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Getting to know Dr. Kelley
Why did you choose to become an orthopedic surgeon?
"Well, I was the first in my family to go into medicine. I grew up on a rural farm down in Alabama and was a little bit of an outlier as far as our family goes, but it worked out! I had a strong love of science in undergrad and when I got into medical school my love for anatomy became my primary fixation. That developed into focusing on a surgical specialty and I completed a couple elective rotations in orthopedic surgery. While there, seeing some of the equipment that was used, it reminded me a lot of my earlier years, growing up on a farm. Because of that everything had a higher level of comfort in the orthopedic operating room and I quickly developed a natural talent for it."
How did you know you wanted to focus on trauma surgery?
"Well, that is very clear to me… and it started with those late nights on call as a young orthopedic resident in my junior training. Seeing those patients come in, injured, scared, in pain, and stricken with the fear of the unknown. You are right there, you are the one on the front-line that can help them. You don’t have long to prepare when in trauma but you can be certain that the individuals that are headed your way are going to need your help. I like being able to help fix the damage caused.
Often times a patient may be sedated or unresponsive on arrival due to the nature of their injures. Typically, the following day you’re able to interact with them. The genuine gratitude a patient gives you for helping them; it’s just something that always makes you feel good. It simply brings joy to me, I’m making a positive difference. It’s also a very humbling interaction as you have to explain the gravity of their unique situation. In many ways, this is when some of the most difficult work begins and that’s helping the patient onto the road to recovery.
Obviously, when it comes to trauma it’s an unexpected event in that person’s live -- the patient doesn’t pick the physician and the physician cannot select their patients -- you’re just there for them. Once you meet in that setting, you form a bond and you’re both on the road to recovery, together. As the physician, it’s your responsibility to give the patient the best opportunity to get back to their normal self. Ideally, that’s what happens but unfortunately, many times that not the case and now we have to consider what we call “a new normal”. The physician needs to be there for the patient to help them transition into that period.
There’s no doubt that my initial draw was to possess the very top physical surgical talent to successfully complete these medical procedures. Quickly, I mean… almost immediately, the draw for me evolved to include this strong emotional ability that enables me to genuinely connect with my patients. Choosing surgery for me was voluntary. I like it, I wanted to be good at it but once I experienced the trauma aspect and the accompanying emotional aspect it was a decision that was already made for me. I want my patients to get better, but not just physically. I’m talking emotionally, spiritually, socially… when trauma happens the list of wellnesses that it effects goes on and on. Realistically, I understand that I’m unable to help them on a first-hand basis to get better in all of these aspects. At the same time, I very much believe that I can, and am, responsible for setting the tone for their recovery -- regardless of what that may look like.
I believe I can do this by making sure that their first post-trauma experience is a strong foundation on which they can build upon."
What do you like to do outside of work?
"Outside of work, I am an avid golfer. I enjoy the challenge of golf – the physics behind golf excites me. I’m also currently starting a new life with my future bride – hopefully, as long as COVID doesn’t stop us! I enjoy landscaping and we just built a new house so there will be some fun things like that coming up.
I have moved around quite a bit to start but after living in Cleveland for the past 5 years that’s where my base friend group is. One of my best friends from medical school is actually in Akron, we’re able to hang out quite a bit. I met my fiancé in Cleveland our time together has been forged in that area and we have built our friendships along the way here in the Northeast Ohio area."
What do you wish every one of your patients would do, and why?
"There’s only so much, especially in orthopedic trauma specialty or orthopedic specialty in general, there only so much we can do to change the patient. We can put implants in a degenerative knee or hip or shoulder, we can fix broken bones in whatever fashion we need to. Patients have to take care of themselves. They need to know what’s going into their body, know how to take care of their own body and that’s going to help them on the road to recovery just as much as any surgery can. First and foremost, take it upon themselves to get better – then from an orthopedic standpoint whatever needs to be done we are there and will guide them along that path but they’re in charge of themselves and we’re just a factor to help them along the way."