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Best Doctor Hall of Fame 2002


Dr. Philip Gutin
Actually, it is Brain Surgery:
Not all brain tumors look alike. "Some arelike slime," says Dr. Philip Gutin. "Others are hard, like golf balls."Gutin is making this observation as he cuts into the pink, pulsing surfaceof a patient's brain. And the patient, mind you, is listening, anesthetizedbut able to count down from twenty on request. "Awake-patient brain-mapping"ensures that Gutin's knife doesn't slash vital areas like speech or motorfunction. "Patients used to be stunned when I told them I could do this,"Gutin says. "Now they all know about it because it was on ER."
Real-Life Drama: Even on ER, doomed Dr. Green eventually died. "Brain tumorsare still among the most hopeless tumors," Gutin admits. Which is why, since being lured by Memorial Sloan-Kettering from UCSan Francisco six years ago, he's launched a lab for gene therapy (to maketumors more sensitive to radiation) and another to use embryonic stem cellsto replace brain matter harmed by stroke, radiation, or Parkinson's disease.He's also working to bring an MRI into the OR for real-time brain scans. The endless tinkering "is entirely consuming," headmits. "He can look at a scientist's discovery and recognize how it can bemoved into patient care -- that's unique," says Dr. Murray Brennan,Sloan-Kettering's chairman of surgery, adding that "he's managed to retainempathy and perspective." To blow off steam, he races on the Sound. (Hisyacht is called Brainstorm.)
Cliffhanger: Once he gets a piece of the tumor, Gutin rushes it to apathology lab. If it's cancerous, "it's hopeless," he says. Twenty minutescreep by before the OR phone rings. He uses the speakerphone to protect hissterile hands. "Speak softly," he mutters, knowing his patient might hear.Fortunately, today's news is good -- a benign low-grade glioma. And the patient, wide awake, says he's feeling fine. "In the old days," Gutin says,"we'd wait for them to wake with our hearts in our throats, wondering ifthey'd be paralyzed." --ROBERT KOLKER

Dr. Ilene Fennoy

First Person Singular:
As St. Luke's-Roosevelt's sole pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Ilene Fennoy is literally one of a kind, with a schedule to rival themayor's. "My patients love her," says Dr. Diane Hochlerin, a St. Luke'spediatrician who refers patients to Fennoy. "She's kind, and she treats thewhole person."
Mission Possible: For the past 23 years Fennoy's speciality has been juvenilediabetes. "We are in the middle of an epidemic," she says, referring to theType 2 variety, which is linked to obesity. Patients produce some insulin,but not enough, which must be enhanced with pills and, eventually,injections. "When budgets are tight, schools use vending machines with snackfoods and cut gym. We lead a sedentary lifestyle; TV is the baby-sitter.Parents don't want kids to go out in the street and get into trouble, soit's computers and Game Boys."
On Call: Cheryl Tidwell met Fennoy one frantic night two years ago in StLuke's ICU ward. "My son's sugar was at 543," she says (normal range is 60to 90). "They told me he had diabetes. I was devastated. We're into ourthird year now, and we're not great at it yet. His sugar levels have toomany highs and too many lows. But she's so patient. I'll call herfrantically, with something I hear on the radio -- 'You mean my kid can't havekids?' -- and she'll say, 'Cheryl, now, where did you hear that?' I even calledher after I saw Panic Room -- Jodie Foster's diabetic daughter is trappedwithout her insulin. But she has this GlucoWatch that takes her sugar-level reading three times an hour and has abuilt-in alarm. I thought, Is that something my son could have? So I calledDr. Fennoy."
A Family Affair:You have to like interaction with children," says Fennoy,whose own daughter is now 21. "Chronic disease in children is very hard todeal with. Kids could be taking three or four shots a day. They have toconstantly adapt their lifestyle to their medication and be thinking howeating affects their blood sugar, how exercise affects it." Which is whyFennoy teaches everything from food to stress management and leads bimonthlysupport groups for children on Sunday afternoons. "It needs to be a familychange. A lot depends on how parents handle it."

Dr. Swayam Sadanandan

Claim To Fame:
In the eleven years since she started up the BrooklynHospital Center's Pediatric Hematology-Oncology program with the limitedresources of a community hospital, Dr. Swayam Sadanandan has made itcompetitive with local behemoths like Kings County and Maimonides. With astaff of nine (including three doctors), her program now treats about 350young patients for sickle-cell anemia alone. She is also on the Make-a-WishFoundation's board of directors.
Rising To The Challenge-Modestly: When Dr. Michael LaCorte became head ofpediatrics here in 1991, he knew whom to turn to first. "The moment I signedmy contract," he says, "I grabbed Swayam and said, 'How about coming to workwith me?' " At the time, the Bombay-educated Sadanandan was the associatedirector of pediatrics at Booth Memorial Medical Center in Queens, a verycomfortable practice not far from her home in Port Washington. The onlydoctor in the Brooklyn Hospital program at first, she didn't take a vacationfor years -- but Sadanandan shrugs off the sacrifice. "I just did what I likedto do, and it evolved. That's my whole life."
Infectious Optimism: "Swayam doesn't spend much time railing against thegods," says former colleague Dr. James McKinnell. Unlike generalpediatricians, Sadanandan faces the gravely ill, from debilitatingsickle-cell cases to children suffering from every type of cancer. "It'shard to get me depressed," she says. "Maybe that's my strength." Thatattitude is practically a job requirement for working with sometimesterminal children. "My approach to it is that however small the chance is,we need to take it, and we need to fight for that chance."
Social Services: Among the city's hot spots for sickle-cell anemia, BrooklynHospital Center's surrounding areas presented Sadanandan with anotherchallenge. "We need to be working more with the families here," she says."Sometimes we become their surrogate family, actually." Sadanandan hasattended patients' weddings, become a godparent -- even at one point acted asguardian for a boy. "If it hadn't been for Dr. Sadanandan, I would neverhave gotten through high school," says Sikiru Fahm, a shy 20-year-oldsickle-cell patient with a broad smile who came into her care at age 14.Causing potentially fatal complications, sickle-cell requires frequent,lengthy in-hospital treatment and renders patients nearly immobile for weeksat a time. Sadanandan did her best to limit his hospital stays and connectedhim with social services that helped him keep up with schoolwork. Fahm nowattends Brooklyn College and hopes to be a doctor working in hematology oneday. "I want to be a part of this," he says, "help patients go through thethings I have. They really knew how to take care of me here. I've had a lotof doctors in my life, and she's one of the best."

