Serendipity celebrates these six medical professionals nominated by patients and peers for their outstanding work creating a bridge between the highest clinical standards and exceptional levels of care.
DANIELLE PASQUALE, PT, DPT
An advocate for women personally and professionally, Danielle Pasquale, PT, DPT has developed a deep understanding of the various changes that occur in women’s bodies throughout their lives. “From adolescence, to pre/post-natal, all the way to post-menopause, I am passionate about providing specialized care that addresses the unique challenges women face, ensuring they can navigate life’s transitions with confidence and comfort,” says Pasquale, who has a bachelor’s of science in clinical health studies and a doctorate in physical therapy from Ithaca College.
From a young age, Pasquale was drawn to the medical field, particularly in the area of physical therapy because it offered her the ability to combine her passion for healthcare with her enthusiasm for physical fitness. Her hard work and dedication led her to spearhead the opening of a new Performance Optimal
Health location in North Naples, FL. “I dedicated myself to building the practice from the ground up, fostering a strong foundation for growth and ensuring that individuals in the area had access to top- notch physical therapy services,” explains Pasquale.
Now at the Performance Optimal Health in Greenwich, CT—and with further specialization as a pelvic floor therapist—Pasquale continues to help women navigate changes in their body. She is inspired to help women of all ages improve not only their physical state but also their mental one. “Through personalized treatment plans and education, I am here to support women in maintain- ing strong pelvic health and enhancing their overall quality of life,” she explains.
Over the years, Pasquale has helped countless patients improve their strength and confidence. One recent patient recovering from shoulder surgery says she is in better shape now than she was pre-surgery. Working with Pasquale and having access to the added services at Performance Optimal Health, like an infrared sauna after her workouts, provided her with an “environment that is the most supportive and conducive to helping me achieve my health and fitness goals,” she tells Serendipity.
I DEDICATED MYSELF TO BUILDING THE PRACTICE FROM THE GROUND UP, FOSTERING A STRONG FOUNDATION FOR GROWTH AND ENSURING THAT INDIVIDUALS IN THE AREA HAD ACCESS TO TOP-NOTCH PHYSICAL THERAPY SERVICES.”
– Danielle Pasquale, Physical Therapist
OREN TEPPER, MD
For Dr. Oren Tepper, plastic surgery goes far beyond looking a certain way. As a board-certified plastic surgeon, he has received international recognition and been the subject of an Emmy-award winning documentary for his role in separating conjoined twins Jadon and Anais McDonald. He has pioneered stem cell research and 3D surgical innovations and written more than 50 textbook chapters and articles in the field of plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery.
He attributes his passion for plastic surgery to key mentors who have influenced him over the years. Dr Joseph McCarthy, the previous director of NYU’s Institute of Reconstructive and Plastic Surgery, was responsible for Dr. Tepper’s introduction to the field of plastic surgery—and for emphasizing the importance of education. He credits surgeons Dr. Nicolas Tabbal, Dr. Charlie Thorne and Dr. Glenn Jelks for his passion for facial aesthetics.
Today, Dr. Tepper offers the full range of plastic surgery treatments to his patients, with offices in both Greenwich and New York City and is also dedicated to educating and training the next generation of surgeons as an associate professor of plastic surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
“When I look back at my career over the last 12 to 15 years, it’s hard to single out any particular surgical case or academic achievement. However, I am especially proud of the impact that my partner, Dr Garfein, and I have had on the plastic surgery field as a whole. We have
pioneered 3D technology that has become standard of care for much of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery today. We have helped train dozens of plastic surgeons who now practice around the country and world. Most recently, we launched a brand new, state-of-the-art facility for aesthetics and plastic surgery (at 497 Greenwich St., in Manhattan), which is sure to be a destination for plastic surgery patients and surgeons. These types of accomplishments are particularly meaningful because they benefit not just my patients, but others on a large scale.”
Dr. Tepper is constantly looking toward the future of his field. “There are certain aspects of plastic surgery that I think can be improved greatly,” he says. As he looks toward the next phase of his career, he hopes to continue to push for more innovative practices in plastic surgery that extend well beyond episodic surgical and non-surgical treatments. “I have a great deal of interest in how other factors impact aging,” says Dr. Tepper. “I would like to continue to explore how we can offer patients a more holistic and long-term view of the aging process.”
I AM ESPECIALLY PROUD OF THE IMPACT THAT MY PARTNER, DR GARFEIN, AND I HAVE HAD ON THE PLASTIC SURGERY FIELD AS A WHOLE. WE HAVE PIONEERED 3D TECHNOLOGY THAT HAS BECOME STANDARD OF CARE FOR
MUCH OF RECONSTRUCTIVE AND COSMETIC SURGERY TODAY.
– Dr. Oren Tepper, Plastic Surgeon
LAUREN FORTE, BSN, RN-BC
Growing up with a family in the restaurant business taught Stamford, CT, resident Lauren Forte, BSN, RN-BC, that giving that little extra to show you care goes a long way. Along with being a restaurant owner, her mother was also a nurse—and it was through her mother’s example that Forte learned what it truly means to be a caregiver.
