Praise for accomplishments of the past and expressions of hope for the future in medicine were the dominant sentiments when Westfair Communications Inc. held its sixth annual Westchester Doctors of Distinction event on Sept. 24 at the Surf Club on the Sound in New Rochelle. Individuals who have influenced health care or medical science in Westchester were honored with a variety of 2019 awards.
The Hudson Valley Accordion Ensemble performed a selection of popular melodies while guests networked and enjoyed the view of Long Island Sound during the cocktail hour.
Welcoming remarks were made by Janine Miller, executive director of the Westchester County Medical Society.
“Each year Westfair Communications puts out a call for nominations to the public and each year they receive incredible feedback for some really outstanding physicians and this year was no exception,” she said.
Gary Sastow, managing partner of the event’s presenting sponsor, White Plains-based law firm Brown, Gaujean, Kraus & Sastow PLLC, praised the honorees for their special contribution “not only to the medical profession but to the citizens of Westchester County where the level of excellence is just terrific and certainly adds to the attraction of Westchester as a place to live and to work.”
Benefiting from the event was the nonprofit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The foundation was established in 1987 and is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24. The highest overall rates of suicide are for adults from 40 to 59. AFSP funds scientific research, educates the public about mental health, advocates for public policies in mental health and supports survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide.
The keynote speaker was Marina Holz, dean of the Graduate School of Basic Medical Services at New York Medical College (NYMC) in Valhalla. She is a professor of cell biology and anatomy and director of the integrated Ph.D. program.
At NYMC, Holz leads a laboratory funded by the National Institutes of Health where complex research has been underway on factors affecting cell growth in breast cancer and the rare lung disease lymphangioleiomyomatosis, also known as LAM. She received her doctorate in cell and developmental biology at Harvard Medical School. Holz graduated from McGill University with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and immunology.
Holz said, “Even though I have a doctorate and I’m a scientist, I do consider myself to be a real doctor even though many of you are actually the real doctors.” Joking about her working in the laboratory rather than treating human patients, she said, “I am a real doctor. I’ve cured cancer in many, many mice.”
The evening’s honorees included Michael Palumbo, executive vice president and chief medical officer at White Plains Hospital, who received the award as Health Care Executive of the Year. He was introduced by attorney Max Gaujean.
Palumbo recounted his career as a physician before becoming a hospital executive.
“I was very motivated by that one-on-one interaction with the patients and the gratification from feeling like I was able to influence that person’s wellness and life and certainly did not envision that I would enjoy the red tape of becoming a health care executive,” he said. “That changed when I made a decision to accept White Plains Hospital’s offer.”
All In The Family awards went to Samantha Rai and Jay A. Zaslow of the Open Door Family Medical Centers.
Cathryn Devons of Phelps Hospital/Northwell Health received the Caring For All Award. Twenty-five years ago, she initiated a geriatrics program at the hospital and now devotes two days a week to caring for the homebound elderly, who without her would not have access to medical care.
Christopher Ahmad of New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital received the Cutting-Edge Award. He is the head team physician for the New York Yankees and Rockland Boulders and is president-elect of the Major League Baseball Physicians Association.
Ahmad told the audience, “The starting pitcher for the New York Yankees tonight is Jordan Montgomery. Sixteen months ago Jordan Montgomery walked off the mound holding his elbow and he tore his ligament. And, as the team physician for the New York Yankees, I had the privilege to take care of him as I do all the Yankees and diagnosed his elbow injury and was able to perform surgery that rebuilt his ligament, and in about 10 minutes he’s going to be a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees in tonight’s contest against the Tampa Bay Rays. Took him 16 months to get back.”
Montgomery’s Sept. 24 performance in St. Petersburg, Florida, included two shutout innings in which he struck out three batters and allowed three hits as the Yankees lost 2-1 in 12 innings.
There were two awards for Female Trailblazer. The recipients were Meera Shah of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic and Alice A. Police of Northwell Health.
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Michael Gewitz, who is the William Russell McCurdy physician-in-chief and chief of pediatric cardiology at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. He also is a professor and vice chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at NYMC and vice president of Boston Children’s Health Physicians.
“As a pediatrician, it’s really a unique opportunity to influence a life for a lifetime and even beyond,” Gewitz said. “As my patients now have gotten older and have had their own kids, I can really understand the impact on multiple generations that we all have had in pediatrics.”
No Land Too Far Awards went to Allison Platt of CareMount Medical and Thomas Yuen of Open Door Family Medical Centers.
The Power Couple Award was presented to Sherlita and Robert Amler. She is the Westchester County commissioner of health and he is the vice president for government affairs at NYMC and dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice and Institute of Public Health.
“We both feel incredibly blessed to work together and also apart in our own roles to promote health, to ensure a healthy population and to serve this great community,” Sherlita Amler said. Her husband Robert added, “We all work together, whether as clinicians taking good care of individual patients or public health physicians and other public health professionals taking care of communities and preventing disease, hopefully before it occurs.”
Burke Rehabilitation Hospital’s Josephine Capocci accepted the Support Staff Award. She is a registered nurse in Burke’s Spinal Cord Injury Unit.
The Westchester Medical Center’s Heart Transplantation Team was honored with the Team Award. The team has performed approximately 270 heart transplants. Drs. David Spielvogel and Alan Gass lead the team. Key members include: Chhaya Aggarwal-Gupta; Gregg Lanier; Elliot Levine; Ramin Malekan; Masashi Kai; Joshua Goldberg; Abhay Dhand; Rajat Nog; Bettina Knoll; and Martha Gamboa.
Spielvogel asked for a moment of silence to honor organ donors who he termed “the donors of distinction.”
CareMount Medical Urgent Care, which has facilities in Mount Kisco, Thornwood, Yorktown, Carmel, Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Rhinebeck and Kingston, received the Urgent Care Center Award.
Jennifer Lindelof of NYMC received the Promise for the Future Award. She is a member of the class of 2020 at NYMC and hopes to pursue a career in urology.
The Health Care Leader sponsors for the event were: White Plains Hospital; WMCHealth; New-York Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital; and Columbia Doctors.
The Health Care Partners were: Open Door Family Medical Centers; The Chelsea at Greenburgh; Yale New Haven Health Greenwich Hospital; CareMount Medical; Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic; Burke Rehabilitation Hospital; Surf Club on the Sound; and Val’s Putnam Wines and Liquors.
Supporters were: Phelps Hospital Northwell Health; Blossom Flower; CR, Rajni Menon; Simone Development Companies; Barnum Financial Group The SKG Team; Jancare; and The Bristal Assisted Living.