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Personal Narrative From Dr. Guy Danielson

I was born in Oklahoma City in 1942. My dad was a petroleum engineer and so he stayed home to find oil for the war effort and therefore contributed to the birth of me, one of the pre baby boomer generation. My dad went to the University of Oklahoma and graduated in 1938, and my mother went to Oklahoma A&M (now OSU) for two years before leaving school to marry my dad in 1940. As the firstborn son, I would have to admit that I always have had a little sense of privilege, which I most certainly didn’t deserve.

I have very fond memories of growing up in the 40’s and 50’s with a great family and that included a sister, 3 years younger and a brother, 10 years younger. I was usually a good student but of course, my parents never really were happy that I wasn’t a brilliant student. I did have a great girlfriend in high school, she was quite popular and that enhanced my own social status a lot. I had an opportunity to be an exchange student during the summer of 1959 and I went to Germany for four months. That was one of my first opportunities to travel abroad and since then, I have always looked for excuses to travel anywhere.

I decided to go to the University of Oklahoma and I was there from 1960 to 1964. That was during the early stages of the Vietnam era, and I was motivated to pursue a graduate degree. I wavered between medical and Episcopalian divinity school. I decided on medical school even though my major was English and my grades were just good enough to get me in. I did have to take a lot of the required courses as a senior in order to meet the admission requirements.

I met Betty Earnest in the fall of my senior year in college. We were a perfect match. She was a campus beauty with a strong will and desire to succeed and we easily fell deeply in love. We married two years later. Fortunately, we had both grown up in close, loving, spiritual families.

I went to medical school at the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to find that I was quite competitive when it came to making grades. That was probably a result of not having been burned out with too much studying during my college days.

Early on I realized I had a passion for surgery and that continued as time went on. The highlights of my medical education were that I ended up as close to the top of my class in grades and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha honorary fraternity for medical students. Also, I was awarded a surgical externship in Hawaii during my senior year in medical school and I spent two months there, which was quite a nice adventure. At graduation, I was given the Presbyterian Hospital Award for the outstanding student in surgery.

Betty worked as a teacher to support us until I graduated. She was always a very strong and supportive partner. Going through medical school was a great adventure, as we had a lot of friends outside of medicine. We managed to keep in touch with many of them since Oklahoma City, where the medical school was located, was right in our hometown.

Betty’s older brother Dick was a medical student, six years ahead of me. He did a neurosurgery residency at OU. I had always had a deep fascination for anything that had to do with the brain, and so I followed his lead and was accepted for the neurosurgery residency placement after my internship. Dick Earnest, the coolest man I have ever met, was powerful mentor to both us. Unfortunately, he was tragically killed in a plane crash while I was an intern and we resolved to carry on our career plans despite his loss. Within a year we also lost both of our Mothers to cancer.

These events forged a powerful bond between Betty and me, and we both vowed to support each other, and our family, and live a life of love, spirituality and service, living every day as a precious gift.

The six years of residency was a blur of hard work for both of us, and having 2 daughters and a son in between. Professionally, during my residency I discovered a God given talent for neurosurgery and a gift for innovation, which resulted in me pioneering microsurgery procedures. I clipped the first microsurgical intracranial and resume and did the first microsurgical removal of a pituitary tumor through the nose area in the State of Oklahoma during my senior year of residency.

Six days after the completion of my training, our family of five flew to Clark Airbase in the Philippines. I became a Major and the chief of neurosurgery at the hospital there, which was the largest in the Pacific area. Being the only military neurosurgeon in the Far East for two years, it was an opportunity to cement confidence in my surgical skills. Additionally, my desire to strive in developing new and more complex procedures resulted with the first use of microsurgery in the Orient. We also made great, lifelong friends with the fifty other young physicians and their families there.

We used all sixty days of our leave to travel on Air Force aircraft and explore nearly every desirable destination in Asia.

In 1976, after my 2 years at Clark we moved to Tyler Texas to join my dear friend and fellow neurosurgical resident, Dr. Ron Donaldson. We formed a group practice and named it Tyler Neurosurgical Associates. We were true pioneers and the only two neurosurgeons in East Texas. Shortly thereafter I became the first board-certified neurosurgeon in East Texas.

My desire to build a strong tradition of excellence, coupled with my desire to enhance my skill and expertise as a surgeon continued and we were one of the practices that propelled the Tyler medical community to become well entrenched as the largest, strongest and highly regarded in East Texas.

During these busy years, I renewed my relentless desire to explore my earlier study of literature, philosophy, history of science, spirituality, human potential, ancient wisdom, travel and appreciation of the diverse and distinctly different cultures on our planet. Even as early as medical school we were taught the strong connection that existed between the mind and body, and the importance of mental process in contributing to healing of physical illnesses.

I studied many contemplative traditions. In the mid 1980s, I was invited to teach several semesters of a graduate seminar at The University of Texas at Tyler about these areas of my interest. The seminar was called “Studies in the Language of Healing.” I was able to invite speakers from the Easlen Institute in Big Sur California, well known writers, and pioneers in the human potential movement including George Leonard, Larry Dossey, and Joan Borysenko, who were visiting professors and also guests for a few days each, in our farm house in Flint, Texas.

In 1989, I started a stress reduction clinic in Tyler, which was called the Mind/Body Medicine of Tyler. We were affiliated with and trained by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts.

As these principles became incorporated into my neurosurgical practice, I was also aware of, and developed an interest in the newly emerging medical science of spinal disorders. As newer technology developed and the field was in its early stages of growth I decided to pursue a direction and formed a practice that was limited to treating spine and pain problems. This immediately necessitated building a team of specialists in related areas to give holistic patient specialized care and treatment.

