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Passion and Service: A Conversation With Dr. Thomas Davenport

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Thomas Davenport, MD, FACS, board-certified plastic surgeon and partner at Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, is a long-time and much-appreciated ReSurge volunteer. Dr. Davenport has performed reconstructive surgery and trained others in reconstructive plastic surgery on more than 20 ReSurge trips. He has visited countries including Bhutan, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, India, Mali, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, and the Philippines. A past recipient of our Donald R. Laub Humanitarian Award, Dr. Davenport epitomizes the passion and dedication of our volunteers, consistently offering his time and talent to help others.

Dharshan Sivaraj, a ReSurge medical student volunteer, recently sat down with Dr. Davenport for an interview where he reminisced about his experiences with ReSurge:

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I went to medical school at Yale. As a matter of fact, I was classmates with Dr. Jim Chang, the current chief medical officer of ReSurge. I completed my general surgery and plastic surgery residencies at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Then I did a microsurgery fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York. I subsequently spent a year traveling and performing plastic surgery abroad as a Webster Fellow, and finally did an additional burn fellowship at the Shriner Burn Hospital in Boston. After my training was complete, I came to New York and began working with the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group.

Q: Could you expand on what the Webster fellowship was and what made you decide to do it?

The Webster fellowship was offered by Interplast, the former name of ReSurge. This was a very interesting opportunity for me, in the sense that there were no other fellowships like it available. The fellowship was the brainchild of Dr. David Dingman (the first CMO that Interplast/Resurge ever had on staff) and it was meant to train the next generation of leaders in reconstructive surgery philanthropy.

I knew that international NGO work was something I wanted to incorporate as part of my career. What really sold me on it was when I spoke to Dr. Ross Zbar, who was the very first Webster fellow. He said the Webster fellowship was the best thing he had ever done, and the best decision he ever made. Then I had a meeting with Dr. Dave Damon, who was the chief medical officer of Interplast/ReSurge at the time. We had such a great discussion and the interview, which was only supposed to be about 20 minutes, went on for nearly two hours. After that meeting, I decided to apply.

Q: Do you have any memories from that year which particularly stand out?

I have so many, it was just an amazing year. We would travel as a team of 12 and perform surgeries abroad. We were just starting to develop the model of creating a more sustainable model in these countries by training local doctors to perform the surgeries. This was the inception of the robust training model that we now have at ReSurge. There are some patients from that year who I still remember to this day, and many of the people I worked with that I still run into on occasion. It was also a completely amazing experience from an educational perspective. I must have worked with 50 surgeons who all taught me different techniques in reconstructive surgery. As a surgeon, I grew tremendously. I believe it was during the Webster fellowship year that I grew the most as a surgeon and a person.

Q: What made you decide to complete another fellowship in burn surgery at the Shriner Hospital after arriving back in the US from your year abroad?

While I had previously done a rotation there during my residency training, I felt that if I was going to incorporate international medicine as part of my practice, working at the Shriner Hospital in Boston and becoming a true expert in burn reconstruction would be helpful for my future work with ReSurge. Also, the hospital had patients coming from developing countries and places that couldn’t provide advanced burn care, which appealed to me. As a matter of fact, when I took my first job with the Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, I was hired to work in the burn unit doing these advanced reconstructive burn cases.

Q: How many ReSurge affiliated trips have you been on since your fellowship year?

Well, I think that if you add it all up in total, even before COVID put things on hold, I’ve spent probably a year and a half of my life on ReSurge trips! I have probably been to over 20 countries just with ReSurge.

Q: Are there any surgical cases which you have performed with ReSurge that particularly stand out?

When I go back and look through my pictures from ReSurge and try to select a case for a talk, I will end up going through pictures for hours and hours. I am surprised by the number of cases, patients, and stories that I remember. Every patient has a story, and when I see photos of my patients, it all just comes right back.

There was one patient I remember specifically who was in a fire and badly burned when she was three years old. Her legs became fused together and she couldn’t stand or walk. We did a three-hour operation with skin grafting, multiple flaps, and multiple releases. For the patient’s whole life, she had to be carried. Now as a seven-year-old, she began walking for the first time. I remember thinking to myself that if this patient had not come across our trip and the hospital where we were doing the surgery, she would likely be this way forever since her previous doctors said there was nothing they could do to fix the issue. The parents heard over the radio that we were coming to the hospital for a trip, and the father carried her for several days, bus after bus, to have the surgery.

There are so many opportunities for ReSurge volunteers to make a significantly positive impact on a person’s life. It’s wonderful to see the tremendous impact we have on the lives of the patients we help. Moreover, through the work of training local physicians, we are producing a tremendous multiplier on the impact we can make.

Q: As a ReSurge board member how would you like to see the organization continue to grow?

I see ReSurge becoming more and more important in international reconstructive surgery. I think ReSurge could be the venue for teaching reconstructive surgery around the world. While the existence for virtual education is great, this must be developed within a structure of in-person visits and hands-on training. I think ReSurge is well-positioned to provide this structured education. The direction that we have taken as an organization is just truly exciting. The evolution of working with different sites to advance surgical education so that local surgeons are trained to the capabilities of surgeons in the United States has been transformative.

Q: What impact do individuals who provide donations for advancing ReSurge’s mission have?

In my opinion, there is no other reconstructive surgery organization where donations have a greater impact than at ReSurge. This is because we provide both safe, affordable surgery and education to surgeons abroad. I think there is no organization like this in reconstructive surgery, or even surgery in general for that matter. As the word gets out, ReSurge will attract more attention and support for continuing these programs. We may even move into other specialties and other areas of medicine and surgery.

Q: Finally, how have the patients that you have helped during your trips abroad with ReSurge, in turn, helped to shape your own worldview?

When I came back from my Webster Fellowship year abroad, I was a completely different person in terms of my approach to patients. Previously, I often viewed patients as a procedure that I needed to do, and I took pride in how I was able to make the right decisions for the patients’ care. However, I was missing the component of how what I did affected their lives, because I was never part of their lives. When I traveled abroad, I got to really see the patients, their families, and how important what we are doing is. It wasn’t until I went to other countries that I realized what a tremendous responsibility we have. My experiences abroad have really rejuvenated me in my career and rejuvenated me in my ability to want to be a better surgeon, work harder, and do what is best for all my patients.

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