Owens' surgeon helps clients put best feet forward

Medicine: Dr. Mark Myerson, based at Mercy Medical Center, has operated on Terrell Owens, among others.

Super Bowl

February 06, 2005|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

The pre-game score is Eagles 4, Patriots 1.

That's the number of active players on both Super Bowl teams who have been operated on by Dr. Mark Myerson; at least the ones he can remember off the top of his head.

Myerson, who's based at Mercy Medical Center, is the country's go-to guy for foot and ankle surgery or consultations. Although athletes represent only a small part of his patient base, dozens have sought him out.

They range from Ravens tight end Todd Heap to the NBA's Steve Blake and Grant Hill, although the latter recently denounced Myerson's two operations on his ankle as "a waste of time."

His best-known Super Bowl patient is Terrell Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles' mouthy but magnificent wide receiver who is ignoring Myerson's advice to stay on the sideline.

After a mid-December game in which Owens fractured his right leg and tore two ankle ligaments, Myerson patched him up with metal plates and screws.

As much as Myerson loves sports, he almost wishes some comparative nobody like Leonardo DiCaprio had come to him instead of a marquee athlete.

"I would far more prefer to take care of someone from Hollywood because they're less demanding and because I know nothing about who they are," said Myerson, a 53-year-old native South African who has a reputation for being celebrity challenged.

Myerson has advised Owens not to suit up so soon after surgery. Owens insists he's "spiritually healed." The expectation is Owens will see at least limited action tonight.

You know what they're thinking in Philly: What does that big-shot Baltimore doctor know about football? After all, Myerson spends spare time gardening at his Roland Park home and psyches himself up for surgery by listening to smash-mouth classical music (his favorite is The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet).

But this is no pretty-boy super surgeon.

"Look!" says Myerson, sitting behind his desk at Mercy's Institute for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction, dressed in blue scrubs. He places his right index finger on his nose and proceeds to push it from one side of his face to the other. See, no cartilage.

No wonder: He broke that nose five times playing rugby in his younger days.

Among the other battle scars, Myerson dislocated his right shoulder and tore the meniscus in his right knee (skiing), fractured three ribs and a wrist (cycling), ruptured a disc (squash), and jarred a few neck vertebrae (rock climbing fall).

"I have to admit that I'm a little weird," he says. "I push things to the extreme."

That quality has made him a world-class physician, not to mention gourmet cook, wine connoisseur and pottery maker. He took up golf four years ago and already has a 10 handicap.

"I've lived with him for 18 years," said his wife, Dr. Ginger Kranz, an ear, nose and throat doctor at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "He just doesn't sleep is basically it," she says of her husband's multiple pursuits.

"He's the hardest-working person I know," says Dr. E. Pepper Toomey, an orthopedic surgeon in Seattle who served a fellowship under Myerson. "Mere mortals don't do four total ankle replacements in a day."

Myerson's father, Peter, was a painter. The son inherited his artistic sensibility, but gravitated toward medicine, earning his degree at the University of Cape Town before emigrating.

He did residencies at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the University of Maryland. After some professional polishing in New York, he returned here to direct the foot and ankle program at Union Memorial Hospital.

In 2002, Mercy recruited him to head up its institute. Myerson flits back and forth between two high-tech operating rooms that have voice-activated medical equipment and video-conferencing capability. Surgeons around the world tune in to watch him work: reassembling a foot mangled in a car crash, transplanting cadaver bone to save a pair of ankles eroded by chemotherapy.

Myerson has been a pioneer in developing artificial-ankle implants and donor-bone transplants. The intricacies of the foot, with its 28 bones and 23 joints, appeal to his restless mind. While a knee or hip specialist might master two or three basic procedures, "There's probably 50 operations we do," says Myerson, "and variations off those."

An assistant walks into his office and hands him a strip of X-ray photos, post-op pictures of an ankle transplant he finished just a half hour ago: a 42-year-old woman whose right foot was crushed in an accident. Myerson jigsaw-puzzled together a new joint using matching cadaver bone.

"God, this looks good," he exclaims, holding the negatives at arm's length. "That's excellent. It's a perfect fit."

Some procedures go better than others. Former NBA star Wes Unseld had a positive experience (he "avoided an amputation of his leg," says Myerson).

Not so Grant Hill, who fractured the large knobby bone on the inside of his left ankle. Myerson operated twice to no avail. Hill subsequently found surgical relief at Duke Medical Center and resumed his All-Star career.

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