“My mom took care of our customers as she would her patients,” says Forte. “People felt safe and comfortable. I was so proud watching her and the fact that she was called upon to do things even when she did not know how. She was resourceful and trusted, and I will never forget that.” Forte carries her example in her heart today as a registered nurse at Stamford Hospital in the surgery-ortho unit.
It’s a dedication that is evident to her patients. “I seriously do not have enough kind words to say about her,” says one patient, who nominated Forte for a Daisy Award, a national recognition she received in March that honors extraordinary nurses. “This was a new level of care that I didn’t know was possible to receive at a hospital.”
Forte has worked at Stamford Hospital for more than 18 years. “The most rewarding aspect of nursing can also be the most difficult,” says Forte. “You are part of some of the best and worst moments of people’s lives, and you can either help make things easier or celebrate with them. When you see a person has nobody and you become their somebody, it’s a humbling moment.”
These days, Forte says she wants to continue learning—she is interested in risk management and helping educate the next generation of nurses—as well as being in the moment with her patients and making a difference through her profession. And ultimately, it’s the teamwork and sense of community with her co- workers and patients that has made a huge impact on her. “You have a greater respect for the work you are doing when you are in it together and work as a team,” says Forte. “Being able to develop relationships within moments of pure trust is incredibly rewarding and rare.”
THE MOST REWARDING ASPECT OF NURSING CAN ALSO BE THE MOST DIFFICULT. YOU ARE PART OF SOME OF THE BEST AND WORST MOMENTS OF PEOPLE’S LIVES, AND YOU CAN EITHER HELP MAKE THINGS EASIER OR CELEBRATE WITH THEM. WHEN YOU SEE A PERSON HAS NOBODY AND YOU BECOME THEIR SOMEBODY, IT’S A HUMBLING MOMENT.”
– Lauren Forte, Surgical-Ortho Nurse
ROBERT MICHLER, MD
Robert Michler, MD, is internationally renowned for his work in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, but his professional accolades are only the beginning. While Dr. Michler has a long list of credentials, colleagues describe him in two words: “life saver.”
In 2021, Dr. Michler helped establish the Montefiore Einstein Cardiac Surgery Program at White Plains Hospital, where he now serves as director. One of just two programs of its kind in Westchester County, it has a staggering 100 percent 30-day survival rate—a rate that exceeds national quality and performance metrics. Within the program, Dr. Michler also designed the program with rapid patient recovery protocols such as enhanced mobility and early ambulation services, so patients can return home sooner.
He humbly credits his career successes to having an expert singular team, laser focused on caring for patients at the highest level. “That has created enormous efficiencies,” he says.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Michler has performed countless successful heart surgeries. In fact, he is one of the first physicians to perform minimally invasive robotic surgery in heart patients and his work in robotics led to FDA approval of this advanced technology for mitral valve repair and coronary artery bypass surgery.
“It’s been a wonderful career and I celebrate it every day,” says Dr. Michler. “There is nothing more special than to be able to intervene at a crisis point in an individual and family’s life and be able to restore them to good health. It’s truly one of the most remarkable professions that anyone could ever have.”
It seems others feel the same way about him. Dr. Michler has been honored for the quality of his mitral valve repair by the American Heart Association and the Mitral Foundation, and in 2017, received the Vladimir Borakovsky Prize in Moscow for the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation for his “personal contributions to the development of cardiovascular surgery.”
In 2022, he opened Specialty Surgeons of Connecticut, giving the local community and his hometown of Greenwich, expanded access to world-renowned surgical expertise from Montefiore Einstein. The move was prompted by a realization that so many people he knew from the region were coming to the city for care. “It’s been remarkably successful, simply because there are very few multi-specialty surgical teams that operate at the high level of expertise that Specialty Surgeons of Connecticut does. It’s also a beautiful office—absolutely first class!”
With all his accomplishments, Dr. Michler says there is more work to be done. He takes great pride in sharing his depth of expertise through focused training, discussion, development and education for younger generations of medical experts at White Plains Hospital and Montefiore.
“There isn’t anything in heart disease or heart surgery that I haven’t seen or taken care of so when I can care for a patient and teach my colleagues or my trainees the steps to evaluation, treatment and after- care, that is absolutely monumental.”
IT’S BEEN A WONDERFUL CAREER AND I CELEBRATE IT EVERY DAY. THERE IS NOTHING MORE SPECIAL THAN TO BE ABLE TO INTERVENE AT A CRISIS POINT IN AN INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY’S LIFE AND BE ABLE TO RESTORE THEM TO GOOD HEALTH. IT’S TRULY ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE PROFESSIONS THAT ANYONE COULD EVER HAVE.”
