Four reconstructive surgery patients from across the country are recipients of the annual Patients of Courage: Triumph Over Adversity awards, which were presented during the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) in Denver. The awards recognize patients who have required reconstructive plastic surgery procedures to contend with a physical adversity, yet found a way to give back to their communities through charitable work.
This year’s honorees include the first full face transplant recipient in the United States, a former Marine Corps journalist injured in Iraq, a lawyer born with a facial cleft and a breast reconstruction patient and philanthropist.
"The words ‘plastic surgery’ often conjure up images of overdone Hollywood celebrities, but the reconstructive side of plastic surgery often gets overlooked," says ASPS President Phillip Haeck, MD. "The Patients of Courage program is an opportunity for us to recognize patients that have not only persevered through challenging reconstructive surgery, but used that journey as an opportunity to educate and serve others."
The 2011 Patients of Courage honorees are:
Aaron Mankin of San Antonio, Texas
U.S. Marine Corps journalist Aaron Mankin was severely burned during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 when his vehicle ran over an improvised explosive device. Mankin, one of the few survivors of the attack, suffered burns over 25% to 30% of his body and lost his nose and both ears. The extraordinarily deep burns required skin grafts to be applied directly to bone. He had more than 55 surgeries including reconstruction of both cheeks, upper and lower lips, and ears.
Mankin has since become a spokesman for severely burned and injured servicemen and women, raising awareness of "Operation Mend", a partnership between Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center and the VA-Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, established to treat US military personnel severely wounded during service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mankin has shared the podium with Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, and General David Petraeus.
Dorothy (Dee Dee) Ricks of New York City
Dee Dee Ricks’ breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 38 did anything but slow her down. After diagnosis, Ricks channeled her energy towards treating underserved communities in New York City through the Ralph Lauren Center (RLC) for Cancer Care. After undergoing a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction, Ricks raised nearly $3.1 million to match an initial endowment for the RLC while undergoing 22 months of chemotherapy. At that time she also created a documentary of her breast cancer journey, The Education of Dee Dee Ricks, which premiered at the TRIBECA Film Festival and will be aired on HBO during October.
Ricks has also been instrumental in developing a national corps of patient navigators to improve standards of practice and compassionate care for underserved individuals through the Harold P. Freeman Navigation Institute at the RLC. She is no stranger to Congress either, originally lobbying for a patient navigation amendment in the 21st Century Cancer ALERT Act and ultimately included in the HELP Health Reform Bill.
Jamie Verdi of Rochester, Michigan
Jamie Verdi was born with a facial cleft and underwent her first intracranial surgery at the young age of two. Forty years worth of reconstructive procedures followed, but Verdi’s craniofacial condition didn’t prevent her from being an activist on behalf of others. In 2008, Verdi founded her own law firm, MI-PAL (Michigan Patient Advocacy Liaison) where she provides pro bono legal services to veterans and their widows, advocates for the insurance and health care needs of the elderly, and provides legal services to people with mental and physical illnesses and their family members.
In addition to her full-time position as a probate attorney, she is actively involved with many community organizations including the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce, the National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, the Michigan Campaign for Quality Care, Professional Patient Advocate Institute and Citizens for Better Care.
Dallas Wiens of Fort Worth, Texas
Dallas Wiens’ doctors were not optimistic about his survival when the 24-year-old suffered 4th degree burns on his face after coming in contact with a high-voltage electrical wire nearly three years ago. Wiens not only survived the critical first 72 hours, but after coming out of a 3-month coma, he endured dozens of subsequent reconstructive facial plastic surgery procedures. Over time it was determined that Wiens was an excellent candidate for a full face transplant, and in March 2011 he underwent the 15-hour surgery to become the first patient to receive a full-face transplant in the United States.
Following the surgery, Wiens remarked one of the greatest outcomes was the ability to finally feel his daughter’s kiss. Wiens is giving back to the community by establishing the About Face Foundation which generates resources to help others with similar medical conditions.
As the first US full face transplant recipient, Wiens has also become the spokesperson for people who may benefit from facial transplantation. The historic surgery was paid for by the Department of Defense as part of a $3.4 million research grant in an ongoing effort to help servicemen and women who suffer severe facial wounds in combat.
On behalf of each honoree, Ethicon and Mentor are donating $5,000 to four non-profit organizations providing reconstructive plastic surgery services to those in need.