Kaye E. Wilkins, MD, received the 2008 Humanitarian Award during the Annual Meeting. See the presentation


Published 4/1/2008
Carolyn Rogers

“It’s simple: Teach what you know”

Kaye E. Wilkins, MD, receives 2008 Humanitarian Award

Kaye E. Wilkins, MD, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon, has spent his entire career improving the lives of patients and teaching physicians in more than 20 countries around the globe. In recognition of his efforts, the Academy honored Dr. Wilkins with the ninth annual AAOS Humanitarian Award.

“Wow,” was Dr. Wilkins’ first word upon receiving the award from his good friend, AAOS 2007 President James H. Beaty, MD. “Now I know how the Oscar winners felt last month. They were overwhelmed and had an urge to thank everyone … This would not have happened without the resources and help of those around me,” Dr. Wilkins said.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that helping people doesn’t happen overnight,” Dr. Wilkins said. “If you want to have a serious effect on people’s lives, it has to be a long-term effort. You have to meet the people, find out their needs, and figure out where the gaps lie. The next part is simple; teach them what you know.”

Act locally, think globally
Dr. Wilkins’ legacy can be felt in many corners of the globe—from the U.S.-Mexican border to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Iraq.

Early in his career, Dr. Wilkins became aware of the huge disparity in the delivery of orthopaedic care between developed and underdeveloped nations. After settling in San Antonio, Texas, he discovered that no one in the area offered pediatric orthopaedic care to people living on the border. His response was to establish several pediatric orthopaedic outreach clinics in the area. In the intervening 25 years, thousands of patients have received treatment at these clinics, and the effort continues today.

He also worked with Amigos de las Americas, where he trained high school and college students to provide free vaccinations to underserved populations in Central and South America. As a member of Partners of America, he taught local orthopaedic surgeons in Peru how to manage pediatric orthopaedic conditions. He established an exchange program that allowed physicians from Texas and Peru to share their talents.

While devoting his time and personal resources to these projects, Dr. Wilkins also taught more than 30 international health professionals new techniques and treatments. He invited pediatric orthopaedists and operating room nurses from such diverse countries as Haiti, Columbia, Iraq, Germany, Italy, Vietnam, India, and Croatia to spend anywhere from a week to 3 months with him, so they could observe his methods. Most of these healthcare providers now conduct active pediatric orthopaedic practices in their home countries.

“Dr. Wilkins is an inspiration and an outstanding role model for all who strive to improve the quality of life for patients with orthopaedic problems,” said colleague and personal friend David A. Spiegel, MD.

Helping in Haiti
In 1994, Dr. Wilkins turned his attention to Haiti, where he organized the first orthopaedic continuing medical education courses offered there. He has since recruited more than a dozen other orthopaedic surgeons to participate in clinical and/or educational projects in that country. He has made more than 25 trips to assist in the development of various pediatric orthopaedic treatment centers.

His most recent accomplishment is the establishment of the Haiti Clubfoot Project, with other members of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA). This program is training nonphysician technicians how to use the Ponseti technique to correct clubfoot deformities.

A philanthropic donation in 1997 enabled Dr. Wilkins and Jose Santos, director of physical therapy at Santa Rosa Hospital, to develop “Projecto Muzquiz” at a pediatric rehabilitation center in Muzquiz, Mexico, 200 miles south of San Antonio. This ongoing effort provides free orthopaedic and rehabilitation assistance to children with special needs. Hundreds of children have benefited from the program.

Educating the educators
In many areas of the world, local orthopaedic surgeons have little opportunity to obtain postgraduate education. They may not have the resources to travel to other countries or to bring experts to their country to further their educations. Through POSNA, Dr. Wilkins has organized an Outreach Continuing Education Program in Pediatric Orthopaedics. POSNA members volunteer as faculty, paying their own travel expenses to the host country. Since its inception, this program has conducted 30 postgraduate pediatric orthopaedics courses in 20 countries.

In December 2005, Dr. Wilkins traveled to Basrah, Iraq, with James W. Roach, MD. Over 3 days, they examined more than 100 patients in the orthopaedic clinic and lectured at Basrah School of Medicine. They also made arrangements to send needed equipment and educational materials to Iraq.

“I’m truly blessed to have the opportunities to visit and work with pediatric surgeons throughout the world,” Dr. Wilkins said. “I hope that I can encourage others to travel this road as well.”

Dr. Wilkins also made a special point to thank his wife, Sidney.

“Although she gets a little uptight when I travel to countries with State Department red flag travel warnings, she’s been my friend and supporter during the 50 years we’ve been married,” he said. “Without her, I’d be nothing.”

He plans to present the $5,000 honorarium to a rehabilitation facility in Port au Prince, Haiti, which he said “does a tremendous job with very little resources.”

Carolyn Rogers is a staff writer for AAOS Now. She can be reached at rogers@aaos.org