In the early days of Texas Children’s Hospital, when it was still less than a decade old, Dr. Melvin Spira remembers the surgeries he performed on children, sometimes working alongside the late world-famous heart surgeon, Dr. Denton A. Cooley. Specifically, he remembers having only half of one day each week to operate on patients in the early 1960s.
“Things have come a long way since then, when Texas Children’s had only four floors and 11 operating rooms that were shared with St. Luke’s Hospital,” Spira said.
In 2016, the Plastic Surgery division at Texas Children’s Hospital grew to include seven full-time plastic surgeons, seven physician assistants and one nurse practitioner, making it the largest group of full-time pediatric plastic surgeons and providers at a children’s hospital in the United States. They record more than 1,500 operating room cases and 12,000 clinic visits each year, serving all three Texas Children’s locations and many of the hospital’s community sites.
After his training in general surgery at Duke University Medical Center, Spira completed his plastic surgery residency at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in 1961 and immediately joined the faculty there. In 1976, he was appointed by Dr. Michael DeBakey to serve as chief and head of the division of Plastic Surgery at BCM, the Methodist Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Hospital and the VA Hospital.
In 1995 at the age of 70, he stepped down from these positions but remained on the full-time faculty at BCM and continued to teach residents. When he “retired,” Spira continued his passion for helping children — particularly those with cleft lip and cleft palate — by participating in surgical missions and performing operations to repair these conditions for indigent patients all over the world.
When he learned that Texas Children’s was working to establish an endowed chair in plastic surgery to help recruit and retain a leading surgeon not only to provide the very best care but also develop the nation’s top surgical research program, Spira seized the opportunity to help. He recently made a generous gift to help establish the chair, which will be named in his honor in recognition of his many contributions to the field over the years.
“Establishing the Melvin Spira, M.D. Endowed Chair is a great honor for us and a well-deserved tribute to the important work he did in the field of plastic surgery,” said Dr. Larry Hollier, formerly Texas Children’s chief of Plastic Surgery and now the hospital’s surgeon-in-chief.
The Plastic Surgery division specializes in the surgical treatment of injuries and disorders that prevent children from functioning fully or looking and feeling their best. The team’s innovative surgical techniques and treatment of cleft lip and cleft palate draws patients from across the nation with deformities ranging from mild to extremely complex.
“Our goal should be the prevention and reduction in the number of childhood deformities, especially cleft lip and cleft palate,” Spira said.
The establishment of the endowed chair bearing his name will bring us one step closer to achieving that goal.