Grossmont Healthcare District recognizes 2016 Healthcare Hero honorees

A vascular surgeon, a chiropractor, an attorney, a beagle and her master, and a pirate who fights for those suffering from childhood cancer are among local volunteers who have been recognized with a 2016 Healthcare Hero award from the Grossmont Healthcare District (GHD).
Now in its tenth year, the Healthcare Heroes is GHD’s annual awards program that honors volunteers who help advance the delivery of quality healthcare in the East County region.
“The purpose of these Healthcare Hero awards is to recognize volunteers whose unsung work in health care might not otherwise be recognized,” said Grossmont Healthcare District 2016 board president Bob Ayres. “This year’s group of honorees demonstrated extraordinary and inspirational care and selfless dedication that has played a critical role towards a healthier East County community.”
This year’s honorees included:
A volunteer vascular surgeon
Dr. Scott Musicant of La Mesa is a practicing vascular surgeon with a private practice called Vascular Associates of San Diego, located on Center Drive in La Mesa. At Sharp Grossmont Hospital (SGH), Dr. Musicant is currently serving as Chief of Surgery and as a member of the Surgical Supervisory Committee.
Dr. Musicant donates his time and expertise to serve the underserved in San Diego County as a physician volunteer for Project Access San Diego (PASD). PASD is the flagship volunteer physician program of Champions for Health, a nonprofit organization previously called the San Diego County Medical Society Foundation (SDCMSF).
Since 2009, Dr. Musicant has helped about 20 uninsured or underinsured East County residents who cannot afford specialty surgeries. These patients were suffering from various vascular- and arterial-related diseases, including varicose veins and thoracic and abdominal aortic aneurysms. Patients were treated at Dr. Musicant’s office or an area surgery center.
A recent patient was at risk of losing her leg due to dry gangrene. PASD connected her to Dr. Musicant who provided more than $16,000 in pro bono vascular care, which included bypass surgery, arterial duplex imaging, angioplasty and stents, along with follow-up care.
Initiated in 2008, PASD has helped more than 4,622 uninsured patients receive specialized medical care through a network of volunteer physicians, hospitals, surgery centers and other ancillary health services. Champions for Health estimates donated care provided by PASD volunteers represents more than $10.8 million in medical services.
“Project Access clients are always so appreciative and it really makes me feel good to provide that care when they need it,” said Dr. Musicant.
In addition to volunteering with PASD, Dr. Musicant is actively involved with the Grossmont Hospital Foundation, a not-for-profit, philanthropic organization that raises funds for SGH. He chaired the Foundation’s annual golf tournament for six years (2009-2015). He also has supported fundraising efforts to purchase equipment for the hospital’s new Heart & Vascular Center, a three-story, 71,000-square-foot building currently under construction. When completed, the H&V Center will expand the hospital’s surgery capabilities with new cardiac catheterization labs and multipurpose procedural rooms that can support a wide range of specialties, including general surgery, minimally invasive surgery and image-guided surgery, as well as endovascular interventional procedures.
According to Champions for Health officials, Dr. Musicant is known by his patients for his compassionate communication style, such as explaining the correlation between vascular diseases and diabetes. Other patients have described Dr. Musicant as courteous, cooperative, supportive and respectful, regardless of whom they are and their background.
Dr. Musicant also is a member of Grossmont Hospital’s Happiness Committee, which was formed by his late father, Dr. Michael Musicant when he served as Chief of Staff at the hospital prior to his passing in 2010. The Happiness Committee promotes collegiality and is designed to improve morale and job satisfaction among the 600 members of hospital’s medical staff. Previous events have included family picnics, bowling and softball, a talent show, beer-tasting night and a lecture by a Harvard professor on the physiology of happiness. Physicians at the hospital have even participated in “Dancing with the Docs,” patterned after the “Dancing with the Stars” television show.
A volunteer sports team doctor
Santee resident Dr. Kevin Ryan, a chiropractor since 1983, has volunteered as a team doctor for high school and college sports teams in the East County for nearly 30 years. During many fall seasons, he has been a familiar face on the sidelines for more than 250 football games at Grossmont College and another 200 football games at Grossmont, Valhalla and Santana high schools. He also volunteered over a 10-year span as team doctor at San Diego Christian College (SDCC), caring for soccer, basketball, softball, baseball and cross country athletes. He currently teaches genetics, biochemistry and microbiology at SDCC. He also volunteers his chiropractic skills to several San Diego State University (SDSU) sports teams.
Dr. Ryan’s volunteer medical care for student athletes has included pre-season physicals and examinations after injuries for Grossmont Union High School District student athletes, as well as student athletes attending the Christian high schools that operate in the East County. Any money paid by the students for pre-season physicals is donated back to the school they attend. Several years ago, more than $1,200 was returned to Santana High School. The money was used to purchase padding to cover concrete walls located under basketball hoops in the gymnasium. “Without the padding, a concussion was waiting to happen,” said Dr. Ryan. “School officials told me they had requested funds for the padding from the district for five years.”
Dr. Ryan also has been active in recruiting other physicians, including orthopedic surgeons, to volunteer their time. He has provided one-on-one instruction to a countless number of sports medicine students on such topics as evaluating injuries, proper treatment protocols and diagnostic imaging.
Dr. Ryan’s motivation for his volunteer service focuses on the students. “It’s very gratifying to care for students, seeing them through rehab and then watching as they later return to the field of play,” he said. “I’m driven by the fact that our schools are always in need of support from the community. This is my way of giving back.”
“Kevin Ryan is now and always has been a modest individual, who has never been driven by the need for accolades or recognition,” said Larry Shepard, retired football coach at Grossmont High School. “His fulfillment comes from helping those who need care and unselfishly being available whenever called upon to help in the community.”
