Sherard Tatum, MD

Upstate doctor now serves as president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He talks about the new position and the trips to Ukraine to perform facial surgeries on people injured in the war

By Chris Motola

Q: You are a currently the president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. What does that organization do and what are your duties as president?

A: The AAFPRS is the trade organization for facial plastic surgeons. It’s the largest organization representing facial plastic surgeons. We have over 2,000 members. We represent the membership to the public and to government. Our prime objectives involve quality of healthcare, research and service. We do some pro bono work domestically and abroad. And we put on two or three meetings a year for education. I’m president, chairman of the board of trustees for the academy and for the foundation, the nonprofit arm. I represent the interests of the membership to the media and to government and preside over meetings.

Q: Did you seek the position or was it more of an opening you fell into?

A: It’s an elected position. I was nominated by our nominating committee. It’s typically based on many years of service to the organization at the committee level, putting on meetings, activism. Usually there’s an election with two to three candidates, occasionally one. And the membership votes.

Q: You’re an ENT, but do you mostly focus on plastic surgery in your practice?

A: Yeah, I do mostly reconstructive surgery. I run the cleft and craniofacial clinic at SUNY Upstate. So I fix faces that have deformities from birth defects, injuries and cancer defects.

Q: What accounts for the majority of those cases?

A: Most of what I do is the birth defects. That’s what I specialize in. But I do have a fairly broad practice taking care of trauma- and cancer-related reconstruction.

Q: What’s involved in correcting cleft-palates and facial asymmetries?

A: Clefts are corrected in stages. For example, a baby born with a cleft lip and palates would have the lip repaired in the first two or three months of life. The palettes are usually repaired at about a year of age. They usually get tubes in their ears if they have a cleft-palate. We’ll follow them as an interdisciplinary team until they’re 18, sometimes into their early 20s because there are certain aspects of the cleft that affect how their faces grow that are best dealt with after they’re fully growing. The cleft results in some minor asymmetry in the nose and upper lip region, but there are other conditions that cause significant facial asymmetry like craniofacial microsomia where one side of the face is much smaller than the other side. That requires repair in stages.

Q: You were recently in Ukraine to perform facial surgeries on people injured in the war. What was that like?

A: It was both horrifying and gratifying. It’s terrible to see the nature of injuries that war causes. We specialize in taking care of facial injuries. Some of the facial injuries were horrific. Some of these individuals are left with horrible disfigurement. Often an eye has been lost. Occasionally both eyes. They may have trouble feeding themselves, speaking. Sometimes even breathing. So their lives are completely disrupted by these injuries. We try to reconstruct them as best we can to give them some of their life back. When we’re able to do that, it’s really quite rewarding. And there’s a great need for it, because there are a lot of injuries.

Q: What tends to cause the majority of these injuries?

A: It’s a lot of direct fire bullet injuries and a lot of shrapnel. There are also some crush injuries from buildings coming down and things like that. A few burns.

Q: Obviously those are all very different types of traumas, but how successful were you generally at improving their quality of life?

A: This most recent trip — we’ve been there three or four times — we had eight cases where a segment of jaw was missing and we reconstructed it with a piece of bone from the leg. We were able to rebuild eye sockets. While we obviously can’t fix their vision, we did give them the ability to have an ocular prosthesis and have a fairly normal-looking eye. Some other people had problems with holes in their palates, so a lot of work was done to help improve speech and feeding. And, of course, appearance.

Q: How much does plastic surgery overlap with more general ENT practice?

A: There’s a lot of overlap. Anything you do in ENT, if you’re not working through an orifice, then you’re cutting on the face. So you have to be careful to design your incisions so that you make the most acceptable scars that you can on the face. And the reconstructive aspect focuses on fixing defects like part of the tongue being missing. All of that overlaps, especially since we deal with a lot of cancer. Sometimes we’re the ones creating the defects by removing the cancer from their face or jaw. So we need to know how to put them back together as well.

Q: As president of a national trade organization, how do you find Central New York is perceived by your peers?

A: Upstate’s ENT department has a storied past. We’ve had pretty famous people involved in our ENT department. So having continued national leadership coming out of Syracuse doesn’t really surprise anyone at the national level. Certainly I do my best to shine a good light on our department and the university in general.


Name: Sherard Tatum, M.D.

Position: Director of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at SUNY Upstate University Hospital, professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences and of pediatrics, SUNY Upstate

Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee

Education: University of South Florida; Eastern Virginia Medical School; University of Eppendorf; University of California

Affiliations: Upstate Medical University Hospital, Crouse Hospital, Syracuse VA

Organizations: American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, American Academy of Otolarynology-Head and Neck Surgery, American College of Surgeons

Family: Wife (Diane Diamond), two children

Hobbies: Skiing, cooking, traveling.

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