QUALITY OF LIFE FOR EDWIN WILLIAMS, MD, IMPROVED BY CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE COMMUNITY AND TO MEDICAL EXCELLENCE
By Helen S. Edelman
Day after day, Edwin Williams, MD woke up thinking: “Life is pretty good.”
He had lots to be happy about: his horse farm near Chatham, where he, his wife and children foxhunt; his successful free-standing surgical center in Latham; and the gratification of doing what he loves every day in solo private practice – reconstructing the faces of people deformed by trauma or those who simply want to age gracefully.
Williams – a board-certified facial reconstructive surgeon — was happy about advances in technology that make his work more efficient and effective, the commitments of 30 employees that drive his business to thrive, being asked to speak and publish on his areas of expertise, and honors he has earned throughout his intense and focused career.
But the State University Upstate Medical College at Syracuse graduate came to an extraordinary conclusion: “This isn’t enough.”
So 12 years ago, Williams, a native of this region, joined a professional group to establish an international non-profit foundation to support removal of vascular birthmarks on babies born to underinsured or uninsured families. Often called a ‘strawberry’, ‘raspberry’ or ‘port wine stain’, the vascular birthmark – broken capillaries — can be unsightly, bleed, lower self-esteem, swell sufficiently to obscure critical features – like the eye, or even be tumorous.
“In the past,” Williams said, “Parents were told to ignore the birthmark and wait for it to go away.”
His approach is more aggressive. When appropriate, Williams removes the birthmarks to prevent their dangerous and sometimes stigmatizing effects. (For more information visit www.birthmark.org or call the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation in Latham at 877.VBF.4646.)
One in 100 children is born with a birthmark that requires the opinion of a vascular specialist, according to Williams. “More than 60 percent of these are misdiagnosed. The VBF helps patients get to the right specialist for accurate information and excellent care.” There are two categories of vascular birthmarks; while related, the two are very different.
“It is very important to know which one is present because the treatment is based on the lesion type,” Williams points out.
This major accomplishment off the ground, Williams — Chief of Facial Plastic Surgery and a clinical professor at Albany Medical College , and the sole physician-owner of a burgeoning private practice and surgical center – still felt there was more to do outside his practice to impact lives positively and dramatically.
Brainstorming with colleagues at the American Academy of Facial Plastic Surgery, Williams and a phalanx of like-minded physicians decided to extend their talents at no charge to women who are domestic violence survivors and – though no longer in dangerous situations — have been left with mementos like broken noses or cheek bones or other scars or deformities requiring plastic surgery.
“It’s a way to make generosity mean something,” says Williams, who thinks globally and acts locally. He shudders, remembering facial fractures he has treated that were casualties of domestic violence.
In addition to donating his own time to perform corrective surgery, Williams has persuaded area hospitals and anesthesiologists to partner in the program by providing operating room and services free, enabling women who meet the criteria to escape “the face she looks at every day in the mirror, and which forces her to remember how it got that way,” Williams says. “The surgery is part of her recovery.”
Williams used to listen to women explain away broken cheeks and noses as “accidents,” and, although skeptical of their stories, he didn’t know how to rescue them from the at-home traps. After female patients began to confide they’d been “knocked around,” he learned how to urge women to put cruelty behind them and to seek counseling that teaches them that “assault is not normal in a relationship.”
Now that he has figured out how to help these women look and feel better, Williams feels better too. In fact, the charitable impulse has become a family effort; Williams’ wife recently was instrumental in organizing a fundraising event for the initiative.
There was one more project Williams itched to undertake. Realizing that many of his patients were commuting to Latham from Saratoga and combining that with his family’s devotion to polo in Saratoga in the summertime, Williams launched Williams Rejuva Center at 18 Congress Street in Saratoga Springs – a few steps from Drink Hall on Broadway. The subdued and elegant facility serves Saratoga-area clients and plants the Williams family more firmly in a community he loves and admires.
The Rejuva Center highlights “several innovative beauty breakthroughs that can rejuvenate the face instantly and affordably without the risks and downtime of surgery,” the doctor explains. Rejuva Center technology reduces wrinkles to improve skin and beautifully reshape the face, in one simple office treatment that can last for six months (or longer).
Highly-skilled professional nurse practitioners and registered nurses perform the procedures, but Williams personally assures clinical excellence to every patient. The bustling Williams Rejuva Center offers convenient scheduling, efficient, courteous service, ample parking and follow-up care in a private and secure setting.
Flexible and creative, Williams had to transform his practice focus from trauma to cosmetic when seatbelt and airbag laws that protect drivers began to significantly reduce injuries to the face. A staunch safety advocate, Williams was delighted by this shift, which opened opportunities for him to explore facial rejuvenation and time to dedicate to compassionate works.
Williams lists nasal and soft-tissue reconstruction, scar revision, wrinkle reduction and mid-face lifts among his cosmetic specialties. “Aside from clinical excellence, which is expected, the key is to be gentle and to listen to what patients expect,” Williams says. If he thinks a patient’s expectations are unrealistic, Williams directs that patient elsewhere rather than enter into a doomed relationship.
“I don’t believe in ‘extreme makeovers,’ “he emphasizes.” They’re not safe and there is no fountain of youth.” Well, maybe there’s one faucet — if not a full-fledged fountain — that Williams believes in: Botox.
“I thought it was a fad when it first came onto the market,” he remembers. “I wasn’t excited at all.” But now, Williams is a fan of the FDA-approved injectable that softens the overactive muscles that become wrinkles. In fact, Williams has a rewards program that provides incentives for patients to return for multiple treatments – the sixth in a series is free. And, he explains, as the wrinkle muscle stops working so hard, less and less Botox is needed to relax it. Since Williams’ charges are based on how much of the product he actually uses, a patient may see her medical bills diminish along with her wrinkles.
The medical-cosmetic market in Saratoga is a competitive one, but Williams is unconcerned: “I don’t want shoppers, I want people who are interested in long-term relationships based on trust and value,” he says. “I run a practice based on principles and purposes. We can make a big impact without hype. We don’t trivialize or sensationalize what we do here. We educate our patients to make good decisions and we help them achieve their goals – in both the cosmetic and charitable aspects of my practice.”