“I have been one of the countless lives touched by Dr. Ryan’s selfless and tireless efforts in the East County athletic community,” said Mitchell Brown, a grant writer at the University of New England. “While playing football at Grossmont High School, I suffered a serious neck injury that ended my junior season. Through a lot of pain, and probably more fear, I relied on Dr. Ryan and, very simply, he took care of me. For many years, Dr. Ryan has been a stabilizing factor for many young men playing sports, providing us with preventative guidance in conditioning and fitness and nurturing care if and when injuries occur.”
An attorney who advocates for addiction treatment
James Byrnes, an attorney in private practice since 1991, has served on the San Diego Freedom Ranch board of directors for 29 continuous years. Located in Campo on 300 acres in the East County, Freedom Ranch is a state licensed-and-certified alcohol and drug residential treatment facility, licensed and certified by the state.
Since 1972, Freedom Ranch’s 120-day recovery program has helped thousands of men live sober lives. Men from all backgrounds turn their lives around and become responsible and accountable members of society. Clients live in comfortable quarters and participate in activities that follow a 12-step program and evidence-based, including one-on-one and group meetings with staff members who have been where they are now.
Since joining the board in 1987, James has served twice as chairman for a total of seven years. More than 8,000 men have graduated from the program during his time of leadership. He has been instrumental in helping Freedom Ranch maintain compliance requirements and assisting in obtaining funding from various referral providers, including the County of San Diego, Veterans Administration and Volunteers of America.
In the early 2000s, as chair of the Facilities Committee, James oversaw fundraising of $550,000 that made possible the purchase of 277 acres. He also is credited with overseeing an expansion program starting in 2006 that will eventually allow Freedom Ranch to grow from 50 to 125 beds. James also is currently chairing the Fundraising Committee charged with raising $6 million to build the structures for the additional beds.  In his work as a criminal defense attorney over the past 25 years, he has strongly advocated with judges and prosecutors for the benefits of rehabilitation over incarceration.
James has a personal reason for his decades of support to San Diego Freedom Ranch. He is a recovering alcoholic. “Freedom Ranch saved my life,” he said. “After the military, I sold insurance and attended law school, but I drank myself out of it. One day my sister-in-law recommended Freedom Ranch. I spent five months there in 1984. I know what they can do for others because they helped me turn my life around.”
James grew up on a farm in Iowa and his team won the state wrestling championship in high school. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned a bronze medal while serving as an Army Ranger in Vietnam in the 1970s. Today, he operates a law practice in Downtown San Diego that offers services in several areas of law, including bankruptcy, estate planning, family, real estate, civil and criminal.
A four-legged volunteer
Michael Colombo, a commercial construction superintendent, was a few years away from retiring when he was rushed to the Sharp Grossmont Hospital emergency room with an intestinal disorder. “As I was lying there in the ER, my life flashed before me and my future was unsure,” said Michael, recalling the event in 2010. “One of the ER staff said to me that a friend wanted to see me. I said I really didn’t want any visitors, but they said it wouldn’t take long. Just then, a big therapy dog came into my room and laid his huge head right on my arm. I felt better, my blood pressure went down, my pain eased and I promised myself I would help others by doing the same thing when I retired.”
Michael made a full recovery and later retired in 2013 after a 40-year career in construction. The San Diego native and La Mesa resident then went to a local humane society looking for a beagle. “I looked at several, but the moment I saw Shiloh I knew she was the one for me,” said Michael. They soon began training with Love on a Leash, a nonprofit organization that provides certification for therapy pets and their owners. After completing several months of visitation training, Michael and Shiloh joined Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Pet Therapy Program, which has been serving patients for more than 30 years.
For the past three years, Michael and Shiloh have visited patients throughout the hospital campus, including the Emergency and Critical Care Center, David and Donna Long Center for Cancer Treatment and the Rehabilitation Center, as well as private rooms. They also have made trips to the Sharp HospiceCare LakeView home in La Mesa. Since January 2014, Michael and Shiloh have logged more than 375 hours of volunteer service.
“It’s been an unbelievable blessing to have the opportunity to serve and provide encouragement and support,” said Michael. “Shiloh makes such a difference with people who are hurting. People will smile, cry, hug the dog, pet the dog or even chuckle. The animal-human bond is very strong and emotional. Occasionally, we’re contacted by family members of former hospital patients who ask us to visit their elderly mom or dad at their homes. We’re happy to do so.”
Earlier in Michael’s life, volunteering at a hospital would have been the last place he would have chosen.  That’s because he had fainted several times at different hospitals, including as a teenager when his father was treated for a snake bite and when both his children were born. “Sometimes, all it took was walking through the front door and smelling the smells before I got woozy,” he said. “But, you never know what God has planned for you. Only by prayer and the grace of God and His transforming power working in my life have I been able to change and overcome that seemingly impossible obstacle. I’m living proof that there’s nothing God can’t do. Now there’s no place else I’d rather be.”
In addition to making everyone feel better, Linda Van Fulpen, manager of volunteer services at the hospital, says she has noticed that Shiloh enjoys showing off some of her cute outfits, including dressing as Snoopy at Halloween, a yellow raincoat during stormy weather, a pastel springtime dress and her favorite, a blue bandana in the same color as shirts worn by Sharp Grossmont Hospital volunteers. “Michael and Shiloh are amazing volunteers,” said Linda.
A pirate fighting cancer
Sam Mejia of El Cajon is the founder of Sons of Charity Inc., an all-volunteer organization that provides financial assistance, resources and encouragement to children and their families suffering from life-threatening pediatric cancer. Founded in January 2014, the nonprofit organization has provided emergency grants to cover a variety of expenses ranging from daily living or household needs, such as food or gasoline, to travel expenses during lengthy hospital stays and alternative treatments not covered by insurance. About a dozen families have been helped in the past two years. “I am in awe and inspired daily by these courageous, warrior kids,” said Sam.

