Who We Are: Doctor, volunteer, inspiration
March 23, 2013
Dr. Peter Janes walks quietly into the room and sits. A tall, slender man with blue eyes and slightly graying hair, he maintains an air of easy confidence and tranquility. When he speaks, his voice is calm, steady, even as he describes poor conditions in rural African clinics and scenes of chaos in a post-earthquake Haiti. Janes is the type of man you would want by your side in a pinch, and he spends much of his time working and volunteering in Summit County.
Janes, the senior surgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, has been living and practicing orthopedic sports medicine in Summit and Eagle counties since 1987. About eight years ago he and his wife moved to Summit, where they now live between Frisco and Breckenridge. Janes has been involved with the community for many years, including 12 on the board of The Summit Foundation and in various volunteer positions.
Janes donates physicals to student athletes and has acted as the on-the-field physician at high school ice hockey games for 11 years and at football games for 15 years. He fondly remembers his time as an athlete in younger years and says he still plays the occasional game of ice hockey.
Once a month, Janes volunteers his time at the Summit Community Care Clinic, takeing care of patients who can not otherwise afford to be seen by an orthopedic surgeon.
“Having specialists who are willing to see those patients, it’s like a miracle for them,” said care clinic CEO Sarah Vaine.
One of Janes’ biggest contributions to the clinic is Community Surgery Day, an annual event that provides free surgery to needy clinic patients. This year marks the fourth year for the event, which came about when Janes got wind of a hospital doing something similar in Pueblo.
While meaning to call Pueblo to learn more, Janes was soon swept up in a trip to Haiti with his wife and several other physicians from Summit County to lend assistance to earthquake victims two weeks after it happened.
“We were assigned to a hospital and there’s an anesthesiologist from Pueblo. We start talking, and he was involved with this (surgery day) in Pueblo,” Janes said. “Here we are in this chaos of earthquake in Haiti and I meet the guy that I wanted to call. So we talked for hours when we weren’t working and he helped me.”
When he returned, Janes brought the idea to Vaines at the clinic. She was enthusiastic and he helped to recruit fellow physicians to donate their time to the surgery day.
“He’s going to his peers and saying, ‘I’m willing to do this, I want you to step up,’ so they have been incredible and nobody said no,” Vaines said. “They’ve all participated, but I think it has been Dr. Janes’ enthusiasm for the project and his leadership and just his acting as an ambassador for the uninsured that has really made it successful.”
It was for this and many other reasons that the clinic nominated Janes for the prestigious Harold E. Williamson Award from the COPIC Medical Foundation. The award, given annually to a Colorado physician who volunteers his or her medical services and contributes to the community, includes a $10,000 grant to be given to a nonprofit of their choice. Janes won, and chose the Summit Community Care Clinic as beneficiary of the grant.
Vaine said the money will go toward expenses incurred while expanding the clinic’s hours to include two evenings a week and all day on Saturdays. For this and the help with the surgery day, the clinic is “very, very grateful,” she said.
“Having somebody like Dr. Janes who is so consistent and has been for so many years, just opening up a whole huge new door of resources for those patients, it’s incredible,” she said.
While Janes is committed to volunteering and helping throughout the Summit County community, he has also found himself drawn to other places in the world needing help, especially Africa.
Janes attributes his first trip to Africa to his then-14-year-old daughter. She had found a program in Uganda and Janes and his wife accompanied her.
“We dug ditches on a water project and quickly learned that we were probably better off doing medical care,” he said with a laugh, describing the blisters that project earned him. While there, he and his wife did some research on the medical resources nearby and decided that they wanted to come back.
That was in 2005. Two years later, he and his wife, Patricia, traveled to Tanzania. Next they spent time at a hospital in Rwanda, which they have re-visited for the past three summers. This is all in addition to the trip to Haiti in 2010.
The biggest challenge in Africa is the lack of modern medical equipment, Janes said.
“(It’s) just trying to do things differently. We don’t have the equipment that we have here. You just … have to do it differently. You still do it well,” he said. “It’s very challenging, which is why I keep going, because it makes me better here, I think, to think differently over there.”
One of the difficulties of this challenge, he continued, is realizing his limitations and the limitations of the equipment and resources available.
“You have to learn to say no. In those austere environments, as they call them, you can’t help everyone. You know you could do this if you were back here, but over there I just have to say no, we could make this worse if we try this here.”
Despite this, Janes has had success with his African patients. He has a handful whom he continues to check up on, through email while he’s away, and in coming back to the same hospital each time to monitor their progress. Janes met one of those patients, a Rwandan named Joseph, when the boy was 10 years old. The child had fractured his arm an entire year earlier and received no treatment. The arm was disfigured and infected, leaving Joseph’s hand completely unusable. Janes operated on the boy several times over the course of two trips, speaking with colleagues in the United States as well. Janes worried about him, as the boy’s arm had not recovered when he left Rwanda the second time. On the next trip in 2012, Janes met with Joseph again.
“Joseph returned today, now 12 years old and in primary school grade 3,” Janes wrote in his blog. “His fingers have full range of motion and his sensation is normal. He has some functional wrist motion, not normal perhaps, but he is pain free, the infection has cleared, no open wounds, he has a strong grip, and the bone has healed on XR. I was unable to speak for a moment, seemed like minutes to me, actually. Then the translator said that he would like to become a doctor and ‘operate on bones.’ “
Janes plans to continue to visit his patients in Africa and said that next year he’s going to try visiting the Congo as well. He said he is drawn to the continent and has little interest in traveling anywhere else.
“There’s a saying in Tanzania,” he said, “where they keep a piece of your heart.”
Janes cites his parents as the reason that he became a doctor. His mother was a nurse and his father a surgeon, working with the Royal Air Force in World War II .
“I distinctly remember in eighth grade, standing at his O.R. table, watching him, exhausted, standing all day long,” Janes said, of one of the moments when he decided to be a doctor. “He was working.”
Another significant life moment happened for Janes in an operating room – meeting his wife for the first time.
“We met over a gallbladder,” he said, smiling. She was a nurse, assisting on the procedure. “All I could see were her eyes.”
Although she turned him down at first, he didn’t give up.
“I’m a persistent person,” he said with a smile.
His favorite part about being a doctor? Fixing people.
“(It’s) the satisfaction of getting a good result and helping someone get better and be able to work or get back to their life,” he said. “We’re actually functionally getting them back into their life, and I like that a lot.”