Top Doctors 2010
We present the best doctors across all specialties whom the experts, doctors themselves, recommend—and hear from a few who are advancing their fields right here in Westchester.
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Sculpting New Noses and Removing Extra Digits
Exploring a patient’s deepest emotions is standard practice in a therapist’s office—but in the plastic surgeon’s office? “I ask questions to better understand the person behind the deformity,” says Dr. Michael Suzman, plastic surgeon at WESTMED Medical Group in Rye. “For every breast augmentation or tummy tuck I’m asked to do, there’s someone out there with a similar shape or body living happily. What’s their motivation for coming here? How will the procedure and recovery impact their lives? What are their expectations, and are they realistic?”
Listening closely, essential to his practice, helps him decide, he says, “who’s emotionally ready and mature enough” for surgery. “A healthy amount of concern is one thing; obsessing about what’s relatively minor is another,” says Dr. Suzman, who fields more than 3,500 patient visits each year for plastic surgery procedures such as breast enhancements, facelifts, and tummy tucks. He has declined patients he doesn’t think he can help. “Building a good rapport with good candidates for surgery is the foundation of quality care.”
Dr. Suzman, 41, graduated from Cornell University Medical College in 1996 and trained in surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Since he opened his practice in 2002, the Atlanta native has taken on a diverse caseload of patients, treating birth defects and injuries as well as tweaking bodies and faces. “One of the joys of plastic surgery is that I can treat patients of all ages”—from removing extra digits on infants to removing skin cancer in 90-year-olds. “About half my practice is elective cosmetic surgery and half medically necessary procedures. For every nose I fix cosmetically, I’ll fix an injury. I do breast cancer surgery as well as breast implants.”
To give his patients a sense of their options, Dr. Suzman runs their photos through an advanced computer simulation that yields “after” images. “Especially with noses or neck and facelifts, it gives a sense of what’s achievable and gives me a chance to hear patient feedback.” He recalls one patient who suffered two disfiguring conditions at the same time: basal-cell carcinoma of the skin and eyelid, plus breast cancer for which she’d had a mastectomy. “I reconstructed her breast with abdominal tissue and her nose and eyes with skin flaps from her forehead and cheek. It was hard to tell she’d had surgery.”
In his spare time, Dr. Suzman paints the human figure (a few of his canvases adorn his office). “It helps to have that artistic eye. Reshaping the nose, breast, or tummy really is sculpture. It’s a challenge to find shapes that are subtle, that bring out the person’s other features naturally, that matches the body parts of family members.” He declares: “I love that I get to use my hands to improve people’s lives.”
Relieving Pain with Magnets and Light
Michael Weintraub, MD, a neurologist at Phelps Memorial Hospital, will try anything once. And when it comes to treating pain, he’ll sometimes go outside the confines of Western medicine and research other methods of pain management, from shiatsu to laser phototherapy.
That isn’t to say that he’ll believe in anything. “I’ll attack any idea to see if it’s real,” says Dr. Weintraub, 70, who has worked at Phelps since 1972 and is also a clinical professor of neurology and internal medicine at New York Medical College and adjunct clinical professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “I have to be persuaded, because I’m skeptical by nature.” He was an early supporter of alternative approaches to pain relief, e.g., acupuncture and shiatsu. “I paid out of my pocket to do a study that confirmed shiatsu was a quicker, more effective intervention than physical therapy.”
Dr. Weintraub’s biggest finding was spurred by a chance discussion with a dental hygienist. The year was 1998 and he was having his teeth cleaned. To pass the time, the hygienist told him that she wore special magnets in her socks to relieve foot pain. Hmm, he wondered, could magnets reduce the intense pain that his diabetic patients suffered in their feet, where progressive nerve loss caused severe burning and tingling? Dr. Weintraub counseled 30 patients to wear the magnets in their socks. “Lo and behold, they were better,” he says. The next year, he devised a scientific study with placebo controls to further test the results. Among the grateful was the late William Brady, who was then chief of anesthesiology at Phelps. “He had tried everything, even acupuncture,” Dr. Weintraub says. “When he wore the magnets in his shoes, the burning disappeared.”
Last year, Dr. Weintraub conducted a study that asked 225 people with advanced stages of diabetes to place their feet on a magnetic stimulator, a powerful “pulse” magnet that could penetrate the skin more deeply than the sock magnet and perhaps revive damaged nerves. At three months, his team performed biopsies, he says, that showed nerve loss in the control group but nerve regrowth in 29 percent of the pulse magnet users. “This was the first time anyone has been able to regenerate nerves,” says Dr. Weintraub. “This breakthrough is a paradigm shift that could make history.” He presented his finding nationally last year and currently awaits funding to pay for further research.
