Mountain biker. Sports medicine physician. Patient.
It was the weekend before Thanksgiving in 2017 that Dr. Aaron Anderson became patient Aaron Anderson. Not that he hadn’t injured himself before. There was the split lip and broken finger that occurred during a pick-up basketball game. And the time he rolled his ankle while sledding in high school. But this was different.
Dr. Anderson, a sports medicine physician at Vancouver Clinic, was playing basketball when he pivoted and felt a painful pop. He immediately asked his friend to drive him to the clinic. His colleague, Dr. Chris Lotufo, confirmed Dr. Anderson’s own diagnosis: a ruptured Achilles tendon.
“I was pretty upset,” Dr. Anderson said.
It was a bit of an understatement. Dr. Anderson is, like many of his patients, an athlete at heart. He was a runner in high school and spends much of his spare time mountain biking in Oregon’s Sandy Ridge and Larch Mountain areas, competing in duathlons with his brother, and playing squash a couple times a week. He, his wife, and their two kids are out hiking, biking, and skiing most weekends. During football season, he spends every Friday evening volunteering as the team physician for the Union High School football team in Vancouver.
Several months of inactivity was a tough pill to swallow. Dr. Anderson knew that an Achilles tendon rupture meant surgery and a minimum six-month recovery. It would require time away from his own patients and interrupt his active lifestyle. But it had to be done.
“It was good,” he said, reflecting on the procedure. “I went through surgery, therapy, and recovery and got to experience what my patients go through from their perspective.”
As a provider, Dr. Anderson always strives to treat patients the way he would like to be treated—with lots of hands-on care and empathy. Being the patient affirmed his approach and reminded him just how much effort patients put in to their own recovery.
“It’s hard,” he said. “The visit with your doctor can last 15 minutes, but you have to go out and do all this therapy, which takes weeks and months to get through.”
That grit and determination is one of the reasons Dr. Anderson enjoys his specialty.
“I like the interaction with athletes,” he said. “They’re motivated to compete and motivated to get better when they get hurt.”
Dr. Anderson said he finds it extremely rewarding to help young athletes return to the field and weekend warriors get outside again. Elderly individuals who have arthritis and joint problems may not fit in the typical athlete category, but they’re often committed to doing whatever they need to do to reduce their pain and get back to being active.
Dr. Anderson also appreciates being able to develop long-term relationships with patients. Many of the high school athletes he sees come back to him as collegiate athletes.
“There are kids I still see who graduated three to four years ago,” he said. “It’s a cool to watch them grow up.”
Today, Dr. Anderson’s own tendon is completely healed. He’s back on his bike and getting into running again, too.
“As a physician, as a patient, and as someone who is passionate about athletics, I know how important it is to be able to be active,” he said. “I’m honored to be able to help people improve their wellness, regardless of what their goals are.”