By Rick Griffin
Two La Mesa residents were recently honored with 2016 Healthcare Hero awards from the Grossmont Healthcare District (GHD), an East County regional public agency that supports various health-related community programs and services in San Diego’s East County. Now in its 10th year, the Healthcare Heroes is GHD’s annual awards program that honors volunteers who help advance the delivery of quality healthcare in East County.
The two honorees from La Mesa included Dr. Scott Musicant and Michael Colombo and his dog Shiloh.
Musicant, a practicing vascular surgeon with Vascular Associates of San Diego, donates his time and expertise to serve the underserved in San Diego County as a physician volunteer for Project Access San Diego (PASD). PASD is the flagship volunteer physician program of Champions for Health, a nonprofit organization previously called the San Diego County Medical Society Foundation.
Since 2009, Musicant has helped about 20 uninsured or underinsured East County residents who cannot afford specialty surgeries. These patients were suffering from various vascular- and arterial-related diseases, including varicose veins and thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms. Patients were treated at Musicant’s office on Center Drive in La Mesa or an area surgery center. A recent patient at risk of losing her leg due to dry gangrene received more than $16,000 in pro bono vascular care through PASD, which included bypass surgery, arterial duplex imaging, angioplasty and stents, along with follow-up care.
Initiated in 2008, PASD has helped more than 4,622 uninsured patients receive specialized medical care through a network of volunteer physicians, hospitals, surgery centers and other ancillary health services. Champions for Health estimates donated care provided by PASD volunteers represents more than $10.8 million in medical services.
“Project Access clients are always so appreciative and it really makes me feel good to provide that care when they need it,” said Musicant.
Colombo, a retired commercial construction superintendent, and his beagle named Shiloh are volunteers with Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program, which has been serving patients for more than 30 years.
For the past three years, Shiloh and Colombo have visited patients throughout the hospital campus, including the Emergency and Critical Care Center, David and Donna Long Center for Cancer Treatment and the Rehabilitation Center, as well as private rooms. They also have made trips to the Sharp HospiceCare LakeView home in La Mesa. Since January 2014, the duo have logged more than 375 hours of volunteer service.
“It’s been an unbelievable blessing to have the opportunity to serve and provide encouragement and support,” said Colombo. “Shiloh makes such a difference with people who are hurting. People will smile, cry, hug the dog, pet the dog or even chuckle. The animal-human bond is very strong and emotional. Occasionally, we’re contacted by family members of former hospital patients who ask us to visit their elderly mom or dad at their homes. We’re happy to do so.”
Earlier in his life, volunteering at a hospital would have been the last place Colombo would have chosen. That’s because he had fainted several times at different hospitals, including as a teenager when his father was treated for a snake bite and when both his children were born.
“Sometimes, all it took was walking through the front door and smelling the smells before I got woozy,” Colombo said. “But, you never know what God has planned for you. Only by prayer and the grace of God and His transforming power working in my life have I been able to change and overcome that seemingly impossible obstacle. I’m living proof that there’s nothing God can’t do. Now there’s no place else I’d rather be.”
GHD also recently honored three other East County volunteers with 2016 Healthcare Hero awards. They included: Dr. Kevin Ryan, a chiropractor since 1983, who has volunteered as a team doctor for high school and college sports teams in the East County for nearly 30 years; James Byrnes, an attorney in private practice since 1991, who has served for the past 29 years on the board of directors of the San Diego Freedom Ranch, an alcohol and drug residential treatment facility in Campo; Sam Mejia, founder of Sons of Charity Inc., an all-volunteer organization that provides financial assistance, resources and encouragement to children and their families suffering from life-threatening pediatric cancer.
“The purpose of these Healthcare Hero awards is to recognize volunteers whose unsung work in healthcare might not otherwise be recognized,” said Grossmont Healthcare District 2016 board president Bob Ayres. “This year’s group of honorees demonstrated extraordinary and inspirational care and selfless dedication that has played a critical role towards a healthier East County community.”
The Grossmont Healthcare District (GHD), formed in 1952 to build and operate Grossmont Hospital, serves as owner and landlord of the hospital property and facilities on behalf of local taxpayers. GHD also operates the Dr. William C. Herrick Community Health Care Library, a public library specializing in health information, located at 9001 Wakarusa St. in La Mesa. The District is governed by a five-member board of directors, each elected to four-year terms, who represent more than 500,000 people residing within the District’s 750 square miles. For more information about GHD, visit grossmonthealthcare.org.
—Rick Griffin is a marketing and public relations consultant based in La Mesa. Reach him at email@example.com.