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news News Friday, December 13, 2019 Thursday, December 12, 2019 7:50 PM - Thursday, December 12, 2019 7:50 PM

Former Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City patient starts medical school

As Stephen Santora, M.D., retires, his influence continues with the next generation of doctors

Former Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City patient starts medical school

When Skyler was 2 years old, he fractured his tibia after falling off a stage. After recovering from the injury, he continued to limp and complain of pain in his leg and knee. His worried parents sought answers. A specialist at St. Mark’s hospital in Salt Lake City, Stephen Santora, M.D., soon diagnosed him with Perthes disease, a form of avascular necrosis, where the head of the femur has lost critical blood supply, which typically causes significant hip pain and affects mobility. A couple of years later, after various check-up appointments, Dr. Santora moved to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City and Skyler followed him.

A new Shriners Hospitals for Children patient

Skyler describes his experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children — Salt Lake City as amazing. “Every time I would go up for an appointment, I remember the faculty and staff being incredibly friendly and helpful in the whole process,” said Skyler. “I always felt cared for by the doctors and nurses, and looked forward to my appointments in the hospital.” As Skyler grew older, he looked forward to the appointments because he wanted to learn more about his condition and its implications. He also knew he had a team of doctors who were invested in his success. He looked forward to showing the doctors his recent achievements, and they were always excited to hear about them.

Skyler always felt welcome and comfortable going to the Salt Lake City Shriners Hospital for his appointments. He also appreciated that Dr. Santora knew the importance of helping him stay motivated and encouraged him to pursue his goals. Notably, he appreciated that Dr. Santora had the expertise and foresight to know that the right choice was to not operate on him. “Other doctors may have seen the limb length discrepancy and operated at the first possible opportunity,” Skyler said. “Dr. Santora helped me to understand my body’s limits and to know when to rest or when to take a break.” Dr. Santora gave Skyler exercises to do throughout his life which helped him maintain range of motion in his hip and to stay physically fit. “This guidance truly helped me to succeed athletically and to minimize the pain and discomfort that was associated with my diagnoses – both physical and emotional,” said Skyler.

Pursuing his dreams

Skyler didn’t let Perthes stop him from pursuing his love of sports. While growing up he played many sports and chose to focus on football and baseball in junior high school. During high school, one observant physical education teacher noticed his skill for throwing and encouraged him to pursue the javelin. Though Skyler wasn’t sure what that meant, he trusted in the teacher, left baseball behind and joined the track team. 

Skyler became a high-performing athlete in high school and college. Among his achievements are: three-time Big Sky Conference All-Academic, a two-time NCAA Division I All-Academic, two-time Big Sky Conference First Team All-Conference, one-time NCAA Division I All-American and the 2019 Big Sky Conference Champion in the javelin. He also holds the school record at Southern Utah University in the javelin.

The man who made the biggest impact

Dr. Santora said he always felt invested in Skyler’s future. Getting updates about Skyler’s progress was always a delight. “I feel that way about all my kids,” said Dr. Santora. “I’m almost like a second parent, or maybe a grandparent,” he laughed.

Of all the doctors Skyler met through his journey in the health care system, the one who made the biggest impact on Skyler’s experience at the hospital and his life was the one who had been with him since his diagnosis, Dr. Santora. “He helped me to feel like I could overcome the issues that came with Perthes,” said Skyler. “He was always making the funniest jokes, and keeping the environment happy and optimistic.”

Taking the experience of a patient into medical school

Dr. Santora inspired Skyler to pursue a career in medicine. “More specifically,” said Skyler, “is my experience at Shriners Hospitals for Children. Dr. Santora sparked my interest in medicine and in the human body. He was always willing to explain to me why different things were going on and helped me to better understand my diagnosis. He made learning fun and helped me to become a more curious person overall.”

As an undergraduate, Skyler shadowed Dr. Santora, who even wrote him a letter of recommendation for medical school. “He was always very willing to let me tag along and learn from his encounters with other patients,” said Skyler. “I was able to see what an amazing person he is and it gave me a lot of motivation to pursue this career, as well as a lot of goals that I have in regards to my interactions with future patients.” Skyler sees Dr. Santora as a role model, saying that if it weren’t for him and Shriners Hospitals for Children, he wouldn’t be in medical school, and he wouldn’t have had the success he has had in athletics throughout high school, college and beyond.

In the sunset of a long, respected career

After close to 30 years of providing pediatric orthopaedic care for thousands of children in the Intermountain West, Dr. Santora is retiring this month. Seeing patients like Skyler thrive means everything to him. Skyler started medical school at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in August, and Dr. Santora feels honored to have been part of his journey. “It really is one of the best things to see someone have a problem, get through it, participate in sports, go to college, then want to give back to a community – medically or some other way,” said Dr. Santora. “That’s what success is to me. Someone may say, ‘oh you did a lot of surgeries!’ It’s like, yeah, I did surgery, but that’s like carpentry. This is more of the whole person who has come around and turned out to be a good dude. And if he says that part of it’s my interaction with him, then that’s awesome.”

Skyler throwing a javelinSkyler as a child and adult, both with doctor