CEO Spotlight: Desmond Bell of Save A Leg, Save A Life Foundation
OWM: Please describe the education, training, and work experiences that prepared you for your current position as the co-founder and executive director of the Save a Leg, Save a Life (SALSAL) Foundation.
I am a graduate of Tulane University (New Orleans, LA) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. I received my Doctor of Podiatric Medicine Degree from the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine (Philadelphia, PA).
My first year of Residency was at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, which was the pivotal year in my career as it led me to recognize the importance of wound care and limb preservation. An additional year of surgical training in Langhorne, PA at the Delaware Valley Medical Center and then a move to Florida in 1997 allowed me to further pursue my passion in wound care. I established my private practice that evolved into a free-standing wound center. Writing, lecturing, and immersing myself in the wound care community have allowed me to meet so many talented and kindred spirits who share the desire to continually improve outcomes and quality of life for our patients.
OWM: What should our readers know first and foremost about SALSAL?
We are a non-profit, grass-roots organization whose core principles are Education, Intervention, and Advocacy. We are comprised solely of volunteers. Our goals are to improve wound-healing outcomes and reduce lower extremity amputations at the community as well as the national level.
We also are trying to connect the dots between diabetes-related complications such as diabetic foot ulcers, peripheral arterial disease, and catastrophic events such as heart attack and stroke. A diabetic foot ulcer on the bottom of a foot is a symptom of far more serious underlying conditions. Improved awareness on the part of the public can help patients be their own advocates and proactive in their own well-being.
OWM: How you were first introduced to the arena of wound care and why you enjoy working in this arena?
I was a teenager, working as an orderly in a hospital in northern New Jersey. A patient on one of the med-surg floors was treated for a Sage IV sacral wound, and I would often assist the nurses during dressing changes. Dressing changes for this unfortunate patient were typically performed every shift, and the patient remained in the same hospital for more than 1 year before he finally died.
I immensely enjoy providing wound care, and my favorite aspects include giving hope where previously there has been frustration and pain. Seeing someone regain independence and quality of life is a great reward, especially when amputation of a foot or leg was previously the only option offered.
OWM: What are some of the organization’s biggest accomplishments thus far? What are some of your key products and/or functions?
We have grown from an informal Jacksonville “lunch and learn” group created initially to help educate home health nurses about advanced wound care into an international non-profit foundation with 60 chapters that keeps growing.
We have received endorsements from the mayors of four American cities (Detroit, MI; Greenville, SC; Jacksonville, FL; and Oklahoma City, OK) via proclamations that September 25 be declared “Save A Leg, Save A Life” Day. We plan for more cities to follow, as well as recognition by the Minister of Health in the Bahamas that our model can be instrumental in the fight against diabetes-related lower extremity amputation
We have begun reaching the people who need education the most, that being the general population, by way of community screenings, meetings, and a weekly radio show based out of Jacksonville and heard via the Internet and podcasts. One of our goals has always been to make “Save A Leg, Save A Life” a recognized name in every household and in essence, to become the “pink ribbon” of limb preservation.
OWM: Please describe the mission/vision of your organization and how your personal vision fits with the company’s goals.
The Save A Leg, Save A Life Foundation Mission Statement:
To Reduce the Number of Lower Extremity Amputations and Improve the Quality of Life of Our Fellow Citizens Who Are Afflicted with Wounds and Complications from Diabetes and Peripheral Arterial Disease. We Will Accomplish These Goals by Using Advanced Evidence Based Methods, by Educating Fellow Practitioners and Patients, Through Community Outreach and Patient Advocacy.
I developed this statement, as well as the name of our foundation, while sitting at my kitchen table. In one of those moments of clarity, aided by some beer, I wrote the words “Save A Leg, Save A Life” on a napkin, and the mission statement came flowing right after that. I don’t know if it was divine intervention or the alcohol, but here we are, 6+ years later, no longer under the radar and capturing people’s imaginations as to all the good we can achieve!
My experiences as a clinician have inspired the vision of SALSAL. It really is quite simple — many of the terrible things we all see our patients endure are enough incentive to do better. We have been hearing about the team approach to wound healing for quite some time now, but many providers have no idea how to engage a team or how to join one if one already exists in their community. We are a community-based and driven solution for a community-based problem at the most basic level. Communication where politics are put aside in the best interest of patients facilitates better outcomes. When someone joins a local chapter of SALSAL, we ask that they put egos aside and work together to share information and establish relationships with fellow like-minded individuals as the way to optimize the team approach.
Personally, I have been working hard to create a foundation that will endure long after I am gone. I am energized by the number of extremely talented and incredibly bright people from all areas we are attracting to our organization.
The problems we are trying to address are not going away any time soon, especially with the perfect storm of the aging of our population and the pandemic of diabetes.
OWM: Please explain what must take place on a daily basis at SALSAL in order to accommodate patients, clinicians, and healthcare facilities.
As I alluded to, communication without hidden agendas is the way to achieve the goals of expedited wound healing and limb preservation. This cannot be selective and must be ongoing and a shared effort within a community. Hospital administrators must understand the reality that their facility may not have the best wound healing outcomes and limb preservation rates. You cannot promote your facility as having “advanced wound care” or “limb salvage” if this is nothing more than a marketing tool and until you have the data to support your claims. This goes for physicians and all other providers. The SALSAL model is based on sharing information and education within a community.
There is nothing more satisfying than hearing from providers how SALSAL has positively impacted their community. On more than one occasion, I have heard similar stories that before a local SALSAL chapter was established, “vascular surgeons and podiatrists never used to communicate, but are now working together on the same patients.” This is exciting and shows the potential of our model.
OWM: Looking ahead, what are some incentives or products the organization is working on?
In addition to regularly held chapter meetings throughout the year, we are working on our upcoming SALSAL National Conference, (to be held at the Disney Yacht and Beach Club, Orlando, May 9–11). Our conference is designed to bring our members together in a town-hall type atmosphere with a goal of not only sharing information, but also giving our members ideas and additional support to take home and maintain the momentum with their fellow chapter members.
We also inadvertently have created a network where people are finding us through our website and social media to seek answers and help. We are contacted on a regular basis by patients or their family members, seeking resources or local assistance when facing either a chronic nonhealing wound or the prospect of an amputation. It is rewarding to be able to make referrals to our members around the country when the occasion arises.
We expect to continue creating Amputee Support Groups in SALSAL communities where none exist. We were surprised to learn that Jacksonville had no amputee support groups, so we created one 2 years ago that is now called “A Leg Up.” Members of “A Leg Up” are inspiring, and they have also become part of our local chapter. They have fun and meet monthly, and I expect we will see other “A Leg Up” groups organize throughout the country.
Our social media sites (Facebook and Twitter especially) and the radio program (heard Sundays at noon on WOKV 690 AM/106.5 FM Jacksonville and on www.WOKV.com) are helping us spread the word among those in the “SALSAL Nation” and beyond.
We are planning a continued presence at various events and festivals throughout the year to provide educational screenings. We also have created the “SALSAL Ribbon,” which we will be unveiling this year, as well as something we are tentatively calling the “White Sock Campaign” to create greater awareness of lower extremity amputation. Stay tuned!