Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012
The John W. Ryan Award for Distinguished Contributions to International Programs and Studies
Professor of Surgery
Department of Surgery
School of Medicine
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Appointed to IU faculty, 1991
B.S., Southwestern College, 1979
M.D., University of Kansas, 1983
Countless children born with congenital heart defects in places such as Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Syria are alive today due in large part to Mark Turrentine, a renowned cardiac surgeon known for his wholehearted devotion to his young patients and to his calling as a physician.
"From the clinical standpoint, his performance has been beyond reproach," writes Elaine Cox, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine. "His reputation as a caregiver among those served by him is unsurpassed."
Turrentine, director of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, has been the guiding hand in the establishment of a partnership between children's heart surgeons at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis and the Al-Khalidi Medical Center in Amman, Jordan. For more than 15 years, Turrentine has treated children brought to the United States for heart surgery through Gift of Life International, an organization that facilitates free medical services to children across the globe. In 2007, he organized the first trip to take Riley's high-quality medical care to families in their home regions.
During his first trip to Jordan, Turrentine's six-person team performed heart operations on nine children in five days. Over the course of nine subsequent trips, the partnership established by Turrentine has treated more than 84 children at all levels of complexity.
These cases included Farah, a Palestinian girl from a refugee camp about 60 miles from Amman who required multiple surgeries to survive. Members of the Gift of Life program team, who later visited Farah, her parents, 11 siblings and her grandmother in their humble two-room home, said they were told the family had no gift to give that could match the gift of their daughter's life.
"They are good people in Indianapolis," says Um Rami, an Iraqi science teacher and mother of another child treated by Turrentine. "We are so grateful to Dr. Mark. We wish he were in Baghdad."
Samir Johna, M.D., a clinical professor of surgery at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine who has worked alongside Turrentine in the operating room, recalls yet another young live saved.
"I will never forget that baby Esho's little heart stopped during his angiogram," Johna says. "The team coded him for over 45 minutes until they brought him back to life."
In 2009, Turrentine began organizing trips to other locations with unmet congenital heart care needs across the globe. On his most recent birthday, he led a multidisciplinary surgical team from Riley Hospital for their second skills transfer mission trip to Uganda through the Gift of Life. The specific purpose is to work with the local health care team in creating a sustainable pediatric heart surgery program at the Uganda Heart Institute.
In addition to securing funding and planning surgeries, he committed many hours to mapping out every aspect of the trip, including finding airline tickets and arranging hotels. Devoted to his job at Riley, he uses personal vacation time to provide medical care overseas.
"I have been fortunate to go on these mission trips and it has been a life-changing experience for me," said Jill Riley, R.N., who has participated in four trips and served as a nurse with Turrentine over the past 13 years at Riley. "During that time I have witnessed firsthand his expert care of hundreds of children. He has sacrificed his personal life to give round-the-clock care to his patients and their families and has been seen on many holidays at the hospital rounding and spending time with the patients and families."
In addition to his work with Gift of Life, Turrentine is a champion of efforts to stimulate the development of medical devices for children, such as Food and Drug Administration research trials supporting the use of the Berlin Heart, a mechanical support system for children with severe heart failure. He even helped co-produce a documentary on the subject, "Heart to Heart," to raise awareness about the issue.
In December 2011, the FDA approved the use of the Berlin Heart in the United States.
Other clinical research projects supported by Turrentine include collaborations with Cook Medical Critical Care to enhance children's outcomes after heart surgery by limiting complications from infections.
He is also one of the founders and executor of the Heart to Heart fund, held by the Riley Children's Foundation, an endowment that aims to support development of pediatric cardiovascular surgical care in resource-limited countries.
The Heart to Heart fund continues to grow and will ensure that Turrentine's efforts last long into the future.