Surgeon’s group removes financial stress from breast cancer

David Caplin, M.D.


In 1995, Dr. David Caplin helped found a program through the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis to assist three struggling hospitals in Riga, Latvia. As part of this program, Caplin and his colleagues also eradicated salmonella there, which had plagued the country for 17 years. 

Fifteen years later, Caplin is eradicating abject fear in women diagnosed with breast cancer who cannot afford treatment. Along with Dr. Marlys Schuh, in 2005, Caplin founded Gateway to Hope (see, a nonprofit organization that arranges medical and surgical care at no cost for individuals who are underinsured or uninsured.

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“Breast cancer is a terrible disease to face under any circumstances, and to face it without insurance makes it so much worse,” says Caplin, 60. He made time recently to speak about the organization and why it matters to him.

What led to the founding of Gateway to Hope?

For decades, I’ve been involved in breast reconstruction surgery for cancer patients. Over time, I was seeing more and more patients who delayed care for breast tumors because they were underinsured or uninsured. These were women whose income was just high enough to keep them from qualifying for state or federal programs but not high enough to afford treatment or to be able to afford insurance.

What happens when treatment is delayed?

Women can lose their lives to cancers that could have been – should have been – treatable and oftentimes curable. I remember one young woman, the sole source of income for her husband and children, who ignored a breast lump for three years. When it got really bad, she had to stop working, which made her eligible for Medicaid – but she died soon after.

How did that affect you?

I realized that this was just absurd on every imaginable level. There had to be a way to help. Breast cancer treatments have come so far – we routinely see cures today, with survival the norm.

What did you do next?

With Dr. Schuh, I decided to approach doctors, surgery centers, hospitals, labs and drug companies to donate their services, to create a clinic without walls.

Were there similar programs in other cities?

We could not find a model, so we started small. Our goal was to treat 12 patients a year. To put that in perspective, full treatment for 12 breast cancer patients can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient.

Has Gateway to Hope grown over the years?

Yes. We now work with 130 local doctors, five hospitals and several surgery centers. We now have 150 patients under the care of Gateway to Hope. In the first six weeks of this year alone, we accepted 12 new patients.

What services do you provide?

Full care as needed – biopsies, mammograms, lumpectomies, mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, breast reconstruction, genetic testing, hysterectomies, ovary removal and all follow-up treatment. Each of our patients gets the highest quality of breast cancer care, and more.

What additional care do you provide?

If needed, we also help with food, childcare, transportation and housing. And for patients who have lost their jobs while being treated, we’ve picked up COBRA payments.

Do you turn down anyone who comes to Gateway to Hope for help?

We have yet to turn down any patients who qualified for the program. We get funds from grantors, and we also get donations from companies and individuals. Also, we can help patients determine whether they are eligible for Medicaid or other programs, and we help them get enrolled if they are.

You grew up in New York City and then headed to college and medical school in the Midwest. What sparked your interest in medicine?

When I was 11, I already knew I wanted to be a doctor. My uncle was a surgeon, and that influenced me, plus all our family doctors were Jewish, and they also influenced me. I liked that as a plastic surgeon, I would have the opportunity to operate on any part of the body.

What was your first area of concentration?

My first 15 years, I did lots of trauma surgery, repairing major wounds and severe injuries. Then I came around to the beauty of cosmetic plastic surgery. When you are a surgeon, the feedback is immediate.

Has Gateway to Hope been replicated in other cities?

We still can’t find a program like ours out there. In St. Louis, we are saving hundreds of lives. If this program were replicated in other cities, thousands of lives would be saved. We‘re looking at how to make that happen. Of course, originally everyone said it never would work.

Do you think the health care system in this country works?

Our health care system does not work well, but an enormous number of doctors and nurses are in the profession for the right reason – they want to help people.

Gateway to Hope’s annual benefit “KaleidoHope,” featuring Sizzling Steinways, takes place 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24 at the Moulin, 2017 Chouteau Avenue. For more information, go to


HealthWatch – David Caplin, M.D.

WORK: Plastic surgeon at Parkcrest Plastic Surgery in Creve Coeur and clinical instructor in the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Washington University School of Medicine

HOME: Ladue

FAMILY: Married to Debbie, father of three grown children

HOBBIES: Fishing, working out and enjoys the symphony, theater and visual arts

PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Awarded the Citizenship and Community Service Award earlier this year from the Missouri State Medical Association