Renowned local plastic surgeon S. Darrell Lee knew he was meant to specialize in transforming lives before he was out of his teens. The St. Lucie West resident volunteered at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City after his freshman year of college, spending time with patients in the pediatric playroom. Seeing children with cranial facial abnormalities transformed both physically and emotionally by surgery inspired Lee to pursue a career that would help others in the same way.
Do you still feel as excited to go to work as you did when you first started?
I still marvel at the transformations that happen all the time through our office and because of our work. Whether it’s a reconstruction surgery after breast cancer or a cosmetic surgery for someone who is unhappy with the aging process, I am so fortunate to have a chance to see how an individual can go from being depressed and sad to feeling happy, hopeful and looking forward to living a whole life again. Even something as innocent as a grandkid hopping up into Grandma’s lap and reminding her of the excess skin on her neck or how her bone structure has changed can cause a woman to feel old and unattractive. When that happens, it affects her daily life. After a procedure, we get a chance to almost immediately see the excitement in the patient’s eyes, and it is always exciting for me.
What does it mean to be the official plastic surgeon of the St. Lucie Mets?
It’s like being the official plastic surgeon for anything else, but you get to see the ballplayers. You get to realize that everyone is just like you and I, even though they may be famous. The players are good people doing a job of playing ball, but they are always looking to help other people as well. The Mets do a lot in the community in terms of fundraisers and tickets and charities, and they always have time to donate to kids with disabilities and run the bases and are just active in the community.
You’re pretty charitable yourself—is there a memory that sticks out about a time when you felt you made a difference?
Yes. A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to meet and treat a young teen boy who had his upper and lower lip bitten off by a dog. We reconstructed him, and he looks fantastic. It would have been enough just knowing that he came through the surgery and looked great and could go on with a normal life. But now, at least once a year, he stops by the office to show us how he looks and feels, and it’s great to see him and how his life has improved because of something we could do to help.
Volunteering is really a family affair, isn’t it?
It really is a family activity. My wife, Tricia, is a very active community volunteer. She worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs of St. Lucie County as the chair of the 2015 and 2016 Steak and Stake fundraisers, and she and I are working together to develop two foundations. One foundation will deal with teenagers who fall in the lower 25 percentile of students in schools to provide mentoring and goal development. A second foundation is getting a group of 20 to 25 people from our community to donate $10,000 each year to direct to a small number of charities locally. We hope to begin that [this month], and there are some tremendous individuals from the community involved. And our children, Shaina, 11, and Sadie, 8, both enjoy volunteering with the Humane Society of St. Lucie County. We adopted our dog, Delilah, from the Humane Society of St. Lucie County a few years ago, and she’s such an integral part of our family that we all enjoy helping them.