Vail doctors on hand at Vancouver Olympics
VAIL – When skier Lindsey Vonn crashed during a training run at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, Vail surgeon Bill Sterett rushed to her side.”She was in a lot of pain,” recalled Sterett, who skied over to Vonn, stabilized her and helped her onto a toboggan.Sterett rode in a helicopter with Vonn to a Torino hospital, where he communicated with the staff about treatment for her injuries.”At the Olympics, so much of it is being a patient advocate,” Sterett said. “We were in Torino and there wasn’t a single person or nurse who spoke English. She was in a lot of pain from her pelvic (contusion) and trying to deal with pain medicines.”Vonn has long since recovered from that injury and has set her sights on winning gold in the Vancouver Olympics – although she has struggled with a new injury to her shin in the past days.Sterett is traveling to the Olympics once again, ready to treat any medical problems the women’s Alpine team may encounter. Some of the world’s best doctors and physical therapists will convene at the Vancouver Olympic Games to care for the athletes. Three doctors from the Steadman Hawkins Clinic and Avanti Cardiology in Vail will be among the volunteers.Sterett, who serves as a surgeon for Steadman Hawkins and chief of surgery for the Vail Valley Medical Center, will be waiting on the sidelines of the woman’s Alpine events. He’ll be ready to treat any injuries the athletes sustain – though he hopes his services will be in low demand.”If I’ve been invisible, it’s been a good Olympics for the athletes,” he said.Alpine skiers are perhaps most susceptible to knee injuries and concussions, although Sterett is prepared to help them with anything from the flu to cuts.Sterett also serves as head team physician for the U.S. Women’s Alpine Ski Team, which is one of the reasons why he was chosen to go to the Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Torino and now Vancouver.”It’s a huge honor to represent the U.S. and your chosen specialty,” he said.Sterett predicts good things for his famous patient.”I’ll be surprised if Lindsey Vonn doesn’t come home with a few gold medals,” he said.
In Vail, Dr. Tom Hackett works as an orthopedic surgeon at Steadman Hawkins. At the Olympics, he’ll strap into a snowboard and trauma pack, ready to treat injured snowboarders.Concussions and knee injuries are among the most common problems for snowboarders, although Hackett said he’ll be prepared to treat any medical troubles that arise for the halfpipe, boardercross or Alpine teams, he said. It will be Hackett’s first trip to the Olympics to treat the athletes.”It’s an amazing thing,” he said. “It truly is an honor to be a part of it, to take what we do and apply it to that setting.”Hackett boasts plenty of experience treating patients on the slopes. As a doctor for the U.S. snowboarding team, he treats those athletes in Vail or travels to their races with his snowboard and trauma pack.”We’ll do life-saving surgical procedures right on the slopes” he said.Once, Hackett said he had to do three helicopter evacuations during a U.S. World Cup race in Chile, where athletes sustained a broken neck, head injury and chest trauma.At Avanti Cardiology in Vail, Dr. Larry Gaul serves as a cardiologist and medical director of the intensive care unit. At the Olympic village, he’ll be caring for the Nordic team.”By and large, it’s quite different, which is one of the reasons it’s fun,” he said. “I get into areas of medicine I don’t deal with every day because I’m not a family practitioner.”Nordic skiers tend to grapple with respiratory infections, asthma and cuts on their faces, he said.”The poles are flying and they’re very close together,” he said. “We get facial lacerations every once in a while.”Gaul serves as the doctor for the U.S. Ski Team’s Nordic team, and previously attended to athletes in Torino.”It’s an amazing job from a medical standpoint,” he said.Gaul said that his job as a doctor is to do the right thing for the patient.”Sometimes it gets to be a little ticklish because an athlete or a coach wants them to compete when you think they shouldn’t and it would be dangerous for them,” he said. “We’re used to dealing with pressure situations, and with cardiology, we have those situations not infrequently where the stakes are pretty big.”From my standpoint, I look at them like they’re any other patient and just do what’s in their best interest.”
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