“For many medical students, usually the specialty picks the person, and not the other way around,” said Michael Hinni, M.D. ’88, the 2018 winner of the E. Grey Dimond, M.D., Take Wing Award.
If that’s the case, surgery made a great choice with Hinni, a pioneer in performing and then teaching innovative head and neck surgery, all while building an academic department.
“I needed to fix things, so surgery attracted me,” Hinni said.
“When I was on an otolaryngology rotation and first walked into an OR and observed a middle ear reconstruction – using a microscope, and all its precision, so cool – I was hooked!”
School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., presented the award to Hinni on May 21 in Theater A as part of the annual Take Wing Award lectureship.
After Hinni graduated from UMKC’s B.A./M.D. program, his internship in general surgery and residency in otorhinolaryngology were at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota. After that, he was hired at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where he now is a professor of otolaryngology and head and neck surgery and head of the Department of Otolaryngology.
He also had a year’s fellowship in Germany studying transoral laser microsurgery — surgery that removes head and neck tumors through a patient’s mouth rather than cutting through the neck and jaw. Hinni brought the technique back in 1994 and became one of the first two U.S. surgeons to use it extensively.
“There was great resistance, because head and neck tumors had always been removed by opening people up,” Hinni said. “But I ran with it, and eventually we had a record of success.”
Hinni said the surgery offers great benefits to a patient, cutting hospital stays from 10 days or two weeks to three days, greatly reducing the difficulty of recovery and allowing patients to eat and speak by avoiding a tracheostomy and extensive reconstructive surgery.
“I’m proud to have stuck it out and helped bring a less-invasive way of treating cancer to the public,” Hinni said. “Now there are minimally invasive surgeons in most academic centers throughout the country.”
Along the way has treated some well-known patients, including U.S. Sen. John McCain and Buddy Bell, the former Major League third baseman and Kansas City Royals manager.
“Senator McCain is a great man, and I know Buddy Bell is known and loved by a lot of baseball fans,” Hinni said. “It has been an honor to care for them, and all my patients.”
Hinni also built the otolaryngology program at Mayo in Arizona, which had little research or academic offerings when he first was hired.
“Building a program from scratch has been gratifying — and humbling. You don’t build something like that without great collaboration and motivated partners, but we did it.”
He built the Arizona location’s thyroid surgery practice, and Mayo Rochester residents came for some of their thyroid surgery experience. He also trained residents from the military, first from the U.S. Air Force and then the Army and the Navy. Eventually that meant he had two residents training year-round.
In 2006 the Department of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery/Audiology launched an independent otolaryngology residency program with Hinni as its founding director.
“If I retired tomorrow,” Hinni said, “starting that residency is what I would be most proud of.”
Along the way, Hinni helped design the instruments needed to accomplish better, safer surgery; contributed to the published medical literature on such topics as how much tissue needs to be removed to completely clear malignancy from the throat and surrounding areas; and presented the evidence for these medical advances at local, national and international forums.
Hinni also looked forward to returning to UMKC to receive his Take Wing Award, give the annual lecture at its presentation and address the 2018 School of Medicine graduating class.
“I made the best friends of my life,” Hinni said, ticking off names from his Class of ’88. “Jimmy Hartman and Tom McGinn, John McKenzie and Marty Emert. I had the good fortune to be roommates and hallway buddies with them on 1 North at the old 5030 Cherry Street dorm. They’re just wonderful people and caring doctors all at the top of their field.”
He also credited “my great senior support partner,” Cindy Chang, M.D. ’85, “and more great faculty members than I can name.”
“I’ve been very blessed in my career at Mayo,” Hinni said. “But UMKC was my launching pad. The camaraderie and the education were phenomenal.”