Dr. Joseph C. Maroon Physician of Courage Award Presented to Co-Recipients

Oct 2023 – In 2020 Joseph Maroon, MD, Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2020 UPMC Clinician of Courage Award. The award is presented to a UPMC physician who is thriving and/or serving as a leader within their community after having faced and overcome adversity.  Subsequently this award was named the “Dr. Joseph C. Maroon Physician of Courage Award”.

On October 18, 2023, Dr. Maroon presented this year’s award to co-recipients, Dr. Sarah Tilstra and Dr. James Withers. We received and reviewed several nominations, all of which described help-seeking behaviors, humility, and humanness, to eventually decide this year’s co-recipients. This year we are recognizing two individuals who truly have gone above and beyond.

Dr. Tilstra was nominated by one of her colleagues who wrote, “Dr. Tilstra deserves to be recognized for her remarkable strength, fortitude, grace, and resilience through personal adversity”. Concurrent to dealing with her own relentless medical issues, in 2022, Dr. Tilstra moved her parents to Pittsburgh to concomitantly start chemo for metastatic lung cancer and lymphoma. She and her husband Dr. Jeremy Tilstra also took on the responsibility of caring for their grandfather in their home for several years before passing away peacefully while on in-home hospice in July 2022 followed by the entire extended family getting COVID.

Dr. Tilstra continued working as a physician, teacher, and leader. Of course, she has had the option to take medical leave, and does so when she absolutely must, but she is so dedicated to her patients, students, and programs that she typically opts to work with hospital leadership to find ways to adapt her work environment, so that she can continue to work as much as possible. Dr. Tilstra has shown her strength in overcoming her own adversity while demonstrating humanness and compassion while caring for those around her.

Dr. Withers single-handedly created the first street medicine program in the world delivering medical care and social support to the street homeless of Pittsburgh. In 1993 taking to the city streets with a backpack of medical supplies he started making contacts on the street and delivering medical care to the city’s homeless and medically underserved. Now his program, Operation Safety Net, serves as the basis of similar programs around the globe. He is the personification of the encouragement, “go to the people” and in doing so, he makes house calls
on and off the street, under bridges, in difficult to reach campsites off street or wherever the delivery of health care is needed to those in adverse conditions. Over the years he has provided free medical care to thousands of patients and taught many medical students and professionals.

Recently he became the inspiration and advisor for the STREET MEDICINE AT PITT PROGRAM, the only interdisciplinary, student run, street medicine program in the country. Profound congratulations to Drs. Tilstra and Withers on their outstanding accomplishments and
continued courageous spirit.