Emory urologist chosen for prestigious
Ellis Island Medal of Honor
Despite his eclectic background, Associate Professor of Urology Muta Issa 04MBA, born in Iraq and educated in Ireland, considers himself an ordinary American.
That's why he says it was "like a dream" to find himself in the company of industrialist Lee Iacocca, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, actor-director Penny Marshall, and dozens of other accomplished American citizens chosen to receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for 2005. Issa, a nationally known urologist who works with veterans and pioneered groundbreaking therapy for prostate cancer, attended the formal ceremony on Ellis Island in May.
One of the nation's most prestigious honors, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor was established in 1986 by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations to pay tribute to Americans of all ethnic backgrounds for their contributions to the U.S. Last year, both houses of Congress passed resolutions formally recognizing the award; the U.S. Senate praised the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for celebrating "the richness and diversity of American life" and the "pluralism and democracy that have enabled the nation's ethnic groups to maintain their identities while becoming integral parts of the American way of life."
The medals are presented during a weekend-long event in New York, packed with dignitaries and distinguished guests from all walks of American life, uniformed military, popping flashbulbs, and tears of overwhelming pride. Some twenty of Issa's family members and friends, including his wife, Jill, and nine-year-old daughter, Isabella, traveled from all over the country to attend the black-tie ceremony May 14.
After an afternoon reception in Battery Park, the one hundred medalists were carried by ferry to the island. "It was very, very emotional," Issa says, "because there was a huge entrance with red carpet for about a mile. They had all the military--army, navy, air force, marines, flags, bands--the whole works filling the place and saluting you when you came in."
Each medalist was introduced in the two-hour ceremony that Issa says is now "a blur" in his memory. He sat beside Iacocca ("We chatted about how much it cost to build the Statue of Liberty," Issa says) and met fellow medalists including Robert Gallo, the doctor and researcher who developed breakthrough AIDS medication; Nick Buoniconti, the former Miami Dolphin football player who has raised more than $200 million to treat spinal-injury-related paralysis; and John Murphy, manager of Oppenheimer Funds. Penny Marshall, star of Laverne and Shirley was one of the speakers.
"It was very moving. Everybody cried more than once," Issa says. "This medal was not about money, but about what people do with it. A lot of people get awards because they are rich and powerful and give money, but these were people who really love what they do. We were all very passionate about what we do, which made it very special."
The week after the ceremony, Issa learned firsthand what his urology patients endure: he underwent treatment for prostate cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The treatment was highly successful, he says, and he is "recovering nicely" with a bright prognosis.
Issa lived in Iraq until he was fifteen, when he moved to Ireland to go to high school, then went on to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. In 1987, he came to the U.S. and did his urology residency training at Johns Hopkins and Stanford. He joined Emory's urology department in 1997 and also became chief of urology for the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Issa's care and connection with the veteran patients was central to his introduction at the Medal of Honor ceremony.
In 2004, Issa added a new degree to his wall: an MBA from Goizueta Business School. He also received the 2004 W. Cliff Oxford Executive MBA Decision and Information Analysis Award.
Issa was nominated for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor by Tony Charaf, senior vice president of technical operations for Delta Air Lines and a member of the board of Goizueta Business School.
"Dr. Issa is an outstanding immigrant who has distinguished himself as a citizen of the United States for his ingenious service to humanity," Charaf said. "As a skilled surgeon, author, and a man with great vision and courage, Dr. Issa is well deserving of this honor."
"I felt very proud to be in the company of those great people," Issa says. "It meant more to me than anything in my life."--P.P.P.