America's complex and technologically driven medical system is as sophisticated, complex and expensive as any in the world. But within that vast system are those who still put the "care" in health care and who we recognize as the winners of this year's Champions of Health Care awards.
Edge magazine, in partnership with the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, received more than 150 nominations from the public about health care providers, administrators and volunteers who have made health care better in Chattanooga. From among those nominations, a panel of judges comprised of top leaders from the medical society and each of Chattanooga's three major hospital systems — Erlanger Health System, CHI Memorial Hospital, Parkridge Health System —picked the winners that we salute in the following pages.
The Champions of Health Care award winners recognize those who have tackled major community health problems, starting programs to tackle obesity and smoking, adding physical therapy training in Chattanooga, and bringing needed medical services to those without health insurance. Others are recognized for new approaches, strong leadership and simple acts of kindness during their lifetimes of achievement and service.
In our second year of the awards, we have quickly discovered the rich talent and commitment from those who work every day to keep us healthy.
Workday tasks for pediatric surgeon Lisa Smith can range from removing appendices, to performing reconstructive surgery or caring for injured children, but that variety is one of her favorite aspects of the job.
"There's always something new, interesting and rewarding going on," says Smith, a partner at University Surgical Associates and one of four pediatric surgeons in town.
Originally from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Smith came to Chattanooga in 1993 for residency. Although she knew she wanted to be a surgeon since she was 11 years old, it was during residency that she gravitated toward pediatrics.
"The pediatric surgeon tends to have a broad base of things that they do, so they're really truly general surgeons," she says. "I never have a boring day."
Smith spends a good chunk of her time developing "Pectacular!," University Surgical and Children's Hospital at Erlanger's chest wall reconstruction program for adolescents with pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum, two chest wall deformities that can cause heart and lung problems, as well as sabotage self confidence.
Honors a physician whose research, innovation or teaching is considered exemplary by patients and peers.
Winner: Dr. Lisa Smith
Accomplishments: As one of only four pediatric surgeons in Chattanooga, she has helped develop a new chest wall reconstruction program for adolescents with pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum. Smith also helped lead the hospital response to the Nov. 21, 2016 school bus crash killed six Woodmore Elementary students and sent 31 others to hospitals.
"Those deformities are really a problem for kids," Smith explains. "When we rebuild them when they're adolescents, it not only improves their body self image, it takes care of their underlying cardiac and pulmonary problems — I know we're doing the right surgery for these kids, and it's not just cosmetic."
The complex surgery is an endeavour that requires months of preparation from the patient, family and a multidisciplinary team — directed by Smith — comprised of physicians, nurses, therapists and a support network. Smith performs between 15 and 20 chest wall reconstructions per year, but she's seen more than 800 children for the deformity, which can sometimes be corrected without surgery.
"It's a very rewarding program for me, because these kids don't just walk in with one problem that I fix and they're gone," she says. "It's a process that takes place between five to six years, so I get to know the patients and their families really well."
Nancy Howard, a pediatric nurse at Children's Hospital at Erlanger who works with Smith, said the chest wall reconstruction program is a "well-oiled machine" under Smith's leadership.
"Every aspect of the child's surgery and recovery is all coordinated," Howard says. "She has created this team, and she has everybody working together, and it's all for the patient's good — there are not many surgeons that take that time and that effort. "
Smith's methods include "pre-hab" designed to ready the patient's body for surgery, which has improved post-operative pain control and increased safety for those who go through the process.
"Since she started doing all that, it's remarkable how much better they've done," Howard says. "She even has ice cream socials before, so that all of these kids that are going to have this done meet, and they meet kids that have it done before."
While Smith is Chattanooga's pioneer in chest wall reconstruction, she's also known across town for her poise and leadership in the operating room.
"She's calm, and she's very approachable, and when your child is going into surgery, you're stressed out, and I think she brings that down a bunch," Howard says, adding that Smith's demeanor shone on Nov. 21, 2016, the day of the Woodmore Bus Crash that killed six children and sent 31 others to hospitals.
Smith was the trauma surgeon on call for Children's Hospital, and she was grocery shopping when she heard about an accident with multiple victims. So she dropped the groceries, grabbed her scrubs and went straight to the hospital.
"What started out as just a small amount of information turned into a full disaster protocol," recalls Smith, who as the on-call surgeon became incident commander, a role she also assumed during the 2011 tornado outbreak.
"That's what we do here, with this being a major trauma center, and especially with the time it hit during the day, the hospital was well staffed and full of knowledgable people," she says, emphasizing that Chattanooga is a close-knit community where first responders and medical professionals work together.
The colleagues within the hospital and her practice, particularly Dr. Phillip Burns, chairman of the department of surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine-Chattanooga and joint-founder of University Surgical, made Smith want to grow her career and family in Chattanooga.
"It's those professional relationships that have been really rewarding for me, because we can do something here that is on par with the big names," she says. "I have one of the best jobs in the world."