Twenty years of working before the sun comes up until after it goes down can take its toll, particularly when you’re in the life-saving business.
This is where Dr. Ala Stanford found herself last winter. At a career crossroads, Stanford, a North Philadelphia native who holds the distinction of being the first African-American female pediatric surgeon trained entirely in the United States, needed to reshuffle.
Between surgical operations, Stanford runs her non-profit, “It Takes Philly. Inc,” supported by the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, which focuses on the personal development of local youth with limited resources, runs her own business (R.E.A.L Concierge Medicine, CO.), a service catering to the specialized health needs of clients, and teaches and trains surgical residents and medical students doing missionary work in Haiti. In addition to all that, the single mother still finds time for her three sons, a nine-year-old and a set of seven-year-old twins.
“The day one of my children asked me, ‘Mommy, are you going to be here when we wake up in the morning’ was a wake-up call,” Stanford said. “It’s difficult as a woman and a mom to work surgeon hours.
“I needed to find a way to be present for my sons and continue to provide for them, serve the community and use the skills that God gave me because I trained 18 years to become a pediatric surgeon,” she added.
Not wanting to leave an industry where African-American women make up a minute 0.69 percent of all U.S. surgeons, Stanford’s career took the next step in its evolution earlier this week with the opening of Stanford Pediatric Surgery, LLC (SPS), in Jenkintown.
With a staff of four, Stanford, who also makes house visits, treats conditions ranging from umbilical hernias to breast masses, appendicitis to stitches, and provides just about any other service sick children who don’t require an extended hospital stay may need.
Her office is affiliated with four institutions (Abington Surgical Center, Abington Memorial Hospital, Holy Redeemer and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children). The business welcomes a wide array of insurances.
This is crucial because many private practices don’t accept certain insurances held by lower-income citizens.
“I was born in North Philadelphia and I have a passion for wanting to ensure that children in disadvantaged situations have the same opportunity to lead healthy lives as anyone else,” Stanford said.
Stanford’s story is one of overcoming odds. She was born to teenage parents when her mother was 14. However, this didn’t prevent her from pursuing her dream of a career in medicine.
She has made at least two missionary trips to Haiti with her church, Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown, treating men, women and children. While on staff at Abington, the former director of the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities at Temple University School of Medicine, Stanford gained recognition in 2010 when she operated on a toddler from Haiti who required a life-saving surgery not offered in her country to correct a rare digestive abnormality at no cost.
To ensure SPS is comprehensive, attentive and exudes a family atmosphere, all of her employees are people Stanford knows from her past. This includes Dr. Marc S. Lessin, Physician’s Assistant Sheila Cook, and bilingual Registered Nurse Jennifer Rosales Martinez.
Twice retired, Cook is back at work for a third time after having done missionary work alongside Stanford in Haiti.
“She has a commitment and energy that I saw, even when we were preparing to go to Haiti, that indicated how serious she was about working with children,” Cook, also a Salem member, said. “I was enjoying retirement, but this is something to be excited about.”
Her days no longer tied to the hospital, Stanford is looking forward to the challenges of entrepreneurship. She still lectures, now at Abington, and will continue to run “It Takes Philly, Inc.”
“I’m a little nervous but fear is a powerful motivator,” she said. “But it’s a good nervous. It’s coming together and I’m fortunate to be working with great people. We want it to be done and we want it to be done right.”
Stanford Pediatric Surgery, LLC, can be found online at stanfordpedsurgery.org. By phone, call 833-PED-SURG, or (215) 277-5450.