by Joseph RADDER
We daresay its highly unlikely that any other Jewish person, layman or professional, American or otherwise, has had as many audiences with Pope John Paul II as has Dr. Jeffrey Meilman.
Indeed, the Pope calls him Doctor Buffalo and loves to tell about his visits to Buffalo as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla and how he swam in the river here.
Meilmans relationship with the Pope began in 1991. The tragedy suffered by a Polish girl named Margaret Orlowski brought them together. Margaret had been in a fiery automobile accident that left her face destroyed. She desperately needed surgical help she could not afford or get in her homeland. Margaret Orlowskis fate came to the attention of the Polish-American community in Buffalo. They raised the funds to bring her to Buffalo and the Erie County Medical Center. The hospital and Dr. Jeffrey Meilman donated their services to help restore her beauty. The results were nothing short of miraculous.
Word of this humanitarian deed reached Poland, the Bishop of Gdansk and subsequently President Lech Walesa. Through the Bishops ties to the Vatican, Pope John Paul II heard about Margaret Orlowski and what the Buffalo surgical team had accomplished for her. Margaret and Dr. Meilman were invited to Rome, where she was blessed by the Pope in 1992. Today, Margaret Orlowski has a new face, a new husband and is enjoying a fruitful life.
This led to the beginning of the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation, an organization supported by some 30 people...volunteers, physicians, surgeons and financial backers.
Each year, under the auspices of Hope for Tomorrow, Dr. Meilman makes two trips abroad to Third World countries where he and other surgeons perform 10 to 15 much-needed reconstructive surgery procedures. Meilman and other Hope for Tomorrow members have brought 8 of those patients to Rome to be blessed by the Pope. He has a standing invitation to come to the Vatican any time he has a patient who would benefit from a papal blessing. We asked Dr. Meilman how he felt when he first met Pope John Paul II. Im not Catholic, he said, but I found it very exciting. It humbles one to be in the presence of a person who is so dedicated to good purposes.
Jeffrey Meilman is a native of Buffalo. His mother was a teacher and his father a businessman here. His sister is a practicing attorney. Dr. Meilman is married to Mary Lee, a native of Hawaii. Together they run a business in Hawaii.
He grew up here and attended the Park School from 7th grade through high school. His best childhood memories include a trip to Philmont Scout Camp in Cimarron New Mexico. During his high school years he bicycled through Europe twice and enjoyed summer visits to Canadian beaches.
Jeffrey Meilman attended St. Lawrence University and received his medical degree from the University of Rochester. He served in Korea and Vietnam as a United States Air Force surgeon. It was there that his experiences sensitized him to the plight of the injured and deformed. And it was there that he saw so many people in need of surgical restoration. Then and there he decided to specialize in plastic surgery.
Dr. Meilman works with children here in Buffalo/Niagara as well as all over the world. He wanted to be sure we credited the Catholic Health System in general and Kenmore Mercy Hospital in particular for their tremendous support. And its not just the hospitals, he said. The whole community is involved and the various ethnic communities have been most helpful.
He has had a very successful plastic surgery practice in Amherst for over 20 years, but its clear his first love is the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation. The thing that excites me about Hope for Tomorrow, he said, is that it has given purpose to the lives of so many of the people who are involved. They continually give of themselves to help those less fortunate who have had some kind of a disfiguring experience.
This year, Hope for Tomorrow staged a fund-raising event at Salvatores Italian Gardens and over 500 people attended.
Now internationally-known for his innovative and charitable surgeries, Jeffrey Meilman has been invited to speak all over the world and has received numerous awards and citations.
A soft-spoken modest man, Dr. Jeffrey Meilman is reluctant to speak about his many achievements. Yet a half hour in his presence tells the visitor that he is truly a remarkable man.
Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.
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