Thursday, March 15, 2012
Kristin Stueber, MD, says her desire to make a donation to the University of Maryland School of Medicine is founded on more than a feeling of gratitude for the quality of the education she received or the experiences she had. To her, it’s a sense of honor.
“I wanted to do something useful, to give back to the institution that has allowed me to be successful,” says Dr. Stueber, a 1969 graduate of the School of Medicine who served as a resident from 1970-72 and a member of the faculty from 1977-87. “To me, it’s what you do.”
Dr. Stueber, a plastic surgeon now working and living in Springfield, Massachusetts, says she has supported the University of Maryland, along with her other education providers, over the years, but not to this level or specificity. Her donations -- valued at a quarter-million dollars -- will directly benefit the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
“It’s always been my goal to support plastic surgery here,” says Dr. Stueber, who was the first full-time plastic surgeon on staff at the University of Maryland. “I want to see the division grow.”
Dr. Stueber says her decision to make a large gift was triggered in part by some long-term financial planning she was doing. And, she admits, it was a financial decision that she realized would be mutually beneficial.
“This was money that was already committed to the institution,” she says. “But, rather than waiting until I died, which is the way it was originally structured, I decided to do it now so that I could have the ability to work with the people here and decide together where the money is needed and how it should get there. “
And where that need is greatest, believes Dr. Stueber, who recently became a member of the Board of Directors of the Medical Alumni Association of the University of Maryland, is at the most basic level.
“There has been tremendous growth and academic productivity at Maryland since I was last here,” she says. “But it’s becoming more difficult to maintain. Medicine has become as much about money and running a business [as providing care]. With some direct financial support, the Division’s activities and decisions can be made based on what’s good for education, for research, and, ultimately, for patients.”
Research is an area that is especially needy -- and vitally important -- these days, says Dr. Stueber. As a discipline, plastic surgery is not well understood by the general public and often overlooked internally, in favor of higher profile areas, when it comes to funding for innovation. But plastic surgeons often play a pivotal role in new medical treatments.
“Most people don’t realize it, but plastic surgery has been one of the leaders in innovation in surgery,” says Dr. Stueber. “It’s not just about breast enhancements and nose jobs. The first kidney transplant was performed by a plastic surgeon, Dr.Joseph Murray, who subsequently won the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Not very many surgeons have won a Nobel prize.”
At the University of Maryland, the staff of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, which falls under the Department of Surgery, has a stated goal to “treat any physical deformity that can be corrected by surgery, whether acquired or congenital.” Lead by Interim Chief Sheri Slezak, MD, an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine and Director of Breast Reconstruction at the University of Maryland Medical Center, the division works in collaboration with other specialties to manage a wide range of patient conditions, such as reconstruction of craniofacial abnormalities, cancer therapy, traumatic injuries, abdominal hernias, hand injuries, cosmetic defects, and burns, using a variety of leading-edge technologies, including microsurgical procedures.
Plastic surgery is a specialty of innovation: It is at the forefront of research into composite tissue allotransplantation, or CTA, for example, which promises a revolutionary advancement in reconstructive surgery, affording a perfect “replacement part” for tissues compromised by disease or trauma. CTA techniques have been applied to the hand, face, abdominal wall, larynx, and other body parts, and have the potential to restore form and function in patients who suffer from severe disfigurement. Other innovative approaches to healing taken by the staff include tissue engineering to replace cartilage or bone, the use of fat and stem cells in breast reconstruction, reconstructive flap surgery, and endoscopic techniques in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery.
“The work that’s being done now [in plastic surgery] -- for example, in hand and face transplantation -- is exciting and could become a real boon for people with traumatic injuries,” says Dr. Stueber, who hopes her gift also will support the education of the next generation of plastic surgeons and scientists.
However, a major barrier for continued growth and innovation in the division, as well as throughout the University of Maryland, suggests Dr. Stueber, is a lack of funding. Because of the division’s small size, the medical staff often must choose between pursuing research projects and performing procedures that provide a revenue stream. Establishing an endowed fund can help change that situation.
“Having some money removes the burden of financial constraints and allows research to grow,” says Dr. Stueber, who wants to ear-mark a portion of her donation to provide the salary for faculty members who can “focus on research and teaching [and other tasks] essential to running a quality program.”
Dr. Stueber says she is hopeful her donation will inspire others, including her peers in plastic surgery and her fellow alumni, to make similar contributions.
“My donation is not an enormous amount of money, I know, but I believe it’s enough to kick things off,” she says. “Consider it ‘seed money,’ an investment, and I throw it out as a bit of a challenge to see if and how it can grow.”
The Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine is a statewide resource offering a full range of surgical services for all age groups. The department specializes in the management of the most complex patient problems and is supported by an excellent range of physical facilities. Our centers of excellence and special programs offer a multidisciplinary approach to the evaluation and treatment of patient conditions providing the most innovative and outstanding care for our patients.
For more information, contact the University of Maryland School of Medicine Office of Development at 410-706-8503.