Dr. Silas Charles: Cancer Survivor, Global Humanitarian
By Maria Sonnenberg, Space Coast Medicine // June 2, 2013
National Cancer Survivors Day today
ABOVE VIDEO: Dr. Silas Charles was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his tireless work for those with cancer, bother locally and around the world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In observance of National Cancer Survivors Day, we salute Dr. Silas Charles for both his survivorship and dedication to those suffering from cancer. A bout with cancer changed Dr. Charles’ life in 2009. “I chalked up my rundown feeling to overwork,” he said, but after six months of the malaise, he had to face facts. “I was used to long days, so I knew something was wrong,” he said. Diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma, Dr. Charles immediately began chemotherapy. Fortunately, he responded admirably to treatment, and is currently in remission.
‘Money Or No Money, We Will Treat Them’
Dr. Silas Charles is slightly built, but his body holds the heart of a giant.
“He may be small in size, but he has a huge heart,” said Dr. Ravi Shankar, medical director and president at Cancer Care Centers of Brevard.
“If he believes in a project, he will move mountains to make it happen. He is one of the greatest souls we have here in Brevard County.”
Charles, the recipient of Space Coast Medicine’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, has devoted his life to helping others. The founder of Cancer Care Centers of Brevard, Charles recently retired from his position as president, but he has no plans to take it easy.
Instead, he will be dividing his time between the Space Coast and his native India, where he is involved in the creation of a 300-bed hospital in Andra Pradesh, one of the country’s poorest areas. He is also working with fellow physicians in Ethiopia to create a radiation treatment facility at an old army hospital there.
“The need is so severe,” said Charles, who also hopes to eventually expand the Indian hospital to 1,000 beds and bring a medical college to the community.
“For the poor, proper care is very difficult. In Ethiopia, 95 percent of the population is poor. In India, 80 percent of the population is poor.”
The physician is no stranger to building hospitals. Between 1985 and 1987, he raised a million dollars to build the 100-bed Christian Care Center in Kahinada, near India’s Bay of Bengal. The Center provided the first cobalt unit for a population of six million in an area where cervical, head and neck cancers are rampant.
To help fund the construction of the Center, Charles launched Brevard’s annual Taste of India fundraiser, an event that has raised more than half a million dollars to benefit – in addition to the Christian Care Center – a wide range of organizations, including Sholapur Burn Center, American Cancer Society, Mercy Ships, Maheshwar Charitable Foundation, Gift of Water water purifying project, Special Spotlight Theatre for disabled individuals, Hospice of Health First’s Camp Bright Star for Grieving Children, Space Coast Early Intervention Center, Habitat for Humanity, Crosswinds Youth Services and the Boys and Girls Club.
He has given of his time, talent and treasure to help victims of disasters that include the Bangladesh Cyclone, Hurricane Andrew, Rwanda famine, Georgia floods and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
In 1992, Charles was instrumental in the development of Hope Village in Peddapuram, India, a center where 32 orphaned boys are housed and taught.
The home stresses education and good morals to help these young men rise from poverty. One of the home’s graduates was accepted into medical school and others have entered various professional fields.
As director of the Christian Medical College in Ludhjana, India, Dr. Silas Charles revived the troubled institution, growing the school from a six-million-dollar budget to $15 million. He also created a leprosy and AIDs mission in South India and in 2004 spearheaded tsunami relief efforts in Brevard County to donate funds to Red Cross International. In 2010, he once again proved himself as one of the Space Coast’s most generous philanthropists when he matched dollar-for-dollar the first $100,000 donated to Ruuska Village, an orphanage on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
As director of the Christian Medical College in Ludhjana, India, Charles revived the troubled institution, growing the school from a six-million-dollar budget to $15 million. He also created a leprosy and AIDs mission in South India and in 2004 spearheaded tsunami relief efforts in Brevard County to donate funds to Red Cross International. In 2010, he once again proved himself as one of the Space Coast’s most generous philanthropists when he matched dollar-for-dollar the first $100,000 donated to Ruuska Village, an orphanage on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
The people of Brevard County have greatly benefited from his generosity. In 1993, Charles founded the Cancer Care Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists uninsured cancer patients in Brevard and Indian River Counties with the cost of living expenses, transportation, medication and support, so they can focus on healing. The Cancer Care Foundation, with an annual budget of $350,000, has been able to financially help more than 10,000 families and have given moral and spiritual support to more than 800 cancer support group members. A large portion of these funds come from the annual Caring Hearts fundraiser that Charles strongly supports.
Even before establishing the Foundation, Charles would dig into his own pocket to help his patients with rent, utilities and medications. Despite challenging economic times for the medical field, Charles has always gladly agreed to treat the uninsured at no cost.
“Any patient that comes through our doors, money or no money we will treat,” was his motto.
When Charles arrived in Melbourne in 1980, he became the first radiation oncologist at Holmes. Three years later, he persuaded the hospital to build a new radiation oncology center with two then state-of-the-art linear accelerators, simulator, and various dosimetry equipment.
As medical advisor regarding hospice issues, Charles was instrumental in the start of the first hospice in Brevard County. He is a constant supporter of American Cancer Society events, including the Cattle Baron’s Ball and Making Strides against Breast Cancer.
For his humanitarian efforts, Charles was voted 1992 Humanitarian of the year by the staff of Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center.
His peers also honored him with the 2009 Humanitarian of the Year award from the Brevard Indo-American Medical and Dental Association and the 2010 Florida Medical Association Humanitarian of the Year kudos. Space Coast Medicine named him Humanitarian of the Year for 2010.
Charles received an American Cancer Society appreciation award for his fundraising efforts on behalf of the College Scholarship Fund, which provides young people in cancer remission with scholarships to continue their education. The Space Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross honored Charles in 2006 with the James Bentley Humanitarian Award. Florida Today named Charles 2001’s Volunteer of the Year and the Cancer Care Foundation Organization of the Year in 2004.
In 2008, Charles was awarded the Presidential Volunteer Service Award, the same year he was diagnosed with lymphoma.
“He broke our hearts, he looked so wiped,” said Marta Fiol, secretary for the Cancer Care Foundation and Charles’ former cancer patient.
Diagnosed with Stage 3 lymphoma, Charles immediately began chemotherapy. Fortunately, he responded admirably to treatment, which only slowed him down for a week.
“With the first cycle of chemotherapy, I felt 90 percent better,” he said. “Lymphomas are comparatively easier to take care of if they’re not in Stage 4.”
The physician knows he was indeed lucky in having almost immediate access to treatment and channeled his experience with cancer into a determination to provide his patients with the same convenient access to treatment he experienced. In all aspects of his life, Charles looks towards helping others.
“He never tires of doing good for others, in fact, he thrives on it,” said Fiol.
The Central Florida Humanitarian Awards were created to recognize outstanding individuals and organizations that dedicate their Time, Talent or Treasure to help people in need locally – and around the world.
This year, more than 40 deserving humanitarians will be honored during the Gala, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 7 at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto Place, with the festivities beginning at 6 p.m.
“Over the years, our editorial team has had the distinct honor and pleasure of identifying and featuring the many members of our community who give back so much and are dedicated to reaching out and helping others, here and throughout the world, in a multitude of ways,” said Maverick Multimedia Editor-In-Chief Dr. Jim Palermo.
“We remain firmly committed to identifying and telling those stories and providing a timely media platform to recognize Space Coast and Central Florida residents’ altruistic contributions on a regular basis in our magazines, as well as SpaceCoastDaily.com,” said Dr. Palermo.
This inspiring and compelling event is sponsored by Brighthouse Networks, Health First, Brevard Physicians Network, MPAC ACO, Community Credit Union, Kindred Hospital, Knudson Brain & Spine Law Injury Office, Florida Pain, Space Coast Medicine & Active Living magazine, CentralFloridaMedicine.com and SpaceCoastDaily.com.
FOR MORE INFORMATION or to make a nomination for the 2013 attend the Central Florida Humanitarian Awards Gala call 321-615-8111 or e-mail SpaceCoastMedicine@gmail.com.