That’s not the only breakthrough he’s discovered through dental hygiene. In the mid-’90s, Dr. Weintraub collaborated with a dentist to publish a report that claimed that shining a laser inside the mouth could get rid of facial pain. Dr. Weintraub had shined a laser into the mouths of his patients to alleviate migraines—and had begun to explore the concept of beaming nerves with energy to relieve pain. “Our cells have receptors capable of absorbing light,” he says. A laser beam to the wrist improved his patients’ carpal tunnel, he maintains. “Just shining light on the wrist nerve and tendons can prevent surgery, and the laser challenges the theory that drugs are the only answer. Besides,” he says, “morphine makes people dopey.”
Keeping Abreast of Cutting-Edge Research
We used to tell women with breast cancer they were lucky to be alive,” says Helen A. Pass, MD, 47, an assistant professor of clinical surgery at Columbia University who practices at Lawrence Hospital Center in Bronxville. “But for me, it’s not good enough to take care of the cancer if the patient is devastated by the resulting scar. And there is no reason for that—in this field, progress continually occurs.”
Formerly chief of the Comprehensive Breast Care Center at the University of Michigan, Dr. Pass moved to Westchester five years ago with her husband, Dr. Harvey I. Pass, chief of thoracic surgery at New York University. Trained in general surgery at Georgetown University Hospital, she completed an oncology fellowship at the National Institutes of Health and, 16 years ago, when her twins were born, limited her practice to breasts only—removing tissue and draining cysts, both cancerous and benign.
In 2006, Dr. Pass was elected president of the American Society of Breast Surgeons and now serves as chairman of its board of directors, reviewing the most important papers published on breast surgery each year to separate valid research from junk science. She is particularly intrigued by promising new techniques in preserving the breast as well as reconstruction. “New skin-sparing and nipple-sparing techniques leave virtually no scars—even with mastectomies,” she says. Giving chemotherapy before surgery to shrink tumors also improves the chances of breast conservation, and lumpectomies—taking just a small portion of the breast tissue—are now an option for larger tumors. “Random surgeons call to use me as a resource,” she says. “I’m forced to stay up to date.”
She adds: “When patients leave my office, I want to be sure they are informed and empowered. It is important to understand that, while emotionally, they may want their surgery ‘done yesterday,’ biologically, the cancer won’t grow faster than they can process info, get the facts and opinions they need to make an informed decision.”
At Lawrence, Dr. Pass tries to see every newly diagnosed breast cancer patient within 48 hours. “When my patients are overwhelmed, education really goes a long way to allay their fears. They know I will give honest answers but also ask the hard questions.”
Dr. Pass lives and works in Bronxville, commuting to Lawrence on foot. “I’d better do my job right; I bump into my patients every day.”
Cracking Medical Mysteries
Gastroenterologist Marvin Chinitz, MD, estimates that he has saved three to five lives a week since he began performing colonoscopies 26 years ago. By that estimate, the 56-year-old pyhsician, a graduate of Boston University medical school who trained at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, has saved hundreds and hundreds of lives having performed more than 30,000 procedures.
“Gastroenterology is one of the only fields that bridges internal medicine fields and surgery,” says Dr. Chinitz of New Rochelle. He treats it like a mystery. The first step is to find the clues. Capsule endoscopy is one method he employs. The procedure uses a pill with a camera inside, and “is a fascinating approach” to diagnosing such conditions as Crohn’s disease, Dr. Chinitz says. “The patient fasts overnight, comes in at eight in the morning, swallows the camera, puts on a vest and returns at four pm.” On its way down the digestive tract, the camera snaps 50,000 photos, all downloaded to the vest. “I look at every picture of the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine,” he says. “A significant finding may only appear on one photo.”
Like the doctors on TV’s House M.D., Dr. Chinitz relies on unorthodox thinking to solve mysterious ailments plaguing his gastroenterology patients. “I am most proud of finding significant non-GI disease in patients sent to me for GI evaluation,” he says. In one baffling case, he found that a young woman suffering rectal bleeding during her periods turned out to have a cyst of uterine tissue invading her colon
Dr. Chinitz also has a small internal medicine practice at Mount Kisco Medical Group (MKMG), occupying 5 percent of his caseload. “Keeping my hand in internal medicine encourages me to continue reading—and learning,” he says. And teaching, too. Even in a busy practice, Dr. Chinitz maintains a passion for teaching and community outreach, serving as an attending voluntary physician at Montefiore each year. “The beauty of working in a New York City suburb is access to teaching hospitals with world experts.” He was recently promoted to associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He organizes a lecture series at MKMG, assigning different specialists to present to all the physicians each month, and at least once a year, he sends an email of helpful “GI Tidbits”—unusual cases, new research findings—for his colleagues to, well, digest.