AAOS Now

Published 4/1/2013
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Peter Pollack

From Small Beginnings, Great Rewards

David S. Hungerford, MD, receives AAOS Humanitarian Award

Humanitarian efforts are “just an ingrained part of his soul,” explains Michael A. Mont, MD, describing his friend and colleague, David S. Hungerford, MD.

Dr. Hungerford, who was presented with the 2013 AAOS Humanitarian Award during the 2013 Annual Meeting, has spent more than 30 years developing ways to assist the medically needy and the underprivileged, both abroad and at home.

“He puts his time, his talent, and his treasure where it’s needed most to impact people,” says Michael Nyenhuis, of MAP International—a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing assistance in disaster areas and developing nations, with which Dr. Hungerford has had a long working relationship.


John R. Tongue, MD, presented David S. Hungerford, MD, with the Humanitarian Award.

It began with his church
Dr. Hungerford began his humanitarian efforts while working with his church in support of mission outreach, explains his son, Marc W. Hungerford, MD, who nominated Dr. Hungerford for the award. The elder Dr. Hungerford soon became aware of the need for working capital for small enterprise projects in developing countries.

“Start small,” explains Dr. Hungerford. “Doing something is better than doing nothing. And doing something will lead to something else.”

In 1982, Dr. Hungerford helped found the Patella Fund (later the Tree of Life Foundation) to help meet this need. Over the next 30 years, Tree of Life provided funds for enterprises such as fish farms in Bangladesh, clean water drilling projects in Romania, schools in India and Africa, and mobile health clinics in South America.

The foundation concluded operations in 2011, but during its existence, it provided more than 1,500 grants, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 each, to fund capital resource projects in support of musculoskeletal health programs, to purchase hospital and laboratory equipment, and to dig wells to provide clean water sources in the most impoverished communities in the world. The organization’s largest project was a partnership in Bangladesh, which, since 1991, has provided more than 1 million Bangladeshis with training in fish farming so that they could become self-sufficient.

A tireless crusade
From 1996 through 2009, Dr. Hungerford served on the board of MAP International, and he chaired that organization from 1998 to 2009. MAP distributes pharmaceuticals to developing nations, is involved in large-scale public health projects such as eradication of guinea worm infection, and provides assistance in disaster relief.

In 1997, Dr. Hungerford joined the board of CURE—a nonprofit organization that operates hospitals and programs in 27 countries, where patients can receive surgical treatment regardless of sex, religion, ethnicity, or ability to pay. CURE was founded by C. Scott Harrison, MD—himself the recipient of the 2000 AAOS Humanitarian Award. Through CURE, Dr. Hungerford started hip replacement programs in Ethiopia and Zambia.

According to Carlos J. Lavernia, MD, medical director of the Orthopaedic Institute at Mercy Hospital in Miami, Dr. Hungerford has helped establish 11 hospitals in Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean.

“I have personally worked very closely with Dr. Hungerford in his tireless crusade in some of the poorest countries in Latin America and Africa,” wrote Dr. Lavernia, “in which surgeries with state-of-the-art hip and knee implants were performed on some of the neediest patients, who in normal circumstances would never have had access to such high-quality medical care. One of his goals is to teach and train local healthcare professionals so that, with newfound skills, they can continue to help their communities, leaving behind lasting friendships and rays of hope to those in need. He has personally raised the awareness of all his trainees in this manner and motivated more than 100 residents and fellows to give back.”

Four decades of commitment
“What David has done is turn the ideas that came to him in medicine, then go out with unrelenting energy, around the world, and teach other people how to use those ideas,” says his friend, Bart Houseman, PhD. “He’s done that successfully; he’s done it patiently; he’s done it with incredible imagination and energy. And then he came home and found ways to help people through operations like the Patella Fund and the Tree of Life Foundation, and the support of other organizations, like CURE.”

“From fifth grade on, whenever anybody asked me what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a doctor,” Dr. Hungerford explains. “I didn’t really get into orthopaedics until I was actually out of medical school. I’ve taken people who were wheelchair-bound and performed an operation so that they can now go anywhere and do anything they want. From a purely selfish point of view,” he laughs, “that’s a fantastic thing to be able to do. And that’s what makes orthopaedics so much fun.”

In addition to his humanitarian efforts abroad, Dr. Hungerford also is involved in various Baltimore city rescue missions, job-training programs, and educational endeavors for the underprivileged. Dr. Marc Hungerford points out that his father often prefers to work quietly, behind the scenes, with no thought of reward.

“His commitment has spanned nearly 40 years,” the younger Dr. Hungerford wrote in support of the nomination. “He has dedicated a large amount of his time and resources to these important projects. The impact, in terms of lives affected, has been immense. By recognizing these accomplishments with the Humanitarian Award, the Academy would be honoring these efforts, but more importantly, would be drawing attention to the needs themselves and the efforts to meet those needs. This attention would hopefully stimulate the interest of other Academy members to get involved, which would be more personally gratifying to David Hungerford than the award itself.”

See a video on Dr. Hungerford http://youtu.be/vnsp7uAe1Hw

This article adapted from the AAOS Now Daily Edition, March 22, 2013.

Peter Pollack is a staff writer for AAOS Now. He can be reached at ppollack@aaosnow.org.