Spotlight: Dr. Arash Momeni
By Mohammed Al Kadhim
October 31, 2023
I grew up in Germany, where I graduated from medical school and trained in plastic and hand surgery at the University of Freiburg before coming to the United States in 2008. It was always my dream to pursue an academic surgical career in the US. Hence, I re-did my plastic surgery training at Stanford and completed an additional fellowship in reconstructive microsurgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Thereafter, the stars aligned, and I was fortunate to be recruited to Stanford as a faculty member in 2016.
Clinically, my responsibilities involved expanding the microsurgical practice within the Cancer Destination Service Line. My clinical focus encompasses breast reconstruction, pelvic reconstruction, and extremity reconstruction, and I have the privilege of working with exceptional colleagues across various surgical disciplines.
Academically, I was tasked with building a clinical research program and was able to leverage clinical productivity into a clinical research enterprise that allowed us to initiate prospective clinical trials in plastic surgery which has expanded the research portfolio in the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Stanford. Our research focus has included the restoration of breast sensation after mastectomy and novel approaches to breast reconstruction, prevention of venous thromboembolism, and ways to decrease morbidity during pelvic reconstruction.
The Godina Fellowship Award
Marko Godina was a surgeon from Ljubljana, Slovenia, in former Yugoslavia. He was a pioneering microsurgeon who revolutionized the treatment of patients with complex lower extremity defects. His work, some of which was published posthumously, transformed the way complex extremity defects are treated, emphasizing radical debridement and early tissue coverage as cornerstones.
Tragically, he passed away at the age of 43 in a car accident, while returning home from Zagreb airport with his wife. It was a tremendous loss to the world of reconstructive microsurgery. His impact was immense.
In honor of Marko Godina’s groundbreaking work, the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery (ASRM) initiated the Godina Fellowship in 1993 to honor an accomplished microsurgeon. This international award has recognized previous Godina fellows from the US, Slovenia, Belgium, Germany, China, Japan, and more, and is considered the highest honor that the ASRM can bestow upon its members.
To be selected, peers submit letters of recommendation to the Godina Selection Committee in support of a nominee or applicant. Once a decision is made, the President of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery notifies the awardee of the committee’s decision. I received that phone call on the day before my birthday. I was 43 at the time and couldn’t help but think of that being the age of Marko’s untimely passing.
On a professional level, I cannot think of a greater honor for a microsurgeon. But beyond the award itself, Marko Godina’s work has been part of my personal professional journey from the very beginning. As a plastic surgery intern in Germany, the first clinical papers I reviewed in preparation for a case given to me by my chair, Professor Stark, were from Godina. So, to be informed 20 years later that I am the 2023 Godina Fellow was an incredible privilege. The very first contact I had with academic plastic surgery was through manuscripts by Godina, and today, 20 years later, I have been awarded the 2023 Godina fellowship.
The fellowship gives me an additional international platform, not only to present work that has been done at Stanford and present the research that I’ve been doing with my team, but also to learn from other programs and have exposure to other systems, other programs, and other cultures. It’s been an incredibly enriching experience for me.
Marko Godina’s legacy
Dr Godina’s drive to challenge the dogma of his time and search for ways to make a more significant impact is inspiring. What fascinated me was that he built bridges in terms of presenting his work and also learning from other places he visited.
His daughter, Iša Godina, gave me a box of Marko’s old correspondences. He communicated with surgeons in the UK, Scotland, Germany, the US, and even trained abroad. This resonated with me personally: I’ve been trained in Germany and then came to the US, I still maintain involvement with my European roots, and I serve on the board of the German Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery.
The “building bridges” approach parallels what I see in my professional life. It is inspiring to me to view my specialty not through a local or regional lens but as a global mission. Surgeons are all striving for the same goal: providing the best surgical care possible to our patients, with continuous improvement as our guiding principle. But this can only be achieved by looking beyond our immediate horizons, connecting with others, and never losing sight of the historical perspectives of our specialty.
Iša Godina is a successful architect and a generous individual. For many years, she was unaware that this award existed and only learned about it four or five years ago. Since then, she has been meeting with Godina Fellows who have visited Slovenia. During our meeting, we visited Marko Godina’s birthplace, the house where he was born, and walked the streets of Ljubljana, where he grew up. She shared poignant memories of her childhood, her time spent at the hospital to see her father, and the pain she endured when her father passed away when she was 12. Meeting people like me who try to carry on her father’s legacy fills her with pride. She can see the impact her father has made and continues to make in the specialty, and generations of surgeons globally who continue to be inspired by his work four decades after his premature passing.
Meeting the President of the Republic of Slovenia Nataša Pirc Musar at the Presidential Palace
I was the first Godina fellow to meet the President since the fellowship was initiated. I was surprised that Marko Godina’s legacy wasn’t officially commemorated at the University with a plaque, lecture hall, or bust. However, after the meeting with the President, the University agreed to name a lecture hall in his honor. Additionally, all future ASRM Godina fellows will be received by the President.
During the meeting, the delegation included the former Chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery, the current Chair, the Dean of the School of Medicine, and the University President. We discussed various topics, including Marko Godina’s impact, and how to appropriately celebrate him in Slovenia. I was thrilled that this visit allowed us to negotiate this recognition.
The President herself was incredibly engaging, and we discussed a wide range of topics, from history to her environmental platform, gender equality, education, medical care, academia, and culture. Our meeting lasted about 1 hour and 45 minutes, a considerable amount of time from her busy schedule as the head of state.
I appreciated her time and felt my visit to Slovenia tied back to Marko’s dream, where he hoped that one day surgeons from abroad would visit Slovenia to learn from him, rather than him going abroad. Today, people from premier institutions are making that pilgrimage to his place.
Pride and gratitude
I owe my sincerest gratitude to the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery for giving me this platform. Furthermore, all this would not have been possible without the support of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Department of Surgery at Stanford. I had invaluable mentors who helped reach where I am today and enable me to do the work I do.
I am proud to be a part of Stanford, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in the field of reconstructive microsurgery. This journey has been an enriching and inspiring one, and I look forward to continuing my work and contributions.