Meet our Docs: Fellowship-trained shoulder surgeon Dr. Lee Stowell will keep you in the game
By Kristy Bleizeffer Aug 4, 2015
Halfway through medical school, R. Lee Stowell, M.D., realized he was drawn to the operating room. Here was a specialty of medicine where the doctors not only had to understand pathology, anatomy and physiology, but they had to be able to do something about whatever ailed their patients.
“More specifically, it was orthopedics which perfectly merged the technical aspects of surgery and the form and function of the musculoskeletal system. I was really impressed by that,” said Dr. Stowell, an orthopedic surgeon at Advantage Orthopedics and Neurosurgery in Casper.
A couple of residents took Dr. Stowell under their wings in medical school and let him scrub in on orthopedic cases. At one point, while fixing a broken ankle, they handed him the drill and asked him to drill a couple of holes for the hardware.
“It was certainly something I had never done before. But they were the kind of people who made you feel comfortable with the circumstances. At that point, it was all over. I could not see myself doing anything but orthopedics,” he said.
Dr. Stowell is skilled in the full spectrum of orthopedic care. In this interview, he explains how a skilled orthopod can keep you active at any age.
How did you become interested in medicine?
I grew up in Utah, and my parents were good family friends with a primary care doctor. Seeing what he did and talking to him initially got me interested in medicine. It just slowly progressed from there, and was always something that was in the back of my mind. Nothing else ever held my attention the way medicine did. After I got started in undergraduate and looking at classes and options for a future career, things quickly became pretty clear because, in reality, I knew all along that I wanted to do this.”
What about medicine held your interest?
One of the things, especially in orthopedics, is that you can have an immediate impact. Any surgery I do has an almost instantaneous result.
Also, I’ve had a lot of opportunities as an undergraduate to see the interactions doctors had with patients in the hospital. I worked as a translator in an area with a large Hispanic population. I saw a lot of lives changed for the good and for the bad.
You were also a translator during the Hope Alliance Humanitarian Project in Iquitos, Peru. Tell us about that.
One of the nurse managers from the operating room knew that I spoke Spanish. She was working with a group of people who were organizing a humanitarian aid project in Peru. None of the doctors who were going spoke Spanish. They recruited me to translate for the doctors who were running the clinics. We were in the middle of the jungle in Peru for 2 1/2 weeks. We kind of sought out the poorest of the poor, the most deprived area that we could find and that is where we went. We did a lot of different things, but my main role there was a translator.
Did the experience help shape you as a doctor?
That experience had a huge impact. I think we take a lot of things for granted. We get in our normal routine, and we kind of lose perspective of just how fortunate we are. Unless you actually saw the conditions of the people in that area of Peru, I do not think most people could ever really understand how some people in the world live. It gave me a better understanding that there are a lot of different people from all different walks of life and circumstances, and it helped me appreciate that a little better.
Explain the role of the orthopedic surgeon in terms of managing pain and in keeping people active as they age.
I think that the first part is helping people understand what their situation is and then guiding them through what treatment options are reasonable for them as individuals. I think the main role of orthopedic surgery is helping people stay active. If something has taken you out of the game, for one reason or the other, we are trying to find a way to get you back in it.
I try to help people understand that as they age, and though their body has changed either with time or through injury, it does not necessarily mean that they have to give up throwing, or golfing, or even being a professional athlete. Even if you are a grandparent and just want to be able to keep up with your grandkids, your pain or injuries do not have to be permanent.
When I used to practice in Phoenix, people would come into the office and they would say, “I used to really like golfing, but I cannot do that anymore because my knee hurts.” Or, “I used to play tennis but I don’t now because of my shoulder pain.” As an orthopedic surgeon, I want to get you back to doing those activities that you enjoy. Actually seeing that through, and watching my patients get back to their favorite activities, is one of the reasons I chose orthopedics.
Tell us about your work with athletes.
I was the team doctor for several of the professional baseball teams during Spring Training, including the Texas Rangers. I have also been a team physician for a semi-pro hockey team, a junior college and multiple high schools.
I really do like working with athletes, especially some of the college and high school level kids. It has been great doing the professional teams in Phoenix, but I also enjoy working with older populations as well.
In your fellowship, you specialized in shoulder and elbow. Did you seek that out specifically, or is it just how it ended up?
When I was a resident, I was told it was very competitive and one of the most difficult fellowships to get. Immediately, I wanted to do it even more.
I was also inspired by another surgeon who came through who had also done a shoulder and elbow fellowship. I happened to be one of the people who got along with him really well, and the more I got to know him and worked with him, the more I saw what his practice was like. It seemed like it would be a great fit.
I wanted to be able to take care of anybody and everybody who comes into the clinic. It was a way for me to get training that I felt would put me in a position to take care of more people. And I was lucky enough to find a great fellowship where I got extensive training in trauma, pediatric orthopaedics, sports medicine and joint reconstruction in addition to the primary focus of shoulder surgery.
What kinds of new treatments are being offered for shoulder injuries?
In the last 10 years, there have been a lot of advances in shoulder surgery. We are really on the cutting edge as being able to offer new procedures and minimally invasive surgeries – such as arthroscopic rotator cuffs, shoulder replacement, reverse shoulder replacements, shoulder instability, trauma, revisions and tumor. Within orthopaedics, one of the fields to make the greatest advances in the past decade would definitely include shoulder surgery. I am really looking forward to being able to offer our patients treatment options that had not been on the table before.
What brings you to Casper and Advantage Orthopedics?
We looked at a lot of opportunities in a lot of different places. Each one offered something we really liked, but there was never one place that had everything that we were looking for. I had a friend from medical school who works at Wyoming Medical Center and he suggested I look into their orthopedics practice. I did some research and came up for the interview. I remember going home and telling my wife, “I think we finally found it.” I felt like we had finally found a place where it had everything we were looking for: Casper is the perfect size, it’s a great place to raise our family, and the hospital has everything that I was looking for. Since that time we have never looked back. We feel exceptionally fortunate.
Dr. Stowell completed a highly sought-after fellowship at the CORE Institute in Phoenix where he also worked as a team doctor for several professional sports teams. He was selected chief resident of the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center-Hamot; Shriners Hospital for Children in Erie, Pa. He will join the staff of Advantage Orthopedics in Casper on Aug. 17, and is accepting new patients and referrals. He is married and has four sons ages 3 to 13.