For Richard Alvarez, M.D., board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at UT Erlanger Orthopaedics, practicing what he teaches means changing people’s lives. And when it comes to changing people’s lives, one case in particular has stuck with him.
“I’ll never forget the mom of a patient I had,” he says. “He was a 30-year-old man who had been in a terrible car accident, and had an incredible foot and ankle deformity as a result. We stretched him out, got him to neutral position, transferred some tendons, and made him braceable. His mother was so, so proud. She had a picture of him — he had gotten up from the kitchen table by himself, walked to the door, and stood out by the porch railing where she took the photo. She couldn’t wait to show it to me.”
For Dr. Alvarez, the initial decision to pursue medicine as a career was a simple one.
“I pursued medicine because I thought I would learn something every day, and because I like people,” he says. “Working in orthopaedics, I’m able to learn and have an opportunity to change someone’s life for the better every day.”
Dr. Alvarez has contributed to numerous books and publications, and has served as president of the Orthopaedic Foot Club, and as a foot and ankle consultant for the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, and the U.S. Winter Olympic Team. But it’s in his role as a professor and Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery for the University of Tennessee College of Medicine – Chattanooga where his love of teaching and passion for caring for patients come together on a daily basis.
“Each day, I get to work alongside a team of extremely skilled residents and faculty who are dedicated to providing high-quality care to our patients, and who usually teach me more than I teach them,” he says.
Dr. Alvarez says he likes to push the limits when it comes to orthopaedic care. He had the privilege of performing many of the first advanced foot and ankle procedures in Chattanooga and the state, and to this day, he loves the challenge of figuring out the best courses of action for complicated cases.
“I like seeing patients who’ve been to other doctors who haven’t been able to figure out how to treat them,” he says. “It’s like being a detective on a very difficult case—similar to Sherlock Holmes.”
One area where Dr. Alvarez is able to put his detective skills to work is in helping patients in wheelchairs with serious deformities regain the ability to walk.
“I love to have one of the physicians at Siskin Children’s Institute ask me to see one of their patients who has been in a wheelchair for years,” he says. “Sometimes, they tell me that if I can correct the foot deformity, they can help him or her to walk again. I like that challenge.”
Dr. Alvarez also sees many diabetic neuropathic fractures and rheumatoid arthritis patients, as well as a considerable number of patients who’ve had strokes or traumatic brain injuries. Many of these patients suffer from self-esteem issues.
“They often don’t like to go out in public because they’re self-conscious about how they look when they walk. It’s an embarrassment to them,” he says. “After I treat them, they might not walk perfectly, but they’re able to walk much better. It’s very rewarding to be able to help them do that and make a positive difference in their lives.”
Schedule an appointment with Dr. Alvarez today!