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Man of many dimensions: Surgeon also serves, advocates

Article-Man of many dimensions: Surgeon also serves, advocates

Dr. D'Amico
Richard A. D'Amico operates in anything but a vacuum. He treats patients daily in his busy aesthetic practice, reaches out to children in the developing world through voluntary missions and represents patients and the specialty on issues, including the silicone gel-filled breast implant debate.

A plastic surgeon in Englewood, N.J., and assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, Dr. D'Amico says advocacy has been a big part of his professional life.

As chairman of the Breast Implant Task Force of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Dr. D'Amico says he helps to present the best face of plastic surgery to the public, regulators — for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — and legislators.

"I have been working on the breast implant issue for 13 years, and I would predict that by the end of the calendar year, the FDA will approve silicone gel breast implants to be back on the market again. For me, that will culminate 13 years of advocacy with the FDA and breast implants," he says. "We got the saline implants approved in the year 2000."

His fight is grounded in the values of patient and surgeon choice.

"There are about 60 countries where physicians and women have a choice between types of implants, and the significant majority chooses gel. So it is clear that gel implants should not be the only choice, but certainly offer patients and their surgeons an important choice that we have not had for many years in this country," Dr. D'Amico says. "And the science clearly supports the device."

The plastic surgeon sees it as his duty to step up to the plate in the name of the profession and for patients. In the final analysis, he says, patients rely on their physicians for their safety and well-being.

"That is why we train for so many years," he says. "That is why we meet together to stay current, to discuss new techniques and technology and to evaluate new technology. We have to do that. It is not about the FDA or the manufacturers so much as it is about the profession, and, as doctors and surgeons, we have to do the research and be patients' advocates."

Dr. D'Amico says he has learned in his life as an advocate about how little the politicians and regulators really know about what physicians do. As a result, physicians are charged with educating these groups, to ensure that the science and data behind what doctors are saying and doing is respected.

Outreach to children

In addition to offering his services to aesthetic and reconstructive patients through his New Jersey practice, Dr. D'Amico volunteers his skills in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, India, Kenya and other Third World countries. The volunteer medical group that he works with most often is Healing the Children Midlantic, an effort focused on providing care to children. Dr. D'Amico has made some 15 of these trips since 1983, providing free surgery to children with cleft lips, cleft palates, burns and more.

He says the volunteer work is "a rush. You get to put together an all-star surgical team. Fabulous people from around the country get together (surgeons, nurses) and do surgery on kids who otherwise could not get it. So, the thing speaks for itself," he says. "One of my sons came along to work on one of the trips. He described it as the best week of his life. He was 16 at the time."

Devoted to practice

With 22 years' experience as a plastic surgeon, Dr. D'Amico says he thrives on the incredible feeling he gets from great results in cosmetic surgery.

"That is what drives this train," he says.

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