KGH Surgeons

An olympian, a cellist, a yoga-loving researcher; there is plenty of talent in Kelowna General’s new surgical hires

With the mint green front panel of its brand new medical school pointing toward thick rows of scaffolding, one can feel the frenetic pace of progress on approach at Kelowna General Hospital.

Even the thin veneer of dust cannot take the shine off the sense of hope the massive expansion of this hospital has brought to the community.

Yet it’s really the doctors behind the glass walls who offer the best taste of the possibility to come, particularly for the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre.

We’re trying to build a centre of excellence that’s a resource for people from across the Southern Interior,” says Dr. Paul Mick, an ear, nose and throat specialist who polished his medical training with a master’s degree in public health at Harvard University.

Dr. Mick is interested in the big picture problems bringing patients to his door and sought out groundbreaking researcher Dr. Frank Lin as a mentor in Boston.

“I think the problem of hearing loss in older people is sort of under appreciated,” he explained. “It’s looked at as unfortunate, but inconsequential.”

Dr. Lin’s hypothesis suggests the cognitive overload a patient whose hearing is failing experiences trying to sort out sounds leaves them less brainpower to take meaning from words. As it was explained in the New York Times, when medical journalists started taking notice, he’s out to prove there is a critical link between hearing loss and the onset of dementia—something to ponder in this era of iPod-loving music fiends and stereos built to blast.

For a yoga enthusiast and culture buff like Dr. Mick, finding a new surgical program in a lively smaller city where he too can contribute to the larger dialogue in his field was enough reason to pack up his Nissan Sentra and drive almost 4000 kilometres back to his home province.

He is also one of a handful of new surgeons who have just been hired at KGH and has high hopes for the job.

“I would like us to not just be at the forefront of medicine, but generating new knowledge and new ways of doing things based on evidence and research,” he said.

And from the sounds of things, this surgical centre will be a bastion of creativity.

It will house the first, and only, cardiac program in the interior of British Columbia and offer 15 operating rooms, with space for up to 600 open heart procedures annually.

The latest hires each bring the kind of resumé, talent and people skills one would expect from individuals trained for nearly two decades to work in their field. And if they share one goal, it’s to do their best on every case.

“I just enjoy helping patients. I love seeing them in the office and the gratitude after you’ve done a good job,” said Dr. Shaun Deen, a thoracic surgeon who grew up in Calgary and was hired after a year of sub-specialty work in Seattle.

Dr. Deen is the doctor’s doctor in the crowd  A brief dalliance with the idea of engineering in high school is about as far as he’s strayed from the surgical path.

From his first year of undergraduate studies, he made a beeline for surgery and says can’t imagine it any other way.

“Surgery is a thinking man’s game. It isn’t all about using your hands. You’ve got to assess the problem, figure out what you think the best way to tackle it is and there’s not always just one way,” he said.

His year in the States was spent learning robotics and minimally invasive surgery techniques he can use when tackling the lung and esophageal cancers filling a typical day in his office.

Like every surgeon, he consults on unique injuries—a knife lodge between organs or a mass growing above a young person’s heart.

Funnily enough, the surgeons themselves often participate in the activities one might expect to land a patient on their operating table.

In addition to playing cello, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Derek Plausinis loves to mountain bike and ski, for example.

After doing his sub-specialty training for shoulders and elbows in New York, he moved to Kamloops where he practiced for nine years, developing a good rapport with the team who would become his partners in Kelowna. Making the move last summer took some consideration nonetheless.

“I’ve been practicing for almost 10 years. I’m knowledgable and skilled and marketable. From that point of view, it’s a good time to make a switch. And my kids are 10 and 12, so if you’re going to make a change in life, you’ve got to do it,” he explained.

Dr. Plausinis took a circuitous route to surgery, earning a masters degree in engineering, focused on viscoelastic fracture mechanics (cracks in rubber-like materials) before entering medical school.

“I thought I would do something to do with the musculoskeletal system. I like that because I like biomechanics and you can apply some engineering to the body. But I didn’t know I would like surgery,” he said.

He and Dr. Jeremy Harris, a vascular surgeon hired out of London, Ontario, have a lot in common in the respect that they both fell into surgery and neither expected to uproot themselves for the chance to get in on the ground floor of a new surgical program.

The Harris kids are 15,13, 9 and 6 and they all drove across the country with their parents in the family mini-van to make this move.

“It was some good chaos for us as a family, but the kids really did well. We are quite blessed,” the doctor said.

Dr. Harris started his career at the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University, graduating with a bachelor of business into a career, he admits, felt soulless. Three years in, having failed to find anything fulfilling in his chosen vocation, he returned to school and “fell in love with anatomy.”

A chance meeting with a very personable surgeon in medical school convinced him the stereotypical cold surgeon truly was the stuff of fiction and to hear him speak is to know this is a man who loves people.

The doctors all have wish lists. Dr. Deen is pushing to see the hospital get into robotics. Dr. Harris is thrilled by the possibility of an operating room capable of handling multiple needs, with the technology of whole departments all in one room.

“Every patient has different co-morbid illnesses, but every patient also has different anatomy and what’s best for one person, may not be best for the other,” Dr. Harris explained. “So I like the idea of this hybrid operating room. You’re really not constrained by your facility.”

As Dr. Curtis Myden explains it, the constant evolution of a practice, the unending pursuit of better technology, is really the trick to the trade.

“I think they generally say in any surgery if you’re doing the same surgery when you started when you retire then something’s gone wrong. You should be adapting. Things do change. There’s research. There’s evidence that goes into getting the best results for your patient. That’s the challenge. You’ve got to keep up to date to do the best for your patients,” he said. Thankfully, Myden has quite the competitive edge. Having brought home three Olympic bronze medals, competing in three successive summer Olympics in the breaststroke and medley events, he’s well trained to take the lead.

As another one of the new hires, he will be doing orthopaedic surgery, focusing on sports medicine and kids.

“There’s a really young, active adult population in Kelowna.  A lot of people injuring themselves. So hopefully I’ll be helping a lot of people stay active,” he said.

Outfitting the new surgical centre to meet the surgeons’ needs takes funds and, as such, a $12 million capital fundraising campaign is underway through the Kelowna Hospital Foundation.

by Jennifer Smith

This article is reprinted with the consent of Forever Young