An Interview with Stavros Tombris,
MD Vascular Birthmark Foundation’s Physician of the Year
“It is this positive reflection, the recognition of the level of Medicine in Greece, the overall acceptance of our services as equal to those provided by renowned medical centers in the world, that made me so content…” Stavros Tombris, MD
Recently awarded the “Physician of the Year” award from the Vascular Birthmark Foundation of the US, the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon Stavros Tombris MD, PhD, DDS, Director, Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Athens Euroclinic Hospital, considers this award recognition of the level of medicine in Greece. Greece offers services “equal to those provided by renowned medical centers in the world”, he says. Dr Tombris talks about the wide range of facial malformations he operates on and explains why a congenital malformation should be treated early.
Q.You were awarded the “Physician of the Year” award from the Vascular Birthmark Foundation. This was the first time the Foundation gave the award to a physician working outside the US. How do you feel to have won this award?
On a personal and professional level, I am very honored and proud to be the recipient of this award and join its past recipients, some very distinguished physicians who have had a great contribution to the diagnosis and treatment of Vascular Anomalies. I am happier, though, that this award was presented for the first time to someone who is not practicing within the US, to a Greek physician who was trained there.
I somehow feel our country was given credit as well. It is very important when a positive message for Greece is transmitted, after a long period of negative comments and reports. It is this positive reflection, the recognition of the level of Medicine in Greece, the overall acceptance of our services as equal to those provided by renowned medical centers in the world, made me so content during the award ceremony.
Q. You have the vision of medical tourism. Does Greece have the ability to become a worldwide health tourism destination?
Absolutely. Greece has many advantages to become a key player in the field of medical tourism. It has an advanced tourism infrastructure, perfect climate and scenery, great history and culture, friendly and hospitable people, it is a country of the Eurozone now recovering from its crisis. Regarding the level of medical services, the country has well trained, experienced physicians, who implement the most up to date treatment protocols in high-quality Medical Units and Hospitals, processing the diagnostic and therapeutic plans in a timely manner with competitive overall costs.
Q. You operate on a wide range of facial malformations- mainly hemangioma and angio-dysplastic anomalies. What is their etiology?
There is a great variety of different types of vascular anomalies. Some of them present as solo entities, some others are parts of rare syndromes.
In many cases, an already recognized gene mutation is the cause of a syndrome associated with a vascular anomaly. In other cases, we still have strong hypotheses but haven’t proven yet the actual cause.
There is ongoing research for their etiology, and I can surely tell you that the advances in this exciting field have been so promising, that we can be very optimistic in finding the cause of the remaining diseases of unknown origin, in the near future.
Q.How important is it for a congenital malformation to be treated early?
The natural history of a vascular malformation is to grow throughout the course of the patient’s life.
In the vast majority of cases, the vascular anomaly causes profound aesthetic, functional and psychological sequels.
It is of paramount importance to treat these entities early, so that we can avoid or control all these problems before they become more difficult to manage.
When dealing with a functional problem, such as a visual impairment, for example, the reason to treat early is easily understood. We should never neglect or underestimate, though, the profound negative effect of a disfiguring facial lesion on the patient’s psychological development.
It is as important as the functional disabilities, so, yes, we must treat them early, by implementing the indicated treatment modalities accordingly.
Q.What are some of the most difficult cases you have handled?
One of the greatest challenges in the treatment of Vascular Anomalies is the fact that each case is unique and requires an individualized approach. A lot of effort is necessary not only to operate, but to carefully plan each case, to follow the correct steps for the best possible outcome. A smaller lesion doesn’t necessarily mean an easier lesion to treat, given all the relative variables such as the type of the malformation, its location, the age of the patient, the associated functional or aesthetic problems, etc.
Definitely there are some cases the level of difficulty of which I will never forget, though.
I had a patient from abroad, suffering from an extreme lymphatic malformation, that took me 27 hours in the operating room to treat…This patient was operated multiple times in other countries. He is in a stable condition for the last four years since his surgical treatment in Athens, back in 2016.
I would like to add another case of an extreme arteriovenous malformation of the neck on a local patient. This man had multiple treatments before, but his lesion was enlarging having reached an enormous size. His neck’s skin was so damaged, causing spontaneous brisk, life-threatening, hemorrhage. We operated for a total of 24 hours to remove his lesion and do the reconstruction of the defect. Basically his life was saved.
He has been disease-free, with no signs of recurrence, for the last 7 years. And he immediately returned to his social activities after his treatment. He had been living isolated in his room for many years, having no contact with people and even having suicidal thoughts.
Q. Your work is also widely recognized in China. What are your goals for the future?
I was recently appointed as Visiting Professor at the Henan Provincial People’s Hospital in China, one of the biggest hospitals in the world. I was also the Co-Chairman of a National Vascular Anomalies Conference, held in Zhengzhou last December.
It is the beginning of collaboration between us and our Chinese colleagues, who face the challenge of many thousands of patients with vascular anomalies each year.
My goal is to contribute in the training process of the young and motivated Chinese surgeons in the field of Vascular Anomalies so that they can be acquainted with the western treatment protocols and be able to implement them in their diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.
I will also be the Chairman of the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation International Team Conference in China in December 2020. This is a team of 20 experts mainly from US and European renowned institutions, all members of VBF, traveling each year to countries that are seeking for information and updates in the management of these lesions. All these distinguished physicians are offering their time and expertise to their colleagues.
So, China is our next destination and I am sure that this Conference will contribute a lot in helping affected individuals in this country. Finally, I offer my help in cases that my Chinese colleagues may need a second opinion for and I am willing to be physically there to assist them in complicated cases.
This is something I have been doing for many years in other countries; it will be a real privilege to offer my help to this great country’s colleagues, as well.
After all, helping patients in need and contributing to the education of other physicians, is the true spirit of Medicine.