Marc Buoniconti and Patricia Cantwell Win Health Care Heroes Awards

To highlight the work of nominees for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 Health Care Heroes Awards, videotaped messages describing the nominees’ accomplishments were shown to the audience. In the recorded words of Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., those who didn’t already know, learned that Marc Buoniconti, president of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a Center of Excellence at the Miller School, “is the soul and the strength that is moving the entire enterprise forward.”

That dedication to finding a cure for spinal cord injury hasn’t wavered since his 1985 accident, making Buoniconti and The Miami Project internationally known in the field. As he slowly rolled his wheelchair to the podium to collect his Individual of Merit Award, attendees stood to their feet and applauded thunderously.

The outstanding work of Miller School faculty received similar attention at the May 12 event at Jungle Island. G. Patricia Cantwell, M.D., professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric critical care medicine at Holtz Children’s Hospital, won the Health Care Professional Award for her many years spent attending to the medical needs of some of the sickest children in the region and beyond. She was also recognized for her willingness to quickly head to some of the worst disaster sites—including New York City after 9/11 and Port-au-Prince after the January 2010 earthquake—to help save as many lives as possible.

“I am quite flattered to get this,” said Cantwell, who is also medical manager for South Florida Task Force 2’s Urban Search and Rescue Team. “This award goes to my family that puts up with me and all the people I surround myself with who make this all possible.”

In accepting his Merit Award, Buoniconti, the son of legendary All-Pro and Hall of Fame linebacker and former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti, reminded the audience how much progress The Miami Project has made and how much more still needs to be done to help people with spinal cord injuries.

He also described the incredible support over many years that contributed to The Miami Project’s ascension to the respected scientific entity it is today, a place where some of the world’s foremost experts engage in collaborative research. That support, he said, really began when, hours after his football accident, his parents saw the helpless look on his face as he lay in a hospital bed, and promised to do everything possible to help.

“That promise has turned into The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis,” Buoniconti told the hushed room. “It’s only because of them that I am here today to accept this award.”

Among the four additional winners of this year’s Health Care Heroes Awards, two had ties to or worked with affiliates of UHealth – University of Miami Health System. Ann-Lynn Denker, Ph.D., A.R.N.P., director of the Center for Nursing Excellence at Jackson Health System, received the nurse award and James Roderick Jude, M.D. co-inventor of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and a retired cardiac and thoracic surgeon, was honored with the AXA Advisors Lifetime Achievement Award. Jude is a former professor of surgery at UM. The other Health Care Heroes Awards went to Diamond Sims, in the youth volunteer category, and to Ronald DeMeo, M.D., M.B.A., in the biomedical category.

Margaret A. Fischl, M.D., the Miller School’s renowned HIV/AIDS researcher was a finalist in the biomedical category. Fischl, professor of medicine, director of the AIDS Clinical Research Unit, and co-director of the Developmental Center for AIDS Research, has been a pioneer in anti-retroviral research and has led numerous studies dealing with HIV/AIDS and Kaposi’s sarcoma, including the first studies evaluating zidovudine (AZT), combination drug regimens and lower doses of nucleoside analogues for toxicity for HIV-infected patients.

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