Sam said he was motivated to establish Sons of Charity after meeting TV news anchor and weatherman Loren Nancarrow, who passed away in December 2013 from brain cancer. Sam’s grandfather also died from brain cancer. “During Loren’s short but very brave battle with cancer, I grew close to his family and was honored to be involved in fundraising events for his healing garden.” Following his passing, Scripps Health raised a half-million dollars to build and maintain the “Loren Nancarrow Healing Garden,” a rooftop respite area at the Scripps Radiation Therapy Center in La Jolla. “While grieving over Loren’s passing as a San Diegan who grew up watching him on TV, I felt a tap on my shoulder to do something for kids battling cancer and to make a difference in the world around me just like Loren did,” said Sam. “The majority of the kids we have helped so far have been from the East County, but now families countywide are beginning to reach out to us, so our battle call has sounded.”

In addition to Sons of Charity, Sam also has found a calling in life as a celebrity tribute artist. He has become a local icon for his role as “Capt. Sam Diego,” the pirate. When adorned in his impressive pirate costume, Sam has an uncanny resemblance to actor Johnny Depp, star of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie series (a fifth film, subtitled “Dead Men Tell No Lies” is scheduled for release in May 2017).

In 2007, Sam showed-up as Sam Diego at a Salvation Army holiday fundraiser that aired live on a TV station and Sam became an overnight success. “The pirate role started at a charity fundraiser, which is why I owe it to our community to keep giving back,” said Sam, a San Diego native who grew up in East County and graduated from South Bay Christian Academy (class of 1989), a private high school in Bonita.

He makes a living as a professional actor. He keeps busy appearing, speaking and performing at weddings, parties and corporate events. He also has been signed by Halo Cinematic Studio to appear in a leading role in “Zero: Dawn of the Darklighters,” a sci-fi movie expected to be released in 2018.

In full pirate regalia, Sam is a frequent visitor to patients at Rady Children’s Hospital and at charity events raising money for children’s causes. He has appeared at several fundraisers benefiting the Grossmont Hospital Foundation. He is always willing to help a distressed family momentary forget their troubles and put a smile on the face of children enduring a life-threatening disease.

The Grossmont Healthcare District presented its 2016 Healthcare Hero awards on Wednesday, May 18, at Steele Canyon Golf Club in Jamul.

The Grossmont Healthcare District is an East County regional public agency that supports various health-related community programs and services in San Diego’s East County. Formed in 1952 to build and operate Grossmont Hospital, the District is governed by a five-member board of directors, each elected to four-year terms, who represent more than 500,000 people residing within the District’s 750 square miles. For more information about GHD, visit www.grossmonthealthcare.org