By Steve Flairty
Young Andy Moore watched his father, who happened to be the first plastic surgeon in Lexington, perform genuine acts of compassion to financially strapped patients on a regular basis.
Dr. Andrew Moore (Photo provided)
“He would sometimes accept a chicken, or apples—or anything of value they had as pay for their services. As far as I know, he never turned down anyone who couldn‘t pay,” said Moore. “My father led by example. He mentored me.”
Andy didn’t take to the lesson of personal responsibility immediately, however. He flunked out of the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate. He did so poorly that he was told by the school “not to bother coming back.”
Fortunately, an act of mercy allowed him to be accepted at Transylvania University, under the watchful eye of a mentor, he recovered and succeeded magnificently. Later, he was accepted into the UK Medical School program, then transitioned into Vanderbilt where he trained as a plastic surgeon.
Today, Dr. Andrew Moore, like his now-deceased father, practices as a plastic surgeon in Lexington. He’s never been offered a chicken or apples to pay for his medical services, but he is like-minded in offering caring assistance to those working people who are unable to afford basic outpatient surgery because they have no health insurance.
Since 2005, Dr. Moore leads a team of upwards of 700 volunteers: surgeons, physicians, nurses, medical assistants, church workers and anyone else desiring to offer their time and love to Surgery on Sunday (SOS). It is a program that administers free outpatient surgery, one Sunday morning per month, to a great number of appreciative, deserving individuals who otherwise would not receive the services. So far more than 3,000 surgeries, involving 110 types of procedures, have been performed in SOS.
On a recent Sunday in November at the Lexington Surgery Center, May Newton waited for her husband, Glen Samual Newton, to return from the operating room. He had double-hernia surgery, a procedure Newton had simply postponed because of financial issues.
The two married only the day before, but the opportunity for care at SOS came, and the Newtons responded. “It’s a blessing for my husband,” said May. “So many people fall through the cracks and can’t get insurance.”
Because of the program, Glen Newton will now be able to go back to work and be a thoroughly productive member of his community.
One family waited as their 6-year-old daughter had a “piece of corn” removed from her ear. The father, who called himself a “granite worker,” heard about SOS from their church. Across the room, Deandre Greenup waited for her boyfriend to have a troublesome screw removed from his knee that had been put there during another procedure. The pain had bothered him at his workplace and interfered with his work.
None of the people in the room complained of the wait time or of any inconvenience. They were glad for the opportunity to be there, and all had a sense of appreciation showing on their faces. In a country where reportedly over 40 million do not have health insurance, the patients in Dr. Moore’s SOS program were being served anyway, with no cost for the services but likely a good investment for society.
Moore is blessed with volunteer surgeons like Dr. Bill Bowles, who regularly practices in the Lee County town of Jackson. Bowles makes two trips per month to Lexington for the SOS program, one to do surgeries and another to do pre-ops and post-ops. “My way of giving back to the community,” he says. “The people who we work with in SOS are so appreciative of us because they know it is volunteer help.”
Bowles marvels at Dr. Moore’s influence in starting SOS. “This is a program that can’t be run by the seat of the pants,” said Bowles. “It needs to be legal and safe. Dr. Moore has been very persistent in getting the program going.”
The idea of an SOS-type of program started in Moore’s mind back in the mid-1990s. “When insurance companies got more involved with fees,” said Moore, “things always got discounted. Then those who had no insurance, who needed to self-pay, had to pay more than anyone else for the same medical care.”
Many people simply avoided important care because of costs. Obviously, a program like Moore envisioned was compelling, but there were roadblocks. It took a while to happen.
While sitting in one of his many meetings in about 2003, Dr. Moore tossed out his idea for discussion to those sitting around the table. “I think I can get volunteers and I believe I have a place to have the program, but we need money and I need help in handling the legal part of doing it,” he recalled.
On this day, he was lucky. Almost providentially, there happened to be a grant writer in the gathering. “She told me she could get me the money, and she did – $235,000. I knew then that I was locked in to doing this thing,” said Moore.
“I was president of the Lexington Surgery Center at the time,” said Moore, “and so they agreed to give us their facility on one Sunday a month and let us use their supplies. We got a pretty good basis of people together, and we had to get malpractice insurance.” A lawyer agreed to offer his services to work out the legalities. The working group hired a person to run the program and in 2005, SOS began operating.
Moore likes the happy buzz that surrounds volunteers and patients alike on SOS days.
“If I can get you there one time, I’ve got you hooked,” said Moore. “That’s what I tell everyone when I speak about the program. The volunteers are always saying ‘Can I help you?’ and looking for something to do.”
Some come from out of town locations such as Murray or Louisville. There are churches that supply meals, and social workers and language interpreters give of their time and skills.. “They’ve just come together by pure luck or by divine providence…or whatever,” said Moore.
Moore wants to see much done because of the great need he sees. “We’re about a year and a half behind on gall bladder surgeries,” he said. “We want to consider doing SOS on two Sundays a month, and I’ve talked to people all over the country who are interested in starting similar programs.”
Moore likely will win others to a program like SOS. He has an amiable personality, always looking at the bright side.
Just ask Mary Ellen Amato, who worked with Moore’s father and knew young, often mischievous Andy. She remembered visiting him when he attended St. Joseph Prep School, in Bardstown, when he was a teenager.
“We would come to see him and they had him on the garbage detail. He was always getting demerits. But, he always had a smile on his face.”
Peggy Moore, Moore’s mother and another volunteer at SOS, added: “Andy was always into things, always happy-go-lucky.”
Volunteer nurse Patti Fowler said that Moore “has always made patients feel at ease, always has a joke to share, and is always relaxed.”
It’s often said that great things can be accomplished if one does not care who gets the credit.
For Dr. Andrew Moore, much of the credit for Surgery on Sunday can go to his father, who modeled true servanthood.
Steve Flairty is a lifelong Kentuckian, teacher, public speaker and author of four books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and three in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series. All of Steve’s books are available around the state or from the author. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly as well as being a weekly KyForward contributor. Watch his KyForward columns for excerpts from all his books. His most recent book, Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes for Kids is now available at local bookstores, and Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #3, Steve’s fifth book, will be released in early 2013. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “friend” him on Facebook. (Steve’s photo by Ernie Stamper)