UM Researcher, Transplant Surgeon and Sylvester Trustee among 2018 Health Care Heroes

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For nearly 30 years, Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., worked tirelessly as a neuroscientist with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Her pioneering work in the area of nervous system regeneration and her decades-long dedication to finding ways to repair spinal cord damage earned Bunge the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. The annual ceremony, which also honors other Health Care Heroes, was held on May 15.

From left, Luis Chiappy, AXA Advisors, Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., and Chris Dudley, Advancement Associates, Inc.

The focus of Bunge’s work along with her late husband Richard has been Schwann cells, which they determined are key to helping repair damaged spinal cords. In a study at The Miami Project these cells were taken from paralyzed patients and safely transplanted into their sites of injury.

“What can be more fulfilling in life than to be able to bring one’s basic findings to clinical trials to see if they may help people overcome spinal cord injury?” said Bunge, who is professor emerita of cell biology, neurological surgery and neurology at the Miller School. She retired in November 2017.

Among the 2018 Health Care Heroes Award finalists is Jayne Sylvester Malfitano, president of the board for the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation and vice chair of the Board of Overseers for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, named in honor of her father. Malfitano continues his legacy through her commitment to cancer care in South Florida, promoting Sylvester’s expansion to satellite centers. She also serves on the University of Miami Board of Trustees.

In the category of Health Care Professionals, a Health Care Hero Award was given to Rodrigo Vianna, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Miami Transplant Institute, an affiliation between the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System.

The Debbie Institute, a division of the University of Miami Mailman Center for Child Development, was a finalist in the Organization/Program category.