Fit Physicians

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They’re living the healthy lifestyle they prescribe to their patients. Meet five doctors who are setting the bar for the rest of us.

Dr. Eddie Horger: Pediatrician, surfer

Dr. Eddie Horger knows he won’t be surfing today. From rounds at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in the morning to a long day in his own office and back to the hospital, the Wilmington pediatrician won’t be home before dark. But he still checks the waves when he sits down at his office computer.

A two-minute escape to his homepage has to be enough to satisfy him most days. Whether the tide is gently lapping against the sand or the waves are swelling up offshore, on most work days his custom Greg Eavey longboard will stay packed away in his garage. He can only dream about the sand, the sun and the waves. “I love to surf,� says the 45-year-old Horger. “I’d ditch this in a minute if I could make the circuit.� Fortunately for thousands of Wilmington children, Horger’s not a world-class surfer. If he were surfing in Costa Rica with a Billabong sponsorship, who would provide the comfort, expertise and compassion to all those kids?

Horger’s office on Wellington Avenue reflects his relaxing personality. An inspiring hand-painted mural by Deborah Cavenaugh shows children frolicking in the surf. Horger had one suggestion, though, when he first saw all the beach babies – the artwork needed a little diversity. Cavenaugh happily obliged, and now the mural more clearly depicts the utopia that Wilmington could be.

Office workers say Horger is adored by his patients. Their words are backed up by an award from the readers of Wilmington Parent magazine, who voted Seaside Pediatrics a Family Favorite for 2007.

In fact, one of his patients admires him so much that he dressed in a lab coat and wore a stethoscope around his neck for Halloween, proudly proclaiming that he was Dr. Horger. That would sit well with the doctor, even though he made a conscious decision long ago not to wear a white coat. He might, however, be seen in a pair of reindeer antlers if they can help him brighten a child’s day. “Sometimes a kid will tell me a knock-knock joke, and I laugh,� Horger says. “It’s a two-way thing.�

Horger’s been making kids smile since he was barely a teenager. He babysat for neighborhood kids before graduating to swim instructor and eventually lifeguard. It was almost predestined that he would become Dr. Horger. And he would do so at the University of South Carolina. In his family, there are eight doctors dating back to post-Civil War South Carolina.

Once Horger entered medical school, he had no doubts about his specialty. While his fellow students were considering whether to be surgeons or podiatrists or oncologists, Eddie had no deliberations. He knew he wanted to work with children. That doesn’t seem like so long ago to Horger, but when he started treating some of his former patients’ children, he realized he’d been doing this for a while. He worked for 10 years in a partnership before starting a solo practice, one that has significantly cut into his surfing time.

Even when he does get to ride the waves, Horger is still connected to his patients. He leaves his cell phone with his towel on the beach, but in the back pocket of his board shorts – wrapped in two plastic bags and set on vibrate – is his pager. Even if the waves are 8-feet high and rolling in consistently, Horger will be on shore in less than five minutes if he’s needed.

Most days, though, his board hangs dryly on the rack in his garage.

While Wilson, his 14-year-old son, might get to spend a couple of hours in the surf on a rocking summer morning, Horger will often be at the office, pining for a few hours in the sun, but knowing he’ll have to do his surfing on the Internet.

– Mike Voorheis

Dr. Ron Harper: Cardiologist, fitness buff The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. An impish grin slides across cardiologist Rob Harper’s face as he tells the story. “Just today, a patient said to me, ‘You look like you practice what you preach.’�

Dr. Harper sits back in his chair, thinking about the irony of his patient’s observation. The slim build, the bright eyes and the pink in the cheeks suggest the ticker in his chest beats as robustly as the day he was born. He talks enthusiastically about his responsibility to ensure his patients’ health. And for him, that commitment means setting the example – which he does rather easily.

Harper might even be mistaken for the poster boy of good health. He appears years younger than his 49 years. “Whatever I’m doing,� he says, “seems to be working.� Chalk it up to his lifelong practice of running, weight training, weight control, healthy eating habits and maintaining a positive attitude, the very prescription he issues patients. “These are things I actually do,� he says, “and it enhances my credibility if I can show them I’m doing the same things.�

Harper has an even more personal reason for keeping tabs on his health. Heart disease runs in his family, so as the father of two teenage sons, Will and Jay, he walks the talk. With that in mind, Harper co-chaired the 2007 Cape Fear Heart Walk for the first time after years as a participant. Robert McIver, a patient, served with him as co-chairman. The two had struck up a friendship during McIver’s convalescence after having a heart attack. Harper marvels at McIver’s determination to adopt healthier habits. Says Harper: “I preached about all the things he needed to do, and he made drastic lifestyle changes.�

That’s got to make Harper’s heart skip a happy beat.

