Orlando’s 2013 FINEST DOCTORS









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Memorable Moments

We asked 10 of the doctors who appear on the lists to share with readers a memorable day or experience in their medical careers. Watch for the Memorable Moments symbol throughout the section to read their accounts.

Dr. Amy Smith
Director, Pediatric Neuro-Oncology
Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

During interviews for my previous job at the University of Florida, I was asked to give my opinion on patients being seen at the hospital. At the time, I was living in Denver and uncertain I would take the job in Gainesville. I returned to Denver to find a voicemail from a long-lost childhood friend named Susan asking if I knew anything about childhood brain tumors. She heard I was in the field and her 4-year-old son, Brandon, had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor. I was shocked when Susan said Brandon was being treated at UF. As she shared more details about Brandon, I realized her son was one of the patient cases I reviewed during my interview in Gainesville. I took the position and was Brandon’s oncologist for three years. Though he eventually passed away from his illness, his light will always live in my heart.


Dr. J. Pablo Arnoletti
Chief of Surgical Oncology
Florida Hospital Cancer Institute

Last month I took my 11-year-old daughter to the mall. As we were walking, we ran into a patient of mine who had recently undergone surgery for pancreatic cancer. In spite of his medical problems he had made a remarkable recovery from a complex operation and was enjoying the sunny afternoon with his wife. They both greeted us warmly while the wife expressed her gratitude to our surgical team for helping them overcome fear and restore hope. As is often the case in our profession, I was the one feeling grateful for an encounter that gave us the opportunity to discuss the truly important things in life. I shall never forget my daughter’s bright eyes when she said that one day she might also become a surgeon. 


Dr. Michael Keating
Medical Director of Pediatric Urology
Florida Hospital for Children

Specialty-specific studies of physician satisfaction find pediatricians routinely at the top of most lists. This comes as little surprise, as taking care of families and their children is truly a blessing. As a pediatric urologist, I also receive the gratification offered by the field of surgery. Pediatric urology provides creative challenges well-suited to my artistic abilities (I do medical illustration). In addition, I’m offered the satisfaction of sharing the outcomes of those reconstructions with appreciative parents and, in some cases depending on age, the affected child. One 8-year-old recently voiced such sentiments in a card after looking down at my handiwork: “Dr K, Thanks for putting both cars in the garage, Love Luke!’’ No wonder I love what I do! Keeps me young ’n keeps me smilin’! 


Dr. Tarek Mekhail
Director of Thoracic Cancer Program
Florida Hospital Cancer Institute

As doctors often must do, I was giving a patient some pretty distressing news.  My daughter, Yasmin, was in high school at the time and I had her with me so she could see what I do each day.  As she listened to the prognosis I was giving the patient, Yasmin began to cry.  I believe that was the day she decided to become a physician.  Currently, Yasmin is a radiology resident.  Recently I had a chance to go on my patient rounds with my son Joseph, who is a medical student. This time there wasn’t distressing news to deliver, just a routine day.  After we finished, he looked at me and said, “Dad, you are such a great doctor.”  That was the best praise I ever got!


Dr. Victoria Niklas
Chief of Neonatal Medicine
Nemours Children’s Hospital

When caring for a sick newborn, although the medical care I provide is critical, families who were expecting a healthy baby may feel overwhelmed by uncertainty. One important role I play is to assist new parents in creating a vision of the future. I was reminded of this when a family asked me when their daughter—born three months early and extremely ill—would be able to go home. I explained that their baby would be in the hospital for a few months, probably until October. Upon hearing that, the baby’s 5-year-old sister asked, “Since that’s close to Halloween, do you think she could dress up as a pumpkin?” I responded with a smile and said: “She certainly can!’’ It’s a great honor to provide this type of emotional support to families, allowing them to see beyond critical illness to a brighter future of comfort.


Dr. Craig Johnson
Director of Pediatric Interventional Radiology
Nemours Children’s Hospital

One of my newborn patients arrived in the world with a life-threatening condition. His blood wasn’t pumping properly into his liver, constantly damaging his tiny body. Specialists thought a transplant was needed for him to survive. As an interventional radiologist, I’m trained to reroute abnormal veins and arteries through a very tiny incision.  The result was a grueling 10 hours of complex surgical maneuvers. When it was over, I walked out to meet the boy’s father, who looked like Paul Bunyan—over 6 feet tall and 250 pounds. He cried out, “Did you do it, doc?!” As I nodded, he wrapped his arms around me, lifting me off the ground. It lasted a full 30 seconds. It was the biggest and the best bear hug I’ve ever received.


Dr. Kenneth R. Lee
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon
Orlando Health

Shortly after joining Orlando Health in 2010, I had the opportunity to treat a 4-year-old boy who had been run over by a riding lawn mower.  The facial injuries were devastating, with the loss of his lower jaw, entire lower lip, half of the upper lip, and entire left cheek. We performed a double free flap, essentially a transplant within his own body. After 8 hours of surgery, we were able to successfully restore his face. The story of his recovery remains the fondest memory of my career, and he continues to inspire me with his brave and happy demeanor, despite more revisional surgeries in his future. I am able to watch him mature and do the basic things that we all take for granted—talking, eating, and smiling when he is happy.  He is an amazing kid, a combination of innocence and strength, and I am grateful to know him and his family.


Dr. David Portee
Medical Director
Orlando Health Rehabilitation Institute

I helped develop and produce a mock DUI video aimed at educating high school students about the dangers of alcohol and drug use while driving and as a passenger. My oldest daughter agreed to play the role of Sally, who suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury from a car crash. During production, a makeup artist, nurses and an orthotic device simulated the injuries and medical care. I served as a medical expert to assure the scenes were accurate. During the ICU scene, I saw my daughter attached to a ventilator and IV lines. The scene was so realistic. A shiver ran down my spine. For a moment, I saw my daughter as a real patient, in a real ICU, with a real injury. I shuddered inside realizing this could happen to one of my children or loved ones. That day, I acquired a very personal understanding of what other parents have felt when in the same situation.


Dr. Nizam Razack
Founder and President
Spine & Brain Neurosurgery Center

During my 20-year tenure as a neurosurgeon, I have had to perform many brain and spine procedures, including those on patients affected by Parkinson’s disease.  Deep brain stimulation has been used to treat this disease. Recently, I performed the world’s first surgery using a robotically placed deep brain electrode to treat Parkinson’s disease. It was after spending many hours in the lab with computer simulations and extensive training and planning that allowed me this opportunity. Fortunately, the outcome was a great success.  The smile on my patient’s face at her post-op visit made it all worthwhile.  Despite the chaotic pace of practicing neurosurgery, the gratitude of my patients after any surgery is a constant reminder of what an honor and privilege it is to serve them.


Dr. Amy Derrow
Derrow Dermatology

Last year I had a young woman as a new patient complaining of progressive generalized itching with no associated rash. She was not improving on previous anti-itch medications, so I ordered a chest X-ray and basic labs to rule out any systemic cause. She was found to have evidence of lymphoma on her X-ray and was promptly sent to an oncologist for chemotherapy and radiation. The next time I saw her, the lymphoma was responding to treatment and the itching had all resolved. She gave me a big hug and I felt so much pride and joy that I was able to make the diagnosis and get her the care she needed. People may think dermatology is just about acne and mole checks, but this is an example of how a simple skin complaint can lead to a lifesaving diagnosis. Moments like this remind me why I chose this incredible field of medicine.





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