Volunteering is a real treat

Doctor: Brian Krabak, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says providing health care to athletes in Salt Lake is "the highlight of my career."

Olympics

February 21, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY -- Brian Krabak's first patient at the athletes' clinic was a skier with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, eager to get back on the slopes. Not much swelling, not much pain, fairly good mobility.

Diagnosis?

"I'd tell my patient, `You're psycho,' " Krabak says with a laugh.

A brutal assessment, perhaps, but understandable given that the patient was the doctor himself.

Krabak, 34, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is pulling shifts at the clinic at the Olympic Village, treating patients for everything from ligament tears to "reoccurring things, run-of-the-mill strains and contusions."

He calls his volunteer job "inspiring and the highlight of my career."

There are 35 medical clinics at the Olympics, which have handled nearly 6,000 cases to date. The Poly Clinic, as Krabak's station is called, has handled the second-greatest number of cases (924), according to Jess Gomez, a spokesman for Intermountain Health Care, the Winter Games medical provider.

Krabak is one of 1,300 medical volunteers chosen from 13,000 applicants who included doctors, emergency medical technicians and athletic trainers. Each red-jacketed volunteer is responsible for seven eight- to 12-hour shifts during the games.

A large number of the athletes coming to the Poly Clinic are from smaller countries that couldn't afford to send a team doctor or physical therapist.

The two most prominent patients at his clinic so far have been freestyle aerialist Jacqui Cooper of Australia, who tore an ACL in a training run, and Evan Dybvig, the Vermont moguls skier who collapsed 20 seconds into his qualifying run and had to be helped from the course. Dybvig tore an ACL during a training run in November, but chose rehabilitation over surgery to keep his Olympic hopes alive.

Krabak's own ACL mishap occurred last week. "We pushed the envelope a little bit for my talent level, and I just popped it," he says somewhat sheepishly.

A crimp in his training for a May multisport endurance race, a July off-road Ironman competition in Colorado this summer and a September race.

"If I have to have surgery, my schedule is shot. It would totally blow my season," he says.

But his understanding of competition and what drives athletes helps him as he advises his Olympic patients.

"It's the dilemma of competition vs. the long term," he says. "High-level athletes come in and you have to assess the demands of the sport, the extent of the rehab and where their heads are at.

"It's balancing the athlete mentality of `I need to compete and I'm going to try to obtain that goal no matter what' and the physician side of me that says, `You need to consider these options.' "

Krabak grew up on Long Island, a Mets and Islanders fan "when they were really good."

With one brother in medicine and another in electrical engineering, Krabak was fascinated with the mechanics of medicine, especially the circulatory system and the body's electrical pathways.

"I was fascinated with the Jarvik 7," he says of the earliest successfully implanted artificial heart. "I was going to invent the Krabak 8."

He went to Cornell University as a "pre-med electrical engineer ... that's called undecided."

Then he came the realization that "I couldn't design a circuit to save my life," which made medicine look more attractive. "When I finally got into medical school, it sunk in that it was over for engineering," he says, laughing.

He received his medical degree from SUNY-Buffalo and moved to Baltimore for an internship at Sinai Hospital. He did his residency at New England Medical Center, followed by a sports fellowship at the Mayo Clinic.

He volunteered for a number of national athletic events for the disabled, including the cerebral palsy Victory Games and the 1996 Paralympics "that helped get me here." He joined the Hopkins staff in 1998.

Between shifts, Krabak has gone souvenir shopping for the folks back home and watched a couple of events.

"In this day and age to be here and seeing the highs and the lows. The highs of [moguls skier] Jonny Moseley doing his `Dinner Roll' to the lows of seeing Dybvig injuring his knee," he says, shaking his head. "There's something unique about sitting there with 25,000 other people screaming your head off for world-class performances and the thrill of competition.

"To be in here and helping athletes with a little something, a diagnostic component that helps them get out there and perform their best, you feel like part of the team."

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