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Surgeon answers county’s needs

Patients praise the only full-time plastic surgeon after he tends to their injuries or disease.

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Dr. Sunanda Singh, right, encourages a recovering Charles Eley Jr., 16, of Spring Hill, whose left hand was crushed after a car he was riding in flipped over several times. Singh is the only full-time plastic surgeon in Pasco County.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 4, 2001

BROOKSVILLE -- Beth Mason sat stoically, arms folded, as the doctor approached with scissors to cut the metal wires in her mouth.

"I've had them for three weeks. This won't bother me," the 17-year-old Mason said through clenched teeth, her jaws clamped shut.

As Dr. Sunanda Singh snipped at the wires, Mason stared up at him with bright blue eyes, cringing but grateful that this day in May had come sooner rather than later, or not at all.

"I've been begging him," the high school senior said of the Brooksville doctor.

[Times photos: Maurice Rivenbark]
Singh examines Beth Mason, 17, after cutting away metal wires he put in her mouth weeks earlier. The wires held her face in place while metal plates helped hear the bones she broke in a car accident. Below, an X-ray film shows the metal plates, wires and screws put in Beth's face and mouth.

Mason had asked Singh to push up by a few days the removal of the wires that held her face in place while four metal plates helped heal her broken bones.

She didn't want to miss out on graduation activities, including the senior breakfast, which she hoped would not pass with her still drinking from a straw.

Thanks to Singh's fast work, along with that of another physician, Mason was able to participate in her graduation activities.

Singh is Hernando County's only full-time plastic surgeon. But tummy tucks and face-lifts are not his mainstay.

Reconstructive surgery, infections, skin cancer and trauma cases are what have been coming through his door since he started practice last July as a full-time plastic surgeon and hand surgeon.

Mason's case is typical.

On April 22, her friend's Jeep Wrangler crashed into a ditch in New Port Richey, throwing her face-first from the back seat into the throw bar. She broke her nose, the two bones under her eyes and her cheekbones.

"My whole face was bloated like a fish," said the River Ridge High School senior from New Port Richey.

Singh performed the surgery at Tampa General Hospital. He and a second doctor decided to install the metal plates through an incision above Mason's gums instead of underneath her eyes -- a move that would have kept her out of the sun for six months.

Some of Singh's cases are far more serious, at times life-threatening. There was the man with an infectious abdominal wound who had diabetes and a weakened immune system. Singh performed surgery and closed the wound.

"He was on death's door because of this infection," Singh said.

Then there was the man who sliced his arm with a chain saw while cutting down trees. There are also the arts-and-crafts injuries, the cooking accidents, the burn from a car radiator.

Singh has dealt with cases of reconstructive surgery for breast cancer survivors, children with congenital diseases and automobile accident victims.

"A lot of what I'm seeing here is hand injuries and trauma in addition to carpal tunnel syndrome," he said. "A lot of them are hand burns and extremity burns, facial fractures and lacerations. A lot of wound problems, chronic wounds, lower extremity wounds from ulcers or that are failing to heal from an infection."

Singh set up a full-time practice last year at PineBrook Regional Medical Center on Cortez Boulevard, after completing his fellowship training at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital.

"I had heard a couple of people who are working in the county say there is a need for a hand surgeon and plastic surgeon," he said.

His work, which takes him through all three hospitals in Hernando County, is defining that need, he said.

"Plastic surgery is a very, very diverse specialty with a lot of stereotypes," he said. "We are doing the liposuction and chemical peels, and face-lifts. . . . But a lot of plastic surgery falls between other specialties."

Of the 10 consultations a month he receives, about 40 percent are trauma cases, including burns and hand and face injuries. Of the rest, only 15 percent are cosmetic cases. The remainder are skin cancers, breast cancer patients, surgical infections and joint replacements.

"In the county, as the population increases, we are having the hospital capability and specialties to be able to treat people here at home," Singh said.

Jaime Wesolowski, chief executive officer at Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill, said having Singh on staff makes work easier for other doctors, who can consult with Singh rather than send patients south to Tampa.

"If someone comes in, they might be having some neurological problems from an auto accident that need to be taken care of, and simultaneously plastics work can be done, rather than taking care of the most intense problem and then transferring the patient," Wesolowski said.

Only if injuries are serious enough must a patient be transferred to a trauma unit in Tampa.

That's what happened to Charles Eley Jr. of Spring Hill.

A few weeks ago, the 16-year-old sat quietly in a chair in Singh's office, this his sixth visit. A thick purple scar snaked across his left hand around a plum-colored bulge between his thumb and index finger. A doughnut-size scar of a matching shade marked his inner forearm.

Singh was checking the swelling and flexibility of Eley's hand.

"I can do mostly everything except grip," Eley said.

In January, Eley was riding in a car that went out of control and flipped several times. Eley's hand was crushed in the accident.

"There was just blood gushing," Eley said. "I couldn't move my two fingers."

With help from another surgeon and two assistants, Singh brought Eley into surgery, first at Oak Hill Hospital, then at Tampa General Hospital. Singh took a tendon from under Eley's forearm and used it to realign the hand's extensor tendon, which lifts the fingers.

Singh then took skin from Eley's left thigh to reconstruct the forearm.

Through physical therapy, Eley regained use of his hand. He recently started playing basketball again.

The scars, though, are troubling for a young man.

"You look at his face and something is wrong," said Susan Eley, his mother. "He gets so sad."

But his parents couldn't be more grateful. They thank Singh for saving their son's limb.

"The first thing we were told was that he might lose his whole arm," Mrs. Eley said. "His hand was shattered. . . . My husband couldn't even look at it.

"If I hit the Lotto tomorrow," she said, "I would give it to Dr. Singh."

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