Jewish organization honors Catholic surgeon

Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes, a top cardiothoracic surgeon in Los Angeles, was recently honored by Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Foundation, and the fact that Starnes is a Catholic being recognized by a Jewish organization made the occasion that much more meaningful, the doctor said.

“Unlike a lot of things, medicine transcends boundaries. … Everyone who comes through my doors is equal, and I enjoy that. I try to deliver to all people, without regard to their religious belief or their color, or, oftentimes, whether they can pay,” he said.

Starnes is the chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and chair of the department of surgery at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. He is one of the country’s experts in repairing heart defects in newborns and infants, often enabling them to go on to full recovery — results that were unattainable 20 years ago. He was a pioneer in using live-donor lung transplants to treat young people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that disproportionately affects Jews.

“God’s messengers come in all different races and religions,” said Rabbi Hershy Ten, president of Bikur Cholim. “Our concern, and Dr. Starnes’ concern, is making sure people get the best care possible so they thrive and are well.”

Bikur Cholim provides support services for those suffering from serious illnesses, including case management, crisis intervention and financial support, and it has a bank of medical equipment it lends out free of charge. Founded in 1918, the organization runs educational programs and operates one of the largest blood drives and direct donor blood and platelet programs in greater Los Angeles. It has a special fund dedicated to the medical and daily needs of indigent Holocaust survivors, and has a cadre of volunteers who deliver homemade challah and chicken soup to the ill and elderly. Bikur Cholim House, a 10-unit apartment building in Hancock Park, also houses patients and their families, free of charge, when they come to Los Angeles for medical treatment. Patients in hospitals can access Bikur Cholim’s Shabboxes, which have all the items necessary to celebrate Shabbat in the hospital, and it arranges for home and hospital visitations, as well as transportation to medical appointments.

The Sept. 25 dinner also memorialized Bikur Cholim supporter Lillian Grossman, a Holocaust survivor who died this year. Her children, Maureen and Dr. Lawrence Eisenberg, and Felice and Aryeh Greenbaum, and husband Harry Grossman, accepted the honor.