of female cardiologists remains unfortunately 10 percent, I think that, because there’s been such growing awareness among all cardiologists, the health of women overall has become much better,” Dutta said.
Dr. Boriana Parvez, a pediatrician and neonatologist at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, accepted the Female Trailblazer award as well. Parvez was described as the driving force behind a groundbreaking donor milk program aimed at improving the health of premature babies in the hospital’s Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She told the story of a premature baby born at Westchester Medical Center who later died when transferred to a hospital where the family was unable to access donor milk.
“This tragedy inspired us to start lobbying our politicians to ensure that donor milk is a covered benefit under Medicaid, and we accomplished that in 2017,” Parvez said. “As of December, donor milk now is a covered benefit so every family does not have to worry that they cannot afford to do that.”
She said her unit at Maria Fareri will soon take those efforts a step further by creating a donor milk bank to help improve the health of premature babies.
The 2018 Caring for All award went to Dr. Daren Wu, the chief medical officer of Open Door Family Medical Centers Inc., a community health center with 13 sites in Westchester and Putnam counties. Wu said the centers care for tens of thousands of Westchester’s most vulnerable patients. About 71 percent of Open Door’s patients survive on a household income of $24,000 per year or less, he said.
“Because each one of us in this room is either a patient him or herself, or has a loved one struggling with cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes and any number of other devastating medical conditions, we can all understand or relate to how challenging that disease must be,” Wu said. “Now imagine struggling with one of these conditions and being poor; imagine wanting to take care of yourself or your family and not knowing where to start.”
At Open Door, Wu said, doctors not only do the traditional work of treating people, but also try to “wrap ourselves around patients who need us” by asking about other potential issues, such as food insecurity or domestic violence.
Dr. Sasan Roayaie, a surgeon at White Plains Hospital, received the No Land Too Far award for his travels to treat cancer patients in Mongolia, Liberia and Haiti. He said his trips help with “distilling medicine down to its essence.”
“As physicians, it’s easy to get lost in bureaucracy imposed on us,” Roayaie said. “But when you go on these trips, you really get back to the reasons we all went into this field to begin with.”
Dr. Michael Grasso III also received the No Land Too Far award, but the Phelps Memorial Hospital urologist was unable to attend.
Next up was the All In The Family award, recognizing husbands and wives, parents and children or siblings who share a practice. The award recognized the husband-wife duo of Drs. Milan Kinkhabwala and Sarah Bellemare. Kinkhabwala is a professor of surgery at Montefiore Medical Center-Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of abdominal transplantation at Montefiore. Bellemare is a hepatobiliary and liver transplant surgeon at Montefiore Medical Center-Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Kinkihabwala described medicine as a 24/7 business that can be burdensome for a family.
“This isn’t a life I would trade even though it’s been extremely difficult,” he said. “It’s one of the most satisfying because we are able to take patients that are really on death’s door and be able to restore life.”
N. Jeremy Hill was recognized next with the Biomedical Breakthrough award. Hill is a research scientist at Burke Neurological Institute and the director of neurological technology at Blythedale Children’s Hospital. His research, as described in the recognition, is “committed to the process of innovation … to allow smart, adaptive technology to answer the outstanding needs of rehabilitation following brain injury.”
Recognized with the Exceptional Leadership award was Dr. Fran Ganz-Lord, the deputy chief medical officer and chief medical value officer at CareMount Medical. Ganz-Lord said her inspiration in the profession comes from a close friend who made a full recovery after suffering a ruptured aneurysm but later died from undiagnosed influenza and pneumonia.
“I know very well the good and bad, what we can do and what we really want to do,” Ganz-Lord said. “As a leader, I think about that all the time. I think about how the pressures on us in health care today are to move health care much more into a business than it’s been before, but, for me, I think about it as much more personal.”
Westchester Medical Center Chief of Medicine Dr. William H. Frishman was recognized next with the Lifetime Achievement award. Frishman is also chairman of the department of medicine and a professor of pharmacology at New York Medical College.
The doctor noted the advances seen in his field of cardiology over the past 50 years, as well as the obstacles he surmounted to find success in medicine.
“Coming from a South Bronx heritage, complicated by the premature loss of my father when I was a young boy from a heart attack, I had a drive to succeed,” Frishman said. “Luckily, in the South Bronx I could run fast … and was willing to work hard.”
He described himself as fortunate to have taught over 10,000 medical students and participated in medical breakthroughs through research.
The final award of the night went to one of Frishman’s current students. Philip Maynard, a fourth-year medical student at New York Medical College, was recognized with the Promise for the Future award. Maynard has served each year as a member of the student senate and was elected by his peers into his class’ Gold Humanism Honor Society.
Maynard said it was exciting to “be nominated and awarded for something that I still aspire to be. It’s certainly a vote of confidence, and it is motivation for me.”
The awards were sponsored by J.P.Morgan Securities, as well as White Plains Hospital, WMCHealth, NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital and Montefiore. Other sponsors included Rectangle Health, Grassi Healthcare Advisors, Webster Bank, Open Door Family Medical Centers, and Val’s Putnam Wines and Liquors.