– Dr. Robert Michler, Cardiothoracic Surgeon
ATHANASSIOS PETROTOS, MD
Colleagues who work with trauma surgeon Athanassios Petrotos, MD, say he has dedicated his career to advancing the care of every life he touches—from patients and their families, to fellow surgeons to colleagues. Perhaps this is because Dr. Petrotos seemed destined for a life in medicine ever since he was a young boy growing up in Greece. He had family members who were doctors, so he witnessed their work ethic—and also found himself keenly interested in the birth of cardiac surgery in Houston, TX in the 1970s. “That was the first inspirational story,” says Dr. Petrotos.
After receiving his medical degree in 1991, Dr. Petrotos served at a NATO hospital in Italy during his service with the Greek Army in the first Gulf War. It was there that he realized the emergency room is where he belonged. Once in the U.S., he completed his residency and internship at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital Center through Columbia University. “I get passionate about the things I do in my life,” says Dr. Petrotos. “I wanted to be in an environment where I was embedded in a profession that was high energy and high demand.”
Today Dr. Petrotos is the medical director of trauma at Greenwich Hospital, where last year he had the unthinkable task of treating a high school student who sustained a tragic injury during an ice hockey game. The boy was the same age as Dr. Petrotos’s son. “Thanos cared for him as if he were his own son and set an example that will never be forgotten by all those who witnessed the event in our emergency department and operating room,” says Dr. Karen Santucci, professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine and senior vice president and chief medical officer at Greenwich Hospital. “It’s not every day that you meet a surgeon who has such great skill and courage combined with such respect for life and a sensitivity for a grieving family.”
This focus on doing everything possible for his patients and his colleagues is what led him through the challenges of the pandemic. “Dr. Petrotos was at the bedside, placing central lines in critically ill patients, never once thinking about him- self or shying away from a dangerous situation. He always put others’ wellbeing ahead of his own,” says Dr. Santucci.
As the assistant clinical professor of surgery at Yale School of Medicine, he is the medical director of the trauma surgery program and the chief of the acute care surgery program as well as a mentor to his surgical colleagues. “I am going to help the best I can in order for them to succeed,” says Dr. Petrotos. “I have to pass the chosen craft and knowledge on to the younger population who will replace me. That’s a good thing. I try not to be stagnant and to always have an open mind towards the future.”
Despite being the senior most member of the team, he frequently volunteers to be on call and speaks up when he thinks the department can do better. “It’s manual work and it’s cerebral work,” says Dr. Petrotos, who has seen many advancements in medicine since he came to Greenwich in 2005, including in the areas of robotic surgery, cancer studies and genome sequencing. “Things haven’t changed, but have evolved to a better delivery of care.”
I HAVE TO PASS THE CHOSEN CRAFT AND KNOWLEDGE ON TO THE YOUNGER POPULATION WHO WILL REPLACE ME. THAT’S A GOOD THING. I TRY NOT TO BE STAGNANT AND TO ALWAYS HAVE AN OPEN MIND TOWARDS THE FUTURE.”
– Dr. Athanassios Petrotos, Emergency Room Surgeon
NEAL FISCHBACH, MD
It was the science involved in cancer therapy and biology that first attracted Dr. Neal Fischbach to the field of oncology. “The ability to see how discoveries in the lab almost immediately translate into improvements in care is truly exhilarating,” says Dr. Fischbach.
Beyond the lab, Dr. Fischbach has also seen firsthand the reward that comes with building meaningful relationships with patients and their families. “Neal is a standout medical oncologist through his welcoming dedication, perseverance, and diligent commitment to delivering and improving cancer care for every patient, every day, with a smile,” says Maureen Pelletier, oncology nurse and president of the Chapter of Southwestern CT Oncology. “He is an admired partner.”
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Fischbach did his residency and fellow- ship at the University of California in San Francisco. Currently, he serves as the assistant medical director to the Clinical Trials Office for the Care Centers, coordinating clinical trial activities across Yale’s network of Care Centers. What guides him in his efforts? The three “As,” he says: being affable, available and an advocate. “I will do whatever I can to make sure the individual gets the best cancer care in the world—at our institution or beyond,” he explains.
Most recently, it was this deep understanding that more must be done to meet the needs of cancer patients outside of cancer therapy that prompted Dr. Fischbach to found Thrive Cooperative Center for Wellness in Fairfield County. “We do a really good job of providing care for an individual’s cancer. [But] we have a lot of room for improvement in addressing treatment side effects, including financial, as well as supporting the physical and emotional health of individuals long after cancer treatment,” he says. Thrive aims to bridge that gap, putting fitness, integrative medicine and support services for survivors all under one roof, while also providing childcare and family programs.
“In my 20-plus years of experience in Western and then integrative medicine, I’ve met few practitioners as rigorously committed to optimal patient care as Dr. Fischbach,” says colleague Jennifer Boyd, a physician associate. “Having known several of his former patients, I have come to appreciate the unique way in which he is able to manage the complexities of cancer care with compassion and kindness.”
I WILL DO WHATEVER I CAN TO MAKE SURE THE INDIVIDUAL GETS THE BEST CANCER CARE IN THE WORLD—AT OUR INSTITUTION OR BEYOND.”
– Dr. Neal Fischbach, Oncologist