I became an orthopaedic surgeon because...
I can’t say that there was a moment of divine inspiration that led to my being a physician and then an orthopedic surgeon. For some of us that “magnificent obsession” comes later in life.
When I was growing up my father was involved in virus research – first polio, then he later became head of the smallpox lab at the CDC (Center for Disease Control) in Atlanta, but I don’t believe I ever remember my parents encouraging me to pursue a medical career. During my teenage years, I spent some part of every summer in the ER with one injury or another and my mother labeled me “accident prone.” When I was a senior in high school I broke a small bone in my wrist that subsequently required surgery and then 9 months in a cast and brace in order to get the bone to heal. Around that same time, my younger brother was diagnosed as having leukemia and he subsequently passed away 2 years later. At that point I was sure I wanted nothing further to do with casts, doctors, or hospitals. However, within a year it was becoming all to obvious to me that my future career as an architect was in jeopardy due to a total lack of artistic talent. As I started my fourth year in architecture, my grades were plummeting. I could no longer buoy my grade point average with physics, statics, dynamics, etc.
With the perspective that time provides, I believe that my younger life experiences did lead me to change my major that year and then apply to medical school the very next year. As I approached the end of medical school, I was once again wondering what I was going to do. I considered general surgery and pediatric programs and decided to go into general surgery. As a general surgery intern I was exposed to orthopaedics. I loved the fact that many patients actually got well, and also enjoyed the mechanical aspects of the surgeries. There was an opening in the orthopaedics program where I was doing my general surgery training. I applied and was accepted, and the rest is history.
What is the most rewarding part of being an orthopaedic surgeon?
After I finished my orthopaedic surgery training, my pediatrician wife and I decided that we wanted to raise our children in a smaller town. I started out as a general orthopaedic surgeon, but as the practice grew we added more and more subspecialists. Each time one came, I would give up that portion of my practice to help ensure that they would be able to hone their expertise in their particular area of interest. Finally, the only thing left was artificial knees and hips. As it turns out, that is the area of orthopaedics that I enjoy the most. It is particularly gratifying to be able to help patients return to an active lifestyle.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I’ve always enjoyed spending time with my family. My younger partners would probably not believe it, but I missed very few soccer games when the kids were younger. As a result, the classic Corvette (1959) that I bought in 1976 when I was in medical school still sits in my garage needing a lot of work.
I also like going to orthopaedic meetings and learning new things.
In what volunteer activities or efforts do you engage that mean the most to you and those you serve?
In 2006 Douglas Dennis, MD who heads Operation Walk – Denver, asked me to participate in one of his mission trips to Panama. Operation Walk makes it possible for indigent people in foreign countries to realize the benefits of artificial hip and knee surgery. I have participated in a total of 6 of the missions trips, and these trips have been among the most rewarding part of my career.
I have also volunteered for various positions in the Western Orthopaedic Association and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, our national organization.