The Other Side of the Stethoscope
the use of bone cement, a substance that occasionally led to infection, loosening, or rejection. Today, the technology developed at Dartmouth is the gold standard for orthopaedic implant surgery.
Four years ago, Mayor reaped what his own research group had sowed when he underwent replacement surgery on his own left knee, which had worn out after years of extra stress. That experience— coupled with living for more than 40 years as an amputee—gave him an advantage in the clinical arena, he says.
"When I changed a dressing or adjusted a splint, I [could use my personal knowledge] to reduce pain and unpleasantness," he explains. And though he no longer practices actively, he still reaches out to young people facing amputation, assuring them that the surgery is "not the end of the world."
Mayor's current research focus is a device that he hopes will make life easier for others facing above-knee amputations. The loss of his own leg did not kill him, he concedes, but was a considerable hurdle that he had to overcome at a young age. By maneuvering that hurdle—first by learning to ski, then by going into medicine—Mayor believes he gained a strength and focus that has allowed him to build a wonderful life for himself and his family, to serve thousands of patients over the years, and to advance the state of the art in orthopaedics.
Andrew Place, DMS '04 and '06
Almost 15 years ago, Dr. Andrew Place was a 19-year-old sophomore on a ROTC scholarship at Swarthmore, preparing for a career as a pilot in the military. When he felt a mass in his neck one day while shaving, he went to the college infirmary. He was lucky to encounter a "moonlighting resident from UPenn." That visit started a workup that led to a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Place—who is now an M.D.-Ph.D. graduate of Dartmouth Medical School (he
Place now realizes how terrible it must have been for his parents when he was diagnosed. "Waiting around for test results is often the worst part of any disease," he says, so he is very careful to explain what to expect.
completed his doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology in 2004 and his M.D. in 2006)—dropped out of college and went home to Maine for surgery and chemotherapy. The experience kindled an interest in medicine. Back at Swarthmore a year later, he switched to premed and applied to several medical schools during his senior year but failed to get any offers of admission by graduation.
Not knowing what to do next, Place took a job at an outdoor clothing store near his home in Maine. Eventually, his oncologist put him in touch with a researcher at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Place got hired there as a lab assistant. One thing led to another and he was admitted to DMS.
At one point during his time at Dartmouth, Place was asked by Senior Advising Dean Joseph O'Donnell to speak to second-year medical students about his experience with cancer. Place told them to remember that patients are human, not just the embodiment of some disease—that they are Patriots fans, lawyers, schoolteachers, or sometimes even fifth-graders. He wanted to help his fellow students understand what it's like to be sick and helpless.
Physician or not, you learn a lot about yourself when you go through cancer, Place says. Everything in his life changed—even his career path. "Considering the state of the world right now," he reflects, if it hadn't been for cancer, "I would be flying over Baghdad right now."
Instead, he is today a newly married, first-year pediatric resident at Children's Hospital in Boston, happy to be surviving his long but exciting workweeks. "I typically don't actually expose to patients and families that I'm a cancer survivor," Place explains. "You run the risk of depersonalizing what they're going through."
Still, the young doctor is convinced that his experience has increased his understanding of the frustrations and fears felt by his young patients and their parents. He recalls the pain he saw on the faces of his own parents when he was hospitalized. How terrible it must have been for them, he realizes, to feel confused, alone, and powerless in the face of a disease that could have taken the life of their child.
"Waiting around for test results is often the worst part of any disease," he says, so he is very careful to explain to parents what to expect and how to get the information they need.
Place believes that the most important legacy of his ordeal has been his success at listening. "I just listen to parents and say, 'Yeah, I've been there, it sucks. You have every right to feel that way.'"