Dr. Laurence R. Sands Receives First Chair in Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery

In a first for the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery, a distinguished member of its faculty has been presented with one of academia’s highest honors. Laurence R. Sands, M.D., M.B.A., Chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery in the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery at the Miller School of Medicine, was presented with The Dr. Laurence Sands Endowed Chair in Colon and Rectal Surgery, which was generously funded by Mr. and Mrs. Travis J. Leonardi.

The ceremony was held May 25 before Miller School leadership, colleagues and family in the Michael S. Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education at the Don Soffer Clinical Research Center. Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., said the chair was an excellent opportunity to celebrate Sands, a longtime champion of the Miller School and UHealth – the University of Miami Health System.

“An endowed chair is one of the most significant gifts in higher education,” said Goldschmidt. “It is provided to world-class scholars to support their research and teaching programs in perpetuity. Chairs are crucial for recruiting and retaining the highest-quality faculty, which, in turn, creates an academic environment that attracts the brightest students.”

For Travis and Shari Leonardi, the founding donors, the chair was a way to thank Sands for his care and compassion, and to support his research.

“I have been blessed in my life in so many ways, but I am humbled to be a part of this,” said Travis Leonardi, who was joined by his wife, Shari, and son Anthony. “With this chair, Dr. Sands, you will be assisted a little bit, by each one of us, to be able to touch the lives you touch every day. Like I’ve said to you many times, your hands are the hands of God.”

An alumnus of St. John’s University College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions in New York City, Leonardi has founded several health care companies designed to improve business intelligence technology for entities throughout the United States.

He is currently CEO and founder of Sentry Data Systems, Inc., a Deerfield Beach-based company founded in 2004 that provides technology solutions for health care providers, and was recognized as one of the “Top 100 Private Companies” by South Florida Business Journal in 2012, as well as the “2011 Fast Tech Award.”

Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., Chair of the DeWitt Daughtry Family Department of Surgery, thanked the Leonardi family for their generous and transformational gift.

“It is an honor and pleasure for me to be here because it means longevity of our academic and educational research mission,” said Velazquez, who is also a professor of surgery, radiology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and the David Kimmelman Endowed Chair in Vascular and Endovascular Surgery. “It makes it possible for our most talented faculty members to continue to pursue new cures and advancement in their fields.”

Sands joined the University of Miami faculty as an assistant professor of clinical surgery in 1997 and has become a leader in the use of minimally invasive laparoscopic colon surgery, as well as a dedicated educator and mentor.

Sands said that while chairs are typically named for the donor, Leonardi was adamant that it not be about him, but rather a chance to give back to the medical profession and the Miller School.

“While I humbly accept the name, the gesture by Mr. Leonardi speaks volumes about the sort of person he is: generous, unpretentious, grateful, humble, and modest,” said Sands, whose wife, Dana, sons, Ryan and Cory, and mother, Eileen, attended the ceremony. “His incredible effort reinforces the importance of the research and the work we do each day.”

Sands received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Northwestern University in 1990. He did his general surgery residency at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia and then went on to do his colon and rectal training at the Cleveland Clinic Florida. In 2009, he completed his M.B.A. in Health Care Policy and Management at the University of Miami.

Sands is involved in every element of surgical education and is known for using his energy and talent to provide students with the best education at every opportunity.

He is a superb mentor to many residents, fellows, and medical students, and has won numerous teaching awards, including the Outstanding Teaching Award, which was presented by the UM Faculty Senate in April, and the 2010 George Paff Teaching Award.

A fellow of the American College of Surgeons and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, Sands has served as president of the South Florida Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, has authored a textbook on anorectal disease, numerous book chapters and peer-reviewed articles, and currently serves as a reviewer for several major medical journals.

A professor of clinical surgery and Vice Chair of Medical Student Education, he said the chair represents the height of his career as an academic surgeon.

“I am honored by the support you have provided me, and I am truly grateful for your generosity and support of our mission,” said Sands.

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