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A new practice: Augusta Health Surgery

The Augusta Health Surgery team includes: (bottom row, l to r) Carmen Green, RN; Jessica Botkin, AA; Megan Snyder, LPN; and (top row, l to r) Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH; Miguel Aguinaga, MD, FACS; Stephen Carter, MD, FACS; Vonda Johnston, NP; Melissa Bullett, AA; and Kristin Turza, MD. Not pictured: Michael Flam, DO, and Mark Andres, MD.

Q and A with physicians

One of the hallmarks of a strong independent community hospital is the ability of doctors and staff to stay closely connected to their patients. Last year, after several seasoned surgeons retired or moved to other positions, Augusta Health understood the urgent need to bring new surgeons into the community so patients would not have to travel for quality care. A collaborative and focused search began to find surgeons who have the same values as the Augusta Health community and believe that being a surgeon is more than just performing procedures; it’s forming relationships with patients and families, and becoming a part of the local community.

Six surgeons now form Augusta Health Surgery: Stephen Carter, MD, FACS; Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH; Michael Flam, DO; Miguel Aguinaga, MD, FACS; Mark Andres, MD; and Kristin Turza, MD. While Dr. Turza has practiced at Augusta Health a couple of years, the others are new to the area.

Recently, Drs. Turza, Carter, deWolfe and Flam sat together to discuss their decisions to begin a new practice at Augusta Health and their goals for the team and their patients.

You’ve come from around the country. What drew you to Augusta Health and this community?

Dr. Turza: I’ve been here a while because I trained here [with retired surgeon Dr. Doug McKibben, who became a mentor], and I never felt the pull to leave. It’s a wonderful example of community-based surgical care, a place where you are more than just the surgeon. We form lasting relationships and bonds with our patients and
families, and with the other doctors in the community. People trust us with their care and the care of others in
their families.

Dr. deWolfe: I grew up in a similar rural community in Maine. My dad is a family practice physician there, so I experienced firsthand what healthcare can do for a community and its importance to a small town. I wanted to have that same kind of relationship with my patients that my father had with his. I looked all around the United States, and the mission and vision here at Augusta Health — how much everyone really cares about the community — really stood out. Their values aligned with mine. I knew right away that this hospital and patient base were right for me.

Dr. Flam: I think, for my family, this was a lucky find. We were looking for a new and different community, out of the big and busy world where we lived. I liked the foundations of care here and the philosophy toward health.

Dr. Carter: I grew up in San Diego, and this is a lot different than San Diego. My wife grew up in a smaller community, though, and a smaller community is a nicer place to be when having a family. I previously practiced in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a similar town just a couple of hours north on Route 81. I enjoyed my time there and realized that the community you live in and the people of a community — they are more important than what you do for a living. It’s a family feel. Once people realize you are a part of them and a part of the community, people reach out to you — at school, at church, in restaurants. You get to know people, and they get to know you. It’s not that people respect you, but they accept you, and that’s a good feeling.

An unusual feature of Augusta Health Surgery is that it’s a brand-new practice. You’re starting at the same time in a new place. What is that experience like?

Dr. deWolfe: Well, it is a leap of faith for sure, but I believe it was an informed decision. While I was interviewing, I was very impressed with Scott Just, MD [vice president and chief medical officer of Augusta Medical Group], May Felkey [practice administrator, Augusta Health Surgery], Karen Clark [Augusta Medial Group president] and Augusta Health CEO Mary Mannix. They were so attentive to the community and so attuned to its needs. They started the practice because it was important and necessary to improve access to surgical care for the members of this community. I felt a connection and wanted to be a part of that. So if they thought I’d fit with the community and the practice, I trusted their opinions.

Dr. Turza: It’s important that we all have a common approach to the type of care we provide for our patients. People bring different experiences from different places, which is valuable, but we also have similar values in diagnosing and treating patients.

Dr. Carter: In some ways it is risky and sort of scary, but I was reassured during the interview process by Dr. Just and the entire administration. It was not the promises they made, but their genuine interest in the community. This is not a big corporate organization, but a place run locally. They listen to the Board, they listen to the doctors and they listen to the community in a way that’s not always a part of other organizations.

Dr. Flam:
There is risk of the unknown, but this is a special opportunity. We have a chance to become the foundation for the future, to build what might be surgical care in the community, not just now, but for the next 25 years. Here we can form and mold a practice that can integrate the values we all had in medical school in a community that accepts those values.

What goals do you have for your practice and your patients?

Dr. Turza: I’m hoping we will be a surgical practice that sincerely cares for our patients and makes it easy for them to be cared for — easy, affordable access that is close to home. I want patients to know we are a friendly practice, but also that we provide excellent surgical care with great attention to detail. I hope our patients feel that they are heard, and that they have a comfort level with every doctor and every member of the staff.

