Retiring Surgeon Has been More than a Doctor to Patients

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By Peter Jackel

RACINE, Wis. (Journal Times) — A remarkable career in medicine by a beloved Racine orthopedic surgeon had its origin nearly 50 years ago, when 12-year-old Myron Mikaelian was reading The Baseball Life of Sandy Koufax.

The Scholastic paperback told the story of the legendary left-hander for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who was forced to retire at the age of 30 after the 1966 season by arthritis in his pitching elbow. And, as a young Mikaelian read about the pills and monotonous treatments Koufax had to endure just to make his next pitching assignment, he was captivated.

“He was having multiple orthopedic issues and he sought the care of Dr. Robert Kerlan, who was the orthopedic surgeon of the Dodgers,” Mikaelian said. “It spiked my interest in orthopedic surgery and sports medicine and how a doctor could have a relationship with athletes.”

After 29 years of practice in Racine, Mikaelian retired from Ascension All Saints Hospital on August 2, with Koufax again influencing that decision. Mikaelian, who turns 61 in September, simply wanted to leave when he was on top of his game, just as Koufax did when he won his third Cy Young Award in 1966.

“I always felt in regard to people’s careers that you only have relevancy for a certain period of time,” Mikaelian said. “And I always respected people who could get out on top — people like Sandy Koufax.”

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What a body of work this kind, giving man is leaving behind as he moves into the next chapter of his life (plenty of golf for now, numerous options later). He was recognized by his cohorts as being among the best of the best, but his gift for giving patients a new pain-free life with his skilled hands might have been secondary to the man he is.

“I used to make the rounds with my dad at the hospital when I was a young girl,” said Alexis Mikaelian, the eldest of Myron and Nori’s four children. “What struck me the most when we’d go from room to room is that my dad was able to make deep personal connections with so many of his patients and colleagues.

“He’d greet patients with more than just questions about their condition. He would also discuss family updates, how their kids were doing and, of course, sports at length — especially the Cubs.”

Mikaelian estimates that he performed 8,000 joint replacements and 6,000 other procedures during his career, but on the other end of that spectrum were the number of days of work Mikaelian missed. He said he cancelled surgery just twice in his career because he was ill.

A strong influence

There was a reason for that determination. One of Mikaelian’s grandfathers, Sarkis, went to work for Racine Steel after emigrating to the United States. As Alexis explains: “My father always reminded us that in 50 years of working at Racine Steel, his grandfather had only missed five days of work and three of those were because he had cut off parts of two fingers in a factory injury.”

And so it was with Mikaelian, who attended the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa and started his practice in Racine July 5, 1989. He was always there, with perhaps the most memorable example being his first day on the job.

“The first time I was ever on call in Racine, there as an accident where somebody got hit on a motorcycle by a truck,” Mikaelian said. “So my first call was on a real foggy night and the helicopter couldn’t come because there was too much fog.

“This guy had multiple life-threatening orthopedic injuries and we ended up operating on him for like 18 hours. And he was in a coma for like seven weeks, but he survived. And for years and years and years, his mother used to send me a Christmas card.”

It’s a safe bet there are numerous other Christmas cards from grateful former patients being addressed to Mikaelian every December. Because this is a man who didn’t know the meaning of the word, “no,” even on the morning of April 25, 1991, which is one of the most memorable days of his life.

“I did a knee replacement on the morning of the birth of my first child (Alexis),” Mikaelian said. “I saw the woman about a year ago and that knee is still working.”

There are so many stories of Mikaelian’s benevolence that are making the rounds now that he has retired. One of the most powerful comes from Dr. Goran Jankovic, an orthopedic doctor in Racine.

“This was a good eight years ago,” Jankovic said. “He was planning on going on a vacation, there was a patient he had operated on and he was a little concerned about the patient’s well-being afterward.

“He sent his family off, cancelled his flight and stayed behind. He could have had someone else cover him, but I remember him telling me, ‘This is my patient and this is my responsibility.’ He effectively cancelled his vacation and stayed behind to take care of the patient. When he felt the patient was stable two or three days later, he met up with his family.”

Dr. Michael Martinez, a Racine anesthesiologist whom Mikaelian considers his closest friend — the feeling is mutual — remembers a remarkably patient man during numerous intrusions on Mikaelian’s privacy.

“I’ve been with him 50 times when this has happened,” Martinez said. “We’re golfing somewhere and someone will come up and say, ‘Oh Doctor, can you just take a quick look at my knee?’ Or we’ll be in a restaurant and people will do that. He’ll get up and press on their arm or whatever! I’m not kidding. He does that all that time.

“People feel that comfortable with him where they’ll go up and ask for a consult in a restaurant. He’ll never say no.”

That’s the caliber of man the Racine medical community is losing.

“He’s the best human being you could meet,” family friend Pat Rooney said. “He should have been a priest. He cares about so many people.”

And Mikaelian will continue to do so in his retirement. He wants to work with his wife in many of her local charitable causes, such as soup kitchens and HALO. But there’s something else he has in mind.

“My main thing is to, possibly with Mike Martinez, go to another country and operate on people for free on

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