Progress Medal 2006 is awarded to
In Marcus Pfister’s children’s book, The Rainbow Fish, the main character is a fish whose scales incorporate all of the colors of the rainbow. He is bright and beautiful, and admired by all of the other fish in the ocean whose scales have no color at all. One day, the rainbow fish is approached by one of these fish and asked if he might have one of the rainbow fish’s scales. Willingly, the rainbow fish gives one of his colors away. Word spreads among the other fish in the ocean, and they each begin approaching the rainbow fish about receiving one of his scales. The rainbow fish obliges. Eventually, the rainbow fish gives away all of his colors, and the ocean is full of beautiful fish of all shades.
For me, and many hundreds of children, families, doctors and nurses, Dr. Alberto Peña is like the rainbow fish. He is passionately committed to educating others about colorectal and genitourinary problems, their treatment, and long-term management. He has done so by hosting educational courses for physicians and other medical professionals, writing prolifically about the subject, and by extensively traveling around the world to perform surgery and to teach. He has performed more than 3000 complex procedures and has cared for many hundreds of other patients that could be treated non-operatively. He welcomes many visitors and encourages physicians of patients from around the country and the world to come to assist in their patients’ operations so that they will be better equipped to manage them upon their return home, and to receive education about how to diagnose and treat future children. Surgeons, other doctors, nurses, trainees, parents, and children are regular recipients of a rainbow colored scale generously given to them by Dr. Peña throughout his career.
For physicians who experience this graciousness, many are changed forever. I was one such physician who had the great fortune of meeting him when I was a medical student. To use Dr. Peña’s phrase, such individuals have been “bitten by the spider.” Once one encounters his unique technical elegance and style there is an intense desire to try to emulate these qualities in one’s own care of patients.
Dr. Peña experienced his own transformation when he found himself in Boston in 1965, watching Dr. Robert Gross, the father of pediatric surgery in the United States. He was there from Mexico under unfortunate circumstances as a young surgeon and father, when his son was being cared for by Dr. Gross for biliary atresia. At that time before the advent of liver transplantation, Dr. Peña and his wife Rosalinda sadly became grieving parents. That experience changed him forever. It led to his training at Boston Children’s Hospital with Dr. Gross from 1967 to 1970, and thereafter returning to Mexico City with “new eyes.” I am certain this was the genesis of Dr. Peña’s intense desire to encourage others and to advance a field. Similar to the prospects of a baby born today with biliary atresia, children with anorectal malformations face a dramatically improved quality of life, thanks in large part to the work of one individual, his capacity for innovation and creativity, and his intense desire to help others learn to better help their patients.
It is an honor to dedicate this work, a compilation of advances in this special area of pediatric surgery and urology, to my mentor and friend.
Marc A. Levitt, MD, Colorectal Center for Children, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Pediatric Surgery, 3333 Burnet Avenue, ML 2023
A tribute by Marc A. Levitt, MD