Dr. deWolfe: I agree. We want access for our patients to be convenient, comfortable and personal. I want to build relationships with patients that last throughout their lives. Care begins with the first phone call or the minute the patient walks through the door. We take a team approach, and everyone on the team matters — the patient, other surgeons, the staff and the other community doctors who care for the patient. I love surgery, and I love caring for people. In our practice, although we each have a niche, we’ll support each other and work together to provide excellent surgical care.

Dr. Flam: The patient is the center of the care. The most important goal is to meet the needs and wants of each patient. That can be complicated, but our patients can be reassured that they don’t have to travel for excellent care. It’s right here. Even when we turn off the lights at night, we are thinking of new ways to help our patients.

Dr. Carter: As surgeons, we are not an island or apart from the rest of the medical community or the rest of the patients’ lives. Our care is integrative care. So it’s not just about the surgery or procedure in front of you. People often have medical conditions that can complicate the surgery, and we may need to communicate and coordinate with other specialists and definitely the patient’s primary care physician. As a breast surgeon, I can tell you that we can do the cutting-edge surgery you need right here, and we do it just as well as the larger institutions, but we can do it faster and with a more personal touch. When I need to speak with the patient’s oncologist or cardiologist or radiologist — they are all right here! I can walk right to them and talk with them. It’s not just a computer referral; it’s integrated care. And for patients, that is a huge difference.

Drs. Carter, deWolfe, Flam, Turza, Andres and Aguinaga are all accepting patients and referrals. In addition to surgeries performed in the operating room, some procedures can be done in their offices, which is a less costly option. The office is located in the Medical Office Building at Augusta Health, Suite 307. For information or to make an appointment, please call (540) 245-7705.

Miguel G. Aguinaga, MD, FACS

Miguel G. Aguinaga, MD, FACS, with his son, John

New Augusta Health Surgery Team Member
Miguel G. Aguinaga, MD, FACS

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Miguel G. Aguinaga, MD, FACS, to Augusta Health Surgery. Dr. Aguinaga specializes in thoracic and vascular surgery. He offers minimally invasive small port access, endobronchial, ablation and endovascular surgeries.

why did you choose your specialty area?
Lung cancer represents a very significant and growing problem.

how do you spend your spare time?
I spend my spare time with family, jogging, bicycling, skiing, reading and enjoying music.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Lead a balanced life.


Stephen L. Carter, MD, FACS

Stephen L. Carter, MD, FACS, with his wife, Tiffany, and sons, Grant and Bennett

New Augusta Health Surgery Team Member
Stephen L. Carter, MD, FACS

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Stephen L. Carter, MD, FACS, to Augusta Health Surgery. Dr. Carter specializes in general surgery and breast surgery.

why did you choose your specialty area?
I chose surgery because I enjoy working with my hands and being able to treat people’s ailments through surgical techniques. I had an incredible breast surgeon mentor, Dr. Gordon Schwartz, who instilled a passion in me to battle breast disease and help women through the process of breast cancer treatment.

how do you spend your spare time?
I spend my spare time with family. We enjoy outdoor activities, sports, church and music.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Finding things to be thankful for; having joy and hope in life improves the body’s immune system and allows it to prevent disease and recover from illness and surgery more efficiently.


Michael D. Flam, DO

Michael D. Flam, DO, with daughter Samara and German shepherd Milo

New Augusta Health Surgery Team Member
Michael D. Flam, DO

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Michael D. Flam, DO, to Augusta Health Surgery. Dr. Flam specializes in general surgery including robotic and laparoscopic procedures.

why did you choose your specialty area?
The decision to choose a surgical specialty was based solely on my preference of a challenging and difficult field that requires precision, anatomical understanding and rapid decision-making. Specifically, general surgery gives me the opportunity to evaluate and care for patients in a variety of settings including office-based care, the ER, inpatient hospital care and, most importantly, the operating room.

how do you spend your spare time?
My spare time is limited due to the nature of my commitment to my profession. I spend this time with my family including my wife, daughter and our German shepherd, Milo. Asa family we enjoy international travel, visiting the ocean and hiking. I also enjoy running.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Listen to your body and provide it the appropriate nutritional fuel. If it feels out of the ordinary, seek out a medical professional.


Reshma Khetpal, MD, with husband Prashant, a hospitalist at Augusta Health, and their daughter, Aalia

New Augusta Health Cancer Center Team Member
Reshma Khetpal, MD

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Reshma Khetpal, MD, to Augusta Health Cancer Center. Dr. Khetpal specializes in medical oncology and hematology.

why did you choose your specialty area?
I enjoy medical oncology because it is a research-based specialty, which requires a great deal of compassionate communication with my patients. I also enjoy the trust that is built with my patients during their most critical and crucial phase of their lives.

how do you spend your spare time?
In my spare time, I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking, traveling and playing with my child.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Stay informed and, if you are a cancer patient, talk to you cancer physician as openly as possible about current available treatments for cancer and/or blood disorders to ensure you are making the right medical choices.


