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PRODUCED BY AND FOR MEMBERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY January 2017 | Archived Issues

Remembering an Inspiring Friend and Colleague

By Bruce Gewertz, MD
Surgeon-in-Chief, Chair of the Department of Surgery

I lost a longtime friend and colleague last year. Steve was a highly valued and successful consultant to nonprofit hospitals, universities and foundations. He ran his own business out of pocket — to my knowledge he had no office, just a phone and a business card. He was peripatetic, traveling coast to coast whenever needed.

More than anything, he was a consummate connector of people. At his memorial service, a friend said he was the "networker of the century." No one could dispute that. Due to his 50 years of travel coupled with an outgoing personality and inquisitiveness, there was hardly anyone you knew that he didn't!

Steve was distinguished as well by a significant physical feature. For whatever reason (no one that I knew could tell me and I didn't inquire with his family), he had a severe spinal deformity with partial paralysis of the right side of his body. He walked with a pronounced limp and visible tilt.

To my knowledge Steve never tolerated any restrictions due to his physical issues. He traveled the world fearlessly. His favorite image was a picture of him in racing gear, proudly posed by the high-end bicycle he taught himself to ride, for the first time, in his late 50s. I don't think it was an easy task.

On the long trip home from his memorial service, I thought about Steve's unique career as a "creative disrupter." He so often came into difficult situations as an outsider. He consulted as if he had nothing to lose from telling the truth and no apologies for forcing reappraisals of long held beliefs and strategies.

I now understand that the experience Steve gained by succeeding in physical activities in alternative ways informed his unique perspectives and his ability to see things differently. His personal narrative and his complete disregard of any limitations was self-evident and made those of us who interfaced with him hard-pressed to opt out of the courage we needed to forge a new path.

He was resolute and unyielding in living his life so vigorously that it enhanced his credibility. I think this effect was so powerful precisely because he made no mention of any limitation — he just did everything and anything without complaint.

If we are exceptionally lucky, we leave a legacy for our family and friends. In the case of my friend Steve, I hope I can hold on to his courage, resourcefulness and willingness to look at things from a different angle. For awhile at least, I'll try to stop complaining about whatever is ailing me — and realize that one person's disability is another's inspiration.