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UTHealth celebrates ceremonial planting of Hippocrates Tree cutting

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Representatives from the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest, UTHealth and the Consulate of Greece in Houston stand next to the bronze bust of Hippocrates that was unveiled Thursday, April 23, at UTHealth Medical School. Photo by Dwight Andrews.

Watch the video above to see highlights from the ceremonial planting of the Hippocrates Tree cutting at UTHealth Medical School

HOUSTON – (April 27, 2015) – A cutting from the 500-year-old Tree of Hippocrates, which stands in the center of Kos Island in Greece, will now grow in the center of the Texas Medical Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School.

On Thursday, April 23, during a ceremony at the UTHealth Medical School, officials planted a piece of the ancient tree and unveiled a bronze bust of Hippocrates crafted from the original cast preserved at and licensed by the Archaeological Receipt Fund of Greece. The bust sits atop a modern-styled marble pillar next to the tree in a beautifully landscaped area overlooking Webber Plaza.

The tree is a gift from the Consulate of Greece in Houston represented by Consul Georgios Papanikolaou. The bust by Athens artist Dimitrios Housakos was presented by the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest. Both gifts symbolize Hippocrates’ teachings – the basic tenants and ideals upon which medical students are trained today.

Hippocrates was a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles and is considered the father of medicine. Legend states that Hippocrates taught his students under the expansive branches of the original plane tree around 2,500 years ago. The existing Hippocrates Tree, estimated to be 500 years old, is situated near the location of the original.

“We are honored and grateful that our medical school will share this important piece of history with the birthplace of medicine,” Giuseppe Colasurdo, M.D., president of UTHealth and dean of its medical school, said prior to the ceremonial tree planting. “I envision a day when our medical students will be able to learn and share medical knowledge beneath this tree, which holds such significance for our profession.

“Just as the Hippocratic school of thought served as the seed for modern-day medicine, this cutting from the ancient plane tree from the Island of Kos will grow to inspire and guide medical students through their training and into the noble, enduring practice of medicine,” Colasurdo said.

More than 100 guests – many from the Greek American community in Houston and even a few who traveled from Greece for this special occasion, attended Thursday’s event. Papanikolaou said UTHealth is only the second medical school in the country to receive a cutting from the ancient tree and the first to have a bust bearing the official likeness of the father of medicine.

"By planting the tree here in this space, we create a link and a bridge between the past and the future, between the old medical school of Hippocrates and one of the most recognized health science centers in Texas,” Papanikolaou said.

The idea to bring a piece of the Hippocrates Tree to UTHealth took root during a conversation between Papanikolaou and his friend, Theodoros Voloyiannis, M.D., F.A.C.S., F.A.S.C.R.S. Grateful for the training he received during his fellowship at UTHealth, Voloyiannis, a Greek American surgeon who now serves on the volunteer faculty of the UTHealth Department of Surgery and on the surgical staff at Memorial Hermann Medical Group, was instrumental in working with Papanikolaou to secure the gifts on behalf of the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest and its member organizations.

“I’m honored to welcome a branch of the Hippocratic Tree to UTHealth,” Voloyiannis said. “As a member of the medical community and a graduate of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki who took the Hippocratic Oath in 1998, I feel that as the tree grows deep roots in the years to come, this will inspire the future doctors to use their ethical conscience and do what is morally right for their patients, as Hippocrates taught under the shade of the tree nearly 2,500 years ago.” Voloyiannis’ parents traveled from Greece to witness the planting of the plane tree and unveiling of the Hippocrates sculpture.

Yannis Remediakis, president of the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Southwest, said that as the tree grows, it would be a “dream come true” for new medical students to take the Oath of Hippocrates in front of the tree just as physicians did thousands of years ago on the island of Kos.

Nicholas Checkles, M.D., a member of the center’s board of directors and chairman of the committee for the Hippocrates Tree ceremony, said the tree will inspire and serve as a reminder: “Do no harm. This has become the first rule of medicine and should remain the first, I think, for all time.”

Eva Valilis and Ioannis Liras, both students at UTHealth Medical School, said these precious gifts celebrate their Greek heritage.

“It’s a point of pride that Hippocrates was the first to establish how sincere and sacred the relationship is between patient and physician,” said Valilis. “Being a first-year medical student here at UTHealth, it’s so important to all of our class and faculty that we establish that connection between patient and physician early on. Having UTHealth bring a branch of the Hippocrates Tree here reinforces that.”

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