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Three S.A. doctors honored
September 16, 2008

Travis E. Poling Express-News

The San Antonio biomedical industry honors three San Antonio doctors tonight with the third annual Palmaz Award for their innovations that have made a difference for children around the world.

BioMed SA will present the award to Dr. Robert Campbell Jr. and the late Dr. Melvin Smith for their work on developing the titanium rib for children with spinal and chest deformities and identifying Thoracic Insufficiency Syndrome.

Also honored is Dr. Kaye Wilkins, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon in San Antonio who has trained general orthopedic surgeons and medical technicians in impoverished countries so they can better care for children.

The award is named for Dr. Julio Palmaz, the first recipient of the award in 2006 and inventor of the Palmaz stent used to keep arteries from collapsing. BioMed SA is a nonprofit entity that promotes the city's health care and biotech sector.

“It's getting a reputation as an important award,” said Henry Cisneros, founding chairman of BioMed SA and former San Antonio mayor. “There is an international theme this year with innovation giving the ability to heal people beyond the city limits.”

Campbell has been honored for identifying the previously unrecognized condition of chest deformity constricting lung growth as well as developing the titanium rib to rebuild chest walls in pediatric patients.

But this award is special, Campbell said, because it also recognizes Smith, who died early this year after a long battle with cancer.

“I think San Antonio is one of the few places in the United States where we could have succeeded,” he said, citing Christus Santa Rosa Children's Hospital and the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Campbell is leaving San Antonio after nearly 30 years for a job at the prestigious Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Because of the two doctors' work, the rules of treating children with spinal and chest deformities have changed and helped lead to the Pediatric Medical Device Safety and Improvement Act of 2007, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said in a statement.

Before the titanium rib was developed and went through a trying process of U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, few devices were developed with children in mind, and adult devices often were not safe when used in children.

Wilkins, likewise, recognized a need to bring orthopedic expertise to children.

Wilkins, who also practices at UTHSC and Christus Santa Rosa, has done 32 outreach continuing education courses in 22 countries, including Haiti, China, Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Iraq.

“This is really recognizing education,” Wilkins said.

He said the programs couldn't have continued without willing volunteer doctors from San Antonio and around the country along with support from benefactors such as financier Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury, former real estate company CEO Jack Willome and energy executive Bill Greehey.

The programs started in Haiti and are nearly self-supporting thanks to years of training doctors and technicians in pediatric methods, including fixing the club foot condition.

Wilkins is still active with the program. He was in Peru just last week training surgeons.

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