– LeeAnn Donnelly

Dr. Kathleen Leone: Ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, Pilates enthusiast You might be more familiar with a family physician or a cardiologist spouting off healthy advice, but Dr. Kathleen Leone, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, also sees the effects of unhealthy practices in her patients. Just as with other health-related issues, she sees problems that are a result of diabetes or hypertension. But when she encourages her patients to be more active and eat better, she knows what she’s talking about. “I tell them it isn’t easy for me, either,� she says. “I have to work at it.�

She would know. Growing up with three brothers, she played softball and basketball as a girl and was lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy when she completed her medical training. But, years later, as a full-time physician, wife and mother of four, she realized she should be taking better care of herself. Dr. Leone joined a group of friends five years ago who got together to play tennis. “It’s great,� she says. “I loved the opportunity for exercise and camaraderie.� This July, her team placed second in a statewide competition at Pinehurst. She rounds out her tennis practice with two Pilates sessions a week with instructor Colleen Edgerton. “I go early, before work,� she says. “I like it because it’s a great whole body strength and stretching workout.�

Leone also watches what she eats – even if her family isn’t always happy about it. “My kids love to go over to other people’s houses because we don’t have a lot of junk food,� she says. “About the worst it gets for us is microwave popcorn.�

She believes her efforts are already making a difference. At 45, she feels healthy. “I know at a certain age, most people start to feel stiff. I still feel fairly agile. By staying limber, I’m also decreasing the chances of taking a fall, which also helps your health.� Her advice to parents is to get kids involved with activities. “When a physical program gets imprinted on their mindset, they carry that with them throughout their lives.�

– Allison Ballard

Dr. Sean Reese: Chiropractor, triathlete Dr. Sean Reese gives his patient a little warning then he drops his shoulder on the man’s stretched leg, creating that satisfactory audible crack in his spine. Reese is a former football player, but the treatment looks more like a wrestling move. Unlike the shoulder drops in professional wrestling, however, this one is designed to bring relief instead of submission.

It’s no accident that Reese became a chiropractor. He says he’s played nearly every sport that involves a ball – from baseball, basketball and football to recreational rugby and cricket. He even sailed from Darwin, Australia, to Indonesia in 1993. Though four knee surgeries have limited his sports, Reese is still on the move. Having two kids under age 3 is sport in itself, but he still insists on running and biking.

He realizes not every patient at Sea Coast Chiropractic is going to have washboard abs in their 40s – some just want to bend over far enough to pick up a grandchild. “I tailor-make exercise programs for every patient,� Reese says, recognizing that not every patient is really doing the prescribed 100 back stretches a day. Reese, 42, also understands that not all patients have the same threshold when he’s torquing their backs. He certainly has the strength to pop a spine. But he knows when to back off a little.

“That’s the art,� Reese says. “And that has taken some time to develop. The force I use on my wife is less than I’d use on somebody else of the same age.�

Chiropractic is a way of life for Reese, who stresses that movement is the goal of his practice – his treatments instantly move the muscles, bones and tendons, and they encourage long-term mobility.

He certainly understands the struggles with finding time to exercise. In addition to raising a family, running his own practice and working out up to five days a week, Reese has a hobby. Every Friday and Saturday during football season, he dresses up in zebra stripes and lets folks yell at him for hours. Being a high school and Division II college football referee, he says, isn’t quite as contentious as one might think.

Once, a college coach argued with Reese over whether a ball carrier had scored a touchdown or had gone out of bounds just before the end zone. The coach promised to look at the film and let Reese know that he was wrong. It turns out he wasn’t. But Reese jokes that he’s become an expert at handling criticism. “I’m married,� he says.

Though football season is over, Reese has not slowed down. In addition to biking and running, he’s in the pool more often, preparing for a June triathlon in Charlotte. Reese said he enjoys the raw competition of sport, whether he’s refereeing a football game or just throwing darts in a pub.

Reese enjoys the raw competition of sport, whether he’s refereeing a football game or just throwing darts at a pub. “It’s just ‘gimme your best,’� Reese says. “Two guys or teams have practiced hard and they want to know who’s got it.�

And sometimes it’s just one guy competing against himself. “It has nothing to do with finishing first or finishing last,� Reese said, pausing briefly before reconsidering. “No. No one wants to finish last.�

– Mike Voorheis

Dr. John O’Malley: Orthopedic surgeon Medicine is a family business for Dr. John O’Malley, whose father and three siblings are physicians.

He chose orthopedic surgery as his field, though, because he appreciates the mechanical, technical aspects of the practice. The same methodical approach he uses to reconstruct joints and limbs serves him well in his life, too. In the early 1990s as a resident at State University of New York at Stony Brook with little time for himself, he ran to stay in shape. It was an efficient choice, providing benefits in cardiovascular exercise and stress relief in a short amount of time. “It made me feel better and I liked staying fit,� O’Malley says.

These days, despite a full-time practice and four children, he’s a swimmer and an avid tennis player. When his wife, Jada, wanted to get back into shape after having the children, she asked him to help her expand her running program. “It’s a good thing to train together if your spouse is motivated by the same things you’re motivated by.� O’Malley ran the New York City marathon years ago and in Virginia Beach two years ago.

Although he doesn’t plan on competing in another marathon, he keeps sharp at 46 by running in four local races a year, such as the 8K Lakeside Classic. Another aspect O’Malley enjoys about his work is that many of his patients are committed to active lifestyles. (In fact, during his sports medicine fellowship, he worked with the Philadelphia Eagles.) “They break or tear something, and after you repair it, they want to get back to a healthy lifestyle,� he says. It’s advice worth following.

– Allison Ballard

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