UC Davis surgeon honored for international humanitarian efforts

J. Nilas Young has increased access to lifesaving heart surgery in Russia and South America


J. Nilas Young, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at UC Davis, has received a 2016 American College of Surgeons/Pfizer International Volunteerism Award for his work in developing heart surgery programs in Russia and South America.

J. Nilas Young
J. Nilas Young

Young received the award, the highest honor for fellows of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) who provide volunteer care to medically underserved populations, on Oct. 18 at the ACS Clinical Congress in Washington, D.C.

In 1988, Young performed pro bono surgery on a 7-year-old Soviet girl with congenital heart disease. Soviet surgeons had given up on saving the girl’s life, however Young succeeded.

Seeing an opportunity to save many lives, Young co-founded the Heart to Heart International Children’s Medical Alliance to develop sustainable, lifesaving cardiac surgery programs throughout Russia. Nearly 30 years later, Heart to Heart has established six regional centers of excellence and educated hundreds of medical personnel who have diagnosed and operated on 25,000 children and adults. The organization has expanded its efforts to Latin America, beginning this year with three medical humanitarian trips to Lima, Peru.

Young and his colleagues have also launched a campaign to replicate Heart to Heart's education-based model of humanitarian medical care and give patients worldwide access to lifesaving surgery. Although focused on heart disease, the model is applicable to other medical humanitarian projects, particularly those that involve complex surgical interventions.

An expert in surgical treatments for high-risk cardiac patients, Young leads the UC Davis team that provides advanced surgical care for adults and children with complex diseases of the heart, chest, lungs and esophagus. His clinical research focuses on improving patient outcomes, perfecting complex aortic surgery procedures and defining pre-operative therapies that reduce post-operative complications. He is also investigating the potential of microRNAs to regenerate injured heart tissue.

“Dr. Young exemplifies what it means to be a great humanitarian,” said Diana Farmer, chair of the Department of Surgery at UC Davis. “It is because of his commitment, expertise and compassion that patients at UC Davis and throughout the world with heart disease can have hope and access to high-quality surgical care.”

For information about UC Davis Health System and its Department of Surgery, go to www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu.