Mention the name Dr. Elliot Siegel, and inevitably, not only will Massapequa residents know the 67-year-old oral maxillary surgeon who has practiced in the community for over 40 years, they will have a story to share about his kindness and generosity.
Walking into Siegel’s office, one will pass walls of framed thank you letters from his patients and awards from various organizations for his work. He employs 50 staff members, many of them being three generations, and greets them all with a warm smile and a hug. The feeling of admiration and respect is reciprocated amongst his staff. What most people may not be aware of is the dangerous work Siegel has done for the past 17 years.
When Siegel turned 50, he wanted to use his skills to help others around the world. During the summer, he takes anywhere from two weeks to one month off, and at his own expense, volunteers with Doctors Without Borders and the Flying Doctors. He has traveled to the far corners of the world, working in war-torn areas and disaster sites, sleeping in tents in the mountains, jungles and deserts, working under harsh conditions and often in dangerous situations. Siegel sterilizes his dental tools in three separate bowls of water, Joy liquid and Listerine. Lacking a supply of gloves, they are often washed, hung up on a string and reused. Work hours are sun up to sun down since there is no electricity and no running water in most of the places he volunteers.
Last year when tensions were building in the Middle East, Siegel and a small group of medical providers traveled to Jordan and took care of 125,000 Syrian refugees. A story on this in the Massapequa Observer caught the eye of NYS Assemblyman Joseph Saladino, who wanted to give Siegel an award for his courage, commitment and volunteerism around the world. After returning from his hospital rounds, Siegel was stunned to find five politicians in his office presenting him with awards; among them were NYS Senator Michael Venditto, Nassau County Legislator James Kennedy, Town of Oyster Bay Town Clerk and former Massapequa Park Mayor James Altadonna and senior town councilman Joe Muscarella.
“Dr. Elliot Siegel, you are an amazing human being,” said Saladino. “You are a pillar of this community, of the Town of Oyster Bay, the people of New York and of our nation. Your activities here in this office employing over 50 people, caring for the health and safety of our residents as well as the economic health of our community has been amazing. But that wasn’t enough for you. You went out and spread your wings with the Flying Doctors and Doctors Without Borders in order to help thousands of people in 16 countries over the years. That is an amazing lesson to teach to everyone in our state and our community and we are incredibly proud of you.”
Saladino went on to thank Siegel for his efforts, especially when it comes to his patients.
“Whether they be here in our home community or the residents of the world, they are smiling brighter and feeling better because of the love and the heart, the professionalism and your affinity to make a difference,” said Saladino of Siegel’s patients.
With his staff applauding, some wiping away tears, Siegel stood as each politician shared their story about him. When it was time for Siegel to respond, his eyes welled up.
“I’m speechless, which is unusual. I am extremely blessed,” he said. “Growing up in Massapequa and going to school out west and then returning and practicing five blocks from where I grew up, this is the best. I have always told people how great Massapequa is. You can take the kid out of Massapequa but you can’t take the Massapequa out of the kid.”
Siegel continued to speak of the shared memories of the community, how special it is and why so many people come back to raise their families here.
“My 97-year-old dad says, ‘life is a series of stories, if you don’t have stories, you don’t have a life,’” said Siegel.
The places Siegel has practiced and the lives he has touched is a true testament that his is a life well lived and one that has enriched the lives of others. After the ceremony, on his afternoon off, he went to see a patient who needed his help and was experiencing financial difficulties, pro bono.