For these reasons I decided to leave the Tyler Neurosurgical Associates practice. In 1991, I formed a new group, which was called Spine Care of Tyler. This was one of the earliest multidisciplinary programs for spine and pain disorders in the country. The other founder was Aaron Calodney, a fellowship trained anesthesiologist in pain management, and we added several sports medicine specialists, a rheumatologist, PhD psychologists, a physical therapist Carol McFarland, a Chinese acupuncturist, and a doctor of chiropractic medicine.

A short time later in 1993, Charley Gordon, a neurosurgeon with spinal fellowship training, joined us. Stuart Crutchfield, another neurosurgeon followed in 1995. We then merged with Dr. David Fletcher and his associates to become the Neuro Care Network of Tyler. We were soon one of the largest and most respected groups in the field.

During this period (the mid to late 1990’s) we were working at Mother Francis Hospital. Our group was doing a large majority of the spine surgery in East Texas. At this time I was aware that my neurosurgical friends in Oklahoma City, lead by Dr. Stan Pelofsky, were starting a specialty hospital for spine disorders, named the Oklahoma Spine Hospital. Drs Fletcher, Gordon, Calodney and I purchased an option to buy a building that previously was The Montgomery Ward store in Tyler.

We spoke to architects who evaluated the building and declared it was suitable to be converted into a hospital building. We then began contacting other physicians in Tyler who consisted of two orthopedic groups and several independent specialists to form the initial 45 owners of Texas Spine and Joint Hospital, which opened in late 2002. We have now doubled in space and are one of the most highly respected and awarded hospitals in the state of Texas and in the U.S.

In keeping with my tradition of innovation, I have been involved in and headed several spinal device research projects over the last 22 years. Our group has been involved in several nationally recognized pilot studies on artificial disc replacement in the lumbar and cervical spine. In fact in 2001, I was the first neurosurgeon in the US to implant a ProDisc arthroplasty, which is now the leading artificial disc in the country. I was also a leader in developing and utilizing stereotaxic robotic surgical guidance systems and was the first to use this for surgery in the state. I have performed the vast majority of all the surgical procedures using these systems in East Texas.

Then in 2002 I learned a lot more about neurosurgery for back problems by becoming a surgical patient of Dr. Charley Gordon’s, my partner. I am delighted to say that even though I was not particularly elegant at following my doctors postoperative instructions, I have done extremely well to this date and I’m very grateful for Charley’s expertise. I think that having the perspective of being a patient has given me unique insight into the complexities of recovery and maintenance of a healthy condition through lifestyle.

Of all my endeavors to pioneer the treatment of Spine and Pain disorders in Tyler, I have valued my collaboration and friendship with Aaron Calodney (who is a top leader in his field), and Charley Gordon who has achieved similar status in Neurosurgery.

Of all the things that I am proudest of in this life, I must say that the close relationship that thousands of my patients, their families and I have formed with love over my 40 years in practice is the most gratifying.

I have never abandoned my interest in a holistic approach to my patients. I have studied the newly identified area of neuroscience, which is termed neuroplasticity in great detail. I am constantly keeping abreast of the latest information about diet and nutrition, wellness, physical fitness, mental fitness and stress reduction. Part of this was to establish a treatment center for magnetic stimulation of the brain, which is called TMS. It is used to treat depression and chronic pain. It is still under investigation and will almost certainly be a tool that we will use in the future.

Also, I am active in research projects at the UT Tyler Neuropsychology department and I am working with several of the doctors there about research projects involving Alzheimer’s disease treatment and diagnosis. Additionally, I am involved with the Smith County Alzheimer Alliance as a medical advisor, and we are involved with the planning of a Brain Health Center which will be established here in Tyler.

My short and medium range plans are to continue to practice medicine in Tyler just as I do today. I will transition into consultative work and health coaching in my areas of expertise. I also plan on being more involved with the media as a source of communication, including television and digital media. I am working on one book about neuroscience right now, with probably more to follow.

On a personal note, Betty, my wife of 44 years passed away almost 6 years ago. She was an icon of devotion to her family, her community, our church, and her husband. I have two daughters and a son, all married and living life fully by raising my seven grandchildren, just as lovingly as Betty would have done.

As all my family, co-workers and patients know, I have carried on with my medical practice, which has continued to grow and I am building a wonderful life with another great woman, Sheri, who is now my new wife. Sheri has her Masters in Social Work and is a licensed behavioral medicine counselor and therapist. She was in charge of all behavioral medicine evaluation and treatment for Dr. Calodney and his pain associates for several years. I referred her many patients over the years. I also have been the surgeon for her father, who is a prominent chiropractor and friend, who I have done two cervical fusions on over the last 12 years. I am the proud stepfather to her 3 sons and we are greatly thrilled to participate as elders in our ever growing and amazingly compatible family.

I am also extremely delighted that Sheri has recently completed training at Duke University to become an Integrative Health Coach through their Integrative Medicine Program. Duke is one of a handful of similar programs at major medical schools in the US. Sheri and I both believe that patients themselves have the most power in improving their health in many chronic diseases. Research is showing that Integrative Health Coaching is truly the best hope that all of us as patients have to improve our presently deeply flawed illness and procedure focused system. We both are passionate about partnering with our patients in optimizing their health.

I hope this narrative gives you a little bit more information about my background. I look forward to talking with you and learning more about you.

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