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Neurosurgeon uses risky sports to offset microscopic work(2 posts)

Neurosurgeon uses risky sports to offset microscopic workpedalAZ
Nov 29, 2002 7:59 AM
Doctor balances out life

Neurosurgeon uses risky sports to offset microscopic work

By Bert Sass and Fay Fredricks

12 News

Nov. 29, 2002

Mountain bikers bounce down a rocky trail near Squaw Peak on a Saturday morning, engaging in a rugged activity far from the delicate work that consumes them during the week.

They are surgical residents. Their leader is Dr. Robert Spetzler, director of Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center and chairman of neurosurgery. Spetzler, 58, said mountain trails give him "a great balance" in his life as a neurosurgeon.

"Everything is done under the microscope (in his job)," he said. "It's high-intensity."

Sitting on his bike, Spetzler said, "This is depending on big technology to take you over stuff that you'd never, ever think that a bike would be able to carry you."

Spetzler, one of only a few doctors in the country with his particular expertise, doesn't dwell on his successes in the operating room.

"It's the failures that haunt you, and it's the failures from which you learn the most," he said. "You go over them in your mind again and again and look for ways to avoid whatever went wrong. (That way) you are much more likely to improve neurosurgery than if you just look at your successes."

Spetzler comes from a family of overachievers. His four brothers have careers as a geophysics professor, the head of a think tank, the director of a clinic and an orthopedist. His sister teaches special-needs children.

Yet he recalls no parental pressure for academic excellence. "I think most of the competition came within the siblings themselves," he said.

His father, a watch designer, would marvel at the precision in his son's microscopic surgery.

But what would he think of risking injury to skilled hands in a rough sport like mountain biking?

Spetzler doesn't worry about it. He believes it's hard to "live a full lifestyle" and be "a full human being" and yet keep his hands and livelihood out of risk.

So he charges into physically exhausting sports with his family, including heli-skiing on remote mountains, scuba diving and running.

Spetzler says his family shamed him into wearing a helmet when he skis.

Still, he declared, "I will not restrict my lifestyle."
Heart transplant helps Scottsdale cyclist competepedalAZ
Nov 29, 2002 8:03 AM
Walking Death to riding fool

Heart transplant helps Scottsdale cyclist compete

By Jim Gintonio

The Arizona Republic

Nov. 19, 2002

For a while, Bill Wohl was a medical experiment. Nobody is quite sure why he didn't die. Maybe that's why they pinned the nickname, "The Walking Death" on him.

"I was a poster boy," said Wohl, who in the past three years has had an artificial heart and a heart transplant. "If you barely put your fingers apart, that's about how much room they had to work with. I had six major surgeries, and I guess I pulled through because I was a dumb jock who didn't know any better."

At the University of Arizona, he was categorized as a terminally ill FDA experiment Four plugs were used to connect his abdomen to a 400-pound device that served as his artificial heart for five months before a donor was found.

"My heart had stopped three times, and with that artificial heart, I looked like a washing machine, one that was opened vertically and horizontally," he said.

Wohl, a former middle-distance runner and lacrosse player at the University of Maryland, has made the most of his second chance since receiving the heart in February 2000. He turned his newfound energies into cycling and has emerged as one of the nation's top heart transplant athletes, ranked No. 2 in his sport.

The Scottsdale businessman, who owns Sports and Home Entertainment, will ride in Saturday's El Tour de Tucson, choosing the 35-mile event as a tuneup for his next major challenge, the World Transplant Games in France in 2003. In the recent U.S. games at Orlando, he helped his team win six gold medals.

"Each time I race or work out, I'm learning more," he said. "And the Tucson race is one of the biggest in the country."

Wohl, 56, has been featured in medical documentaries, and specialists at an international symposium once referred to his conditions as "pathetic."

He has met the parents of his donor, a 36-year-old actor-stuntman who was killed while filming a television show in Benson.

He takes everything as a compliment, a way of showing that through determination and a positive mental attitude he beat almost impossible odds. So it's no secret that the athlete he most admires is Lance Armstrong, the four-time Tour de France winner who overcame cancer. Coincidentally, the two share the same birthday, Sept. 18. "He just happens to ride a little better than I do," he said with a laugh.

Since the transplant, Wohl has made key adjustments. He had exercised somewhat while building a career but not nearly to the extent that he has been the past several months. When he thinks back to his attitude the past few years, he says that maintaining a sense of humor is how was able "to get through some of those real dire situations."

"Coming back and being able to compete is a major thing. The biggest thing is that I'm able to train hard again," he said. "I'm looking forward to riding for a long time."

His comeback has not gone unnoticed. He's a nominee for the Gene Autry Courage Award by the Tempe Sports Authority. He also plans to start a Race for a Second Chance to enhance transplant donor awareness, and he hopes that the race can grow to several thousand runners and walkers in a few years.

"I look at what Lance Armstrong accomplished with his foundation," he said. "We've tried to model our smaller version after that because he's done so much good for cancer survivors and patients.

"I'm so thankful. There's no way I should be here.