Monday, January 14, 2008

In memory of Dr. Melvin Smith

This is a picture of Dr. Smith. He is one half of the team that created the Vertical Expanding Prosthetic Titanium Ribs (VEPTR) that saved Kaedra's life. He died early this morning. My two favorite memories of him are when he told us that Kaedra did NOT have Jarcho Levin (meaning that it was not a genetic problem she had, just a "series of anomalies") for which we were VERY grateful and when he said Kaedra should have a totally normal life and she may be one of the first "rib kids" to have kids of her own. He was a wonderful, sweet, kind, compassionate man and he meant a lot to Michael and me. even though we only knew him briefly.

Here is the letter I received from his partner, the other doctor that created the ribs:

Dear Families, Friends and Colleagues,

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of Dr. Melvin D. Smith, who died early this morning, Monday,

January 14, 2008 at the age of 66 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

We know that to many of you, Dr. Smith was a trusted physician, a colleague, a personal friend. His passing is a great loss to the Thoracic Institute, to CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and to all “rib” kids. Our deepest condolences are extended to his wife, Marylyn, their children, Meredith, Elaine, and Melvin Douglas, II and family, as well as his siblings and mother.

As many of you know, the Titanium Rib Project began in 1987 when Dr. Smith approached me about a patient with severe congenital absence of ribs and scoliosis. The infant, who was full-time ventilator dependent, was expected to die without intervention. We implanted a chest wall prosthesis using orthopaedic fracture pins to try to help him, and, to our amazement, he was then able to be weaned from the ventilator. The titanium rib was developed just for this child so that his artificial chest could grow with him. The Titanium Rib Project evolved from the care of this first child and, through the efforts of Dr. Smith and myself over the past 20 years, surgeons in 26 countries now use the titanium rib to help other children. We never thought it would get this big, but it seems it is here to stay as a new standard of care for young children with spine and chest wall birth defects. The FDA approval of the titanium rib in 2004 was a great accomplishment for us, and for the many families, children, and colleagues who helped make it possible.

Dr. Smith received his medical degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and has held various positions throughout his medical career, including serving as Acting Chief of the Division of Surgery at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, President of the San Antonio Surgical Society, and President of the Texas Society of Pediatric Surgeons.

Dr. Smith and I spent years developing the five surgical procedures made possible by the titanium rib. He taught me a great deal about thoracic surgery for children and made many contributions. He pioneered the insertion of tracheostomy tubes through the breast bone for children with short neck syndromes who could not otherwise be ventilated. His colleagues in pediatric surgery were amazed when he presented our work to the American Pediatric Surgical Association Meeting. Dr. Smith’s contributions have helped give hope and life to many children throughout the world.

Dr. Smith was a kind and compassionate individual who never failed to take the time to listen to a child’s concern, calm a parent’s fears, or answer a colleague’s question. To many “rib” kids and parents, he was their hero. His passing is a great loss and he will be sorely missed by all. We appreciate all of you “rib families” and friends of Dr Smith who made a special effort to be in San Antonio the past few years for the “rib kid” picnics in his honor. We will continue to have these yearly as a memorial to Dr. Smith.

I have lost not only a colleague, but also good friend, who had worked tirelessly to help children in spite of his disease for the past 10 years. He fought his cancer hard, with a brave dignity that was an inspiration to us all. He will always be admired and respected for all he has done for others. I will miss him.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Foundation for the Thoracic Institute-Titanium Rib Program at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, San Antonio TX. Sympathy cards may be sent to the Smith Family c/o CSRCH Thoracic Institute, 333 North Santa Rosa Street, San Antonio TX 78207. A memorial service, which will be held at Asbury United Methodist Church, 4601 San Pedro, San Antonio TX 78212, has not been finalized. Details will be forthcoming.

Dr. Bob Campbell

CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital

San Antonio, Texas


The Zandi Zoo said...


Eric Vance said...

Thank you for posting this information. While I never met Dr. Smith, my son's doctor leaned from him in order to help my son. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all of the families that he helped.