Spring 2010 Issue

Whistle while you work

Dr. Steve Maynard ’94 has spent thousands of hours working to save migrant workers in Homestead from unnecessary amputations – and he whistles a lot

By Elizabeth Hanly

Dr. Steve Maynard is photographed with some of his patients in an okra and pole bean field across the street from the Open Door Health Center in Homestead, Florida.

Every Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Steve Maynard drives 100 miles to The Open Door Health Center in Homestead where he is known as “the doctor who doesn’t say too much but likes to whistle.”

Open Door Health Center provides care to as many as 3,500 uninsured, the majority of them migrant farm workers. Largely Hispanic and poor, his patients at Open Door are at a particularly high risk for developing Type 2 diabetes with its ensuing complications.

Maynard, an adjunct professor in the School of Podiatric Medicine, manages all foot traumas at Open Door as well as all disorders of the feet - most especially the ulcers, infection and even gangrene - resulting from diabetes and its concomitant numbing of nerves in the lower extremities. Often someone with diabetes cannot feel, and therefore doesn’t realize the extent of a wound until an infection has spread well beyond its original site.

Dr. Nilda Soto, Open Door’s founder and director, credits Maynard with saving literally hundreds of limbs. “I have never seen another doctor so careful about getting wounds under control. It’s so much easier to simply amputate,” she says. “Everyone should know how much of his own time he donates to the homeless and migrant workers. He is far too humble. I want to shout at everybody in the medical community. I want them to know what a treasure we have here.”

Indeed, it was Maynard, alongside Soto, who set up diabetic educational and outreach initiatives at Open Door that drew national attention and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation National Diabetes Initiative grant to further develop a “best practice” model for diabetic care. In fact, for the past14 years, it has been Barry’s Office of Grants that has helped the School of Podiatric Medicine and Maynard obtain the grants that support his work at Open Door.

“By addressing a critical health care shortage area in the Miami-Dade community, Dr. Maynard’s work is a profound example of Barry’s service-driven mission. The Grants Office supports the School of Podiatric Medicine in applying for suitable funding opportunities to ensure that this important and meaningful work continues,” says Mara LaLonde, director of grant programs.

This collaborative venture helps not only Open Door, but its patients as well. A recent University of Miami study found that patients interviewed randomly in the waiting area at Open Door were among South Florida’s best-informed about prevention as well as warning signs of diabetes.

At Open Door this translates into Maynard joining with his patients in client fitness and exercise programs. It translates into Maynard buying shoes for the diabetic patients who cannot otherwise afford them. “On more than one occasion he has even driven a patient home once he realized the number of buses that patient would need to take,” Soto says.

When asked, literally everyone at Open Door – both staff and patients – use the same word to describe Maynard: “carinoso.” The word doesn’t translate into English well, but “tender” may be close. “No one has ever been kinder to my mother-in-law,” Esperanza Venegas says.

Thanks to his father, Maynard grew up with an appreciation for the often overlooked benefits of having healthy feet. “My dad had trouble with his feet,” he explains. “My dad was a runner. He used to enter races all over Barbados where I was born. Even as a little kid, I could see how much pain my dad was in.”

And now, of course, he looks after his dad’s feet. “Yes, I think my dad is proud,” Maynard says with a grin, “Except he has never quite forgiven me for not becoming a veterinarian. I spent a lot of time talking about animals as a kid and my dad sort of got used to the idea of his son as Dr. Doolittle.”

Actually, Maynard was deep into a graduate program in molecular biology at another university when he began to consider Barry’s School of Podiatric Medicine. “What impressed me was the school’s hands-on approach and its community rotations that targeted the poor, the medically underserved, those with tremendous needs.

“Also, molecular biology ended up being a little boring,” he adds.

That may have been the last time Maynard was bored. On Tuesday afternoons he works in Homestead. Other afternoons he may be working with his own practice; although he has also recently started to work at The Wound Center at Jackson North. Most mornings will find him in surgery at one of several area hospitals. During the evenings he makes house calls. On weekends he frequently attends to the elderly in various nursing homes, some as far away as Tallahassee.

“I run through a lot of cars,” Maynard jokes.

And he always makes time for Homestead.

Why? “Perhaps, because I’m an immigrant too,” he says. “I can understand the experience of these families.”

When pressed on this question, Maynard describes one of his Open Door patients: “An elderly man who is nearly blind asked that I honor him by calling him ‘grandpa.’ This fellow had had half of his foot amputated in a hospital. He had been discharged with no dressing for his wound, no instructions on post-op care. He managed to find his way here.”

And, by example, Maynard is also inspiring a new generation of podiatric medical students.

Chris Benac first met Maynard during a rotation at Jackson North and asked if he might work with him further. “Yeah,” Benac confesses, “some of my colleagues think he is nuts. Podiatric medicine is a lucrative profession, but Dr. Maynard doesn’t seem to care much about any of that. To work like he does, and to do it in some place where you are hardly compensated, well, that speaks volumes about his character.”

Maynard, meanwhile, is busy whistling.

Elizabeth Hanly is a professor of journalism and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post among many other newspapers and magazines.