Newswise — An indomitable spirit. An inquisitive mind. And a most compassionate heart. Bobby Menges possessed intelligence and maturity far beyond his years and left a lasting impression on almost everyone he met. Friendly and outgoing, he was the kind of kid who went over and sat with the shy student eating alone at lunchtime.

A diagnosis of cancer, originally at age 5, and other health problems didn’t stop him from living life to the fullest. Despite the treatments, and despite multiple surgeries, a profound capacity for empathy compelled him to look outside of himself, and he sought to help others, according to Elizabeth Menges, Bobby’s mother. He devoted much of his life to community service and fundraising, hosting charity events and blood drives.

Although Bobby passed away last year at age 19, his legacy lives on in a foundation that his family created in his memory. The “I’m Not Done Yet” Foundation, based in Garden City, helps adolescent patients with serious, long-term, and chronic illnesses transition from pediatrics to adulthood.

As part of its mission, the foundation has pledged a five-year, $500,000 research grant to Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City to establish best practices to meet the changing needs of young patients as they become teenagers and young adults in the health care system.

At HSS, a specialty hospital dedicated to orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation, doctors often follow patients from a very young age through young adulthood. The patient population includes babies born with musculoskeletal conditions, such as cerebral palsy, and young people with chronic rheumatologic diseases who are treated from the time they are children. 

Bobby recognized the need for health care providers to be mindful of the evolving psychosocial needs of young people with any chronic illness, not only cancer, according to Peter Menges, Bobby’s father. “HSS is a world class organization with the right resources, the right experience and the right expertise to undertake a comprehensive research initiative to really hone in on what this patient population needs, whether it’s physical space, specific services, a certain kind of care, or emotional support,” Peter Menges said. “Although HSS will be the catalyst and epicenter of the research, our goal is to see the findings and best practices adopted throughout the U.S., and even worldwide.”

The HSS grant, “The Bobby Menges ‘I’m Not Done Yet’ Initiative,” will address the psychosocial challenges young patients face as they become adolescents and teenagers in the health care system. The foundation’s website explains: “Imagine you're a 19-year-old cancer patient. You've been in and out of treatment since the age of 5, and because you were diagnosed with a pediatric cancer, you continue to be treated as a pediatric patient. The supports for young children were just what you needed as a child, but now, as an adolescent, you have different needs: peace and quiet, a study room, a place to connect to Wifi... But often those services do not exist.”

Dr. S. Robert Rozbruch will lead the research project at HSS. Chief of the hospital’s Limb Lengthening and Complex Reconstruction Service, Dr. Rozbruch met Bobby after a skiing accident and subsequent fracture, treatment at another hospital, and a complication left him with one leg that was shorter than the other.

Without the proper and highly specialized care, Bobby’s leg could have been five inches shorter than his unaffected leg. After several surgeries by Dr. Rozbruch and successful treatment over more than 10 years, Bobby’s leg was straight and the proper length. During that time, Dr. Rozbruch worked closely with Bobby’s oncologists, and his cancer was in remission.

Dr. Rozbruch developed a close relationship with Bobby and his family. “Bobby was a very special person, even when he was a child,” Dr. Rozbruch says. “He had a sparkle in his eyes. He had a positive outlook. He had a kind of wisdom and an inner peace that was very dramatic.”

“By the time patients turn 15, their needs start to change, and Bobby began to notice the void in health care as he got older,” explained Elizabeth Menges. “He realized that some of his doctors didn’t understand some of the issues he faced. He wondered why doctors still addressed me, but not him when they spoke. Dr. Rozbruch was among those Bobby felt understood him. He said Dr. Rozbruch had a knack for that.”

Dr. Rozbruch, who treats many patients starting at a young age, has been interested in the  developmental, emotional and psychological factors involved in caring for them as they get older. 

“The research initiative, which will include a psychologist, aims to evaluate the changing psychosocial and emotional needs of young patients in the health care setting and determine the best way to meet those needs. Surveys and questionnaires will be designed for past and current patients and their families,” Dr. Rozbruch says. “We intend to publish and share our research findings with the broad medical community well beyond orthopedics and HSS.”

Carl Menges, Bobby’s great uncle, a life trustee of HSS and a significant financial supporter of the initiative, says the research grant is a way to honor Bobby’s memory. “The purpose of the initiative is to honor his deep concern for young people like himself facing complex conditions throughout childhood and young adulthood,” he said. “Bobby’s courage and spirit has been an inspiration to many, and this is a continuation of the work that he personally initiated and was so passionate about.”   

About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the ninth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S.News & World Report (2018-2019). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic of musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.About Hospital for Special Surgery