Dr. James "Butch" Rosser

Claim to Fame:
"Putting a stethoscope to someone's chest just gives youvoodoo information," says Dr. James Rosser -- Butch to his friends andpatients. "We've basically declared war on the stethoscope." Having been apioneer in laparoscopic surgery in Ohio and made Yale a superpower in thefield, Rosser has just arrived at Beth Israel Medical Center to establishthe Advanced Medical Technology Institute. A 10,000-square-foot complex onEast 16th Street -- which Rosser points out will be shaped like the StarshipEnterprise -- AMTI will provide training in high-tech surgery, telemedicine(house calls via laptop), and any further research-and-development Rosserdreams up.
The Medium is the Message: It was Dr. Anthony Antonacci, the chairman of BethIsrael's department of surgery and a onetime Rosser trainee ("I'm thechocolate Yoda, and he's one of my Obi-Wan Kenobis," Rosser says), who hiredhim for AMTI. "He has reinvented the way we educate in surgery," saysAntonacci. "We're changing our entire program, and he's going to be a truefoundation piece." A week into Rosser's new position, his equipment is stillin boxes, his research center still a blueprint. But the outsize formeroffensive lineman (120 pounds lighter after a laparoscopic gastric bypasslast year) talks excitedly over a video of him assisting live laparoscopicabdominal surgery in Ecuador via laptop. "This technology," he pronounces,"will allow Butch Rosser to be in more than one place at one time." With araft of training CDs and not one but three memoirs planned, he's practicallyubiquitous already.
Humble Beginnings: "It was earth-shattering," says Rosser of the firststirrings of his technophilia. "It was The Jetsons. Elroy had this thing inhis room with a TV screen that helped him with his lessons. That was a PC!"He was born in rural Mississippi, in 1954. "I didn't have any role modelsthat looked like me. I couldn't even drink from the same water fountain asyou." Rosser finished high school at 16 and played football at theUniversity of Florida before giving up a potentially glorious athleticcareer to graduate from the University of Mississippi. "I didn't grow upshackled with hatred of white people," he says. "I thought if you gave me anhonest chance, maybe you'd like me."
Spreading the Word: "He's taking laparoscopy to the common man, theday-to-day surgeon who has a busy practice," says Dr. Richard Satava, aprofessor of surgery at Yale who's known Rosser for almost a decade. "Ibring a lot of old-time country doctor to the twenty-first century," Rossersays. "He was very compassionate," agrees patient Marjorie Rife, 79. "He puthis arms around me and told my daughter he was going to treat me like hisown mother." Another doctor had told her he'd have to remove her colon;Rosser removed a polyp laparoscopically and had her home in a week.

Dr. Sonia Cheng

Claim to Fame:
Only two years out of her residency at NYU, Dr. Sonia Cheng, a28-year-old pediatrician, has already completed one mission for DoctorsWithout Borders, in Angola, and is "itching" for her next assignment.Sitting at a restaurant a few blocks from her office at the Charles B. WangCommunity Health Center, a nonprofit clinic that serves mostly immigrants,Cheng -- who was raised in Wilmington by Chinese parents -- orders off the menu influent Mandarin. She talks about enrolling at the London School of TropicalMedicine for an intensive semester "on parasites and bugs and stuff." She isremarkably buoyant considering that not too long ago she was administeringemergency medicine to starving toddlers and gunshot victims. She jokes thatthe mosquitoes in her apartment off Herald Square are worse than the ones inAngola.
Tropic of Discussion: "There was a big part of me that wanted to see the realworld," she says. "I had everything blown wide open for me: I don't have anyloans, I have the opportunity, I want to go." And the need certainly exists."The first week I worked there I saw more kids die than in my entiremedical-school training."
Family Matters: For now, Cheng is happy working in Chinatown, which has itsshare of Third World medical problems. "There's a lot more hepatitis, a lotmore tuberculosis," she says. "Both are endemic in China, and when they comehere, it becomes our problem." "I think she identifies very well with ourpopulation, Asian-American kids," says Dr. Loretta Au, chief of pediatricsat Wang. "She's able to interact with them, understand their families'priorities." Cheng agrees: "When I see a mom at the clinic, an immigrantmom, that's like my mom."
Teen Spirit: Cheng is working with Au to develop a clinic for Asian-Americanadolescents. Since many immigrant parents are unprepared to talk to theirchildren about matters like STDs and birth control, Cheng believes it shouldbe a parent-free zone: "I'd like to get a room where they can hang out, makeit cool, put up tapestries, bean bags." That is, until she heads out on hernext mission. "I try not to plan too far ahead," she says. "When the rightopportunity comes, everything will fall into place."

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