George M. Tran, MD

George M. Tran, MD, with Darcy

New Augusta Health Family Medicine Team Member
George M. Tran, MD

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of George M. Tran, MD, to Augusta Health Family Medicine in Churchville. Dr. Tran specializes in family medicine with special interests in adult and child primary care.

why did you choose your specialty area?
I enjoy caring for people of all ages and teaching them about their health and illnesses. My best friend’s father was our family physician and my role model.

how do you spend your spare time?
Church, family, outdoor activities and taking care of an old house.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
We have no guarantee how long we live, but we can do something about how well we live by how we take care of ourselves and our loved ones.


Naheed Velji, MD

Naheed Velji, MD, with wife Sha na, son Kiaan and puppy Nala

New Augusta Health Cancer Center Team Member
Naheed Velji, MD

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Naheed Velji, MD, to Augusta Health Cancer Center. Dr. Velji specializes in medical oncology and hematology.

why did you choose your specialty area?
My interest in hematology and oncology was inspired by my mother who is a breast cancer survivor. Furthermore, over the last 10 years we are starting to see the benefit of all the resources that have been invested in cancer research with the advent of novel medical therapeutic agents and better diagnostic tests. We are able to make a bigger difference now more than ever in various areas of cancer treatment, and this progress is continuing to evolve. I am excited to see what the future holds for oncology.

how do you spend your spare time?
I spend most of my spare time with my family. Lately, I have taken an interest in teaching my son how to swim.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
We hear it time and time again: Diet and exercise are key to a healthy life. I am a firm believer in this mantra and try to abide by this myself.


Kelvin B. Raybon, MD, FACP

Kelvin B. Raybon, MD, FACP, with family: wife Tina, son Eli and daughter Emma

New Augusta Health Cancer Center Team Member
Kelvin B. Raybon, MD, FACP

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Kelvin B. Raybon, MD, FACP, to Augusta Health Cancer Center. Dr. Raybon specializes in medical oncology/hematology.

why did you choose your specialty area?
The study and treatment of cancer and blood diseases is one of the most challenging areas of medicine, requiring ever-changing knowledge and an ability to apply complex science to help individual people. As opposed to many specialties, hematology/oncology is not focused on a particular part of the body, and the skill of taking care of the entire person is critically important.

how do you spend your spare time?
I value time spent with my wife, Tina, and my daughter, Emma, especially when we get to do homework together. I have a son, Eli, who is a musician in California, and I also enjoy listening to music and playing guitar, bass and mandolin for fun. I run regularly and have started hiking the trails around the valley since moving to Augusta County.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
There is no shortcut to a healthy lifestyle — no tobacco, exercise and a diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables.


Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH

Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH, with Buddha

New Augusta Health Surgery Team Member
Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Melissa deWolfe, DO, MPH, to Augusta Health Surgery. Dr. deWolfe specializes in general surgery.

why did you choose your specialty area?
As a surgeon, it’s an amazing privilege to be able to diagnose a problem and then operate to help alleviate and/or cure the patient’s ailment.

how do you spend your spare time?
I enjoy anything outdoors and in nature, such as hiking, biking and kayaking. I also love animals. I have two cats and just adopted my dog, Buddha. I find yoga both relaxing and rejuvenating, and recently went to Bali where I was certified as
an instructor. I am looking forward to interacting with and exploring this community.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Keep yourself healthy by eating clean (avoiding sodas and sweet drinks), exercising at least 30 minutes a day (walking counts, or try yoga!) and if you’re a smoker, seek the help you need to quit!


Raymond, I. Cruz, MD

Raymond, I. Cruz, MD, on vacation on one of the Greek islands

New Augusta Health Cancer Center Team Member
Raymond I. Cruz, MD

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Raymond I. Cruz, MD, to Augusta Health Cancer Center. Dr. Cruz specializes in medical oncology/hematology.

why did you choose your specialty area?
Because of the very little progress in cancer treatments, oncology was one of the “least popular” specialties when I finished my residency in the late ’90s. Everyone said it was “depressing.”

I chose it nevertheless because I believed there is a bright and exciting future in cancer research. Cancer is a very emotional diagnosis. It gives me enormous satisfaction to be able to offer help during a very vulnerable moment in someone’s life.

how do you spend your spare time?
Music is one of my passions. I go to the symphony in my spare time and listen to classical and jazz music at home. I also like reading history and comparative religion and traveling to medieval archeologic sites of Europe and Asia.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Stay active. Use the stairs, park your car a distance away and break some sweat every day.


Frank Johnson Jr., MD

Frank Johnson Jr., MD, with his wife, Cookie

New Augusta Health Primary Care Team Member
Frank Johnson Jr., MD

Augusta Health proudly announces the addition of Frank Johnson Jr., MD, to Augusta Health Staunton Medical Associates. Dr. Johnson specializes in family practice, lipidology and geriatrics.

why did you choose your specialty area?
There is an opportunity to care for patients with diverse medical problems and provide continuity of care in both disease prevention and management.

how do you spend your spare time?
I exercise, spend time with family, watch sports and play golf.

what is your No. 1 health tip?
Make healthy dietary choices combined with a consistent exercise regimen.