Whether playing piano or family chauffeur, speaking Portuguese, or helping patients with joint disease regain their independence, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Cary Sanders has a lot to be happy about.
Story by Dick Baltus, Photos by Robin Loznak
It’s a beast of a people mover, a tricked-out converted GMC Savannah with all manner of both bells and whistles and front and rear seats so far removed from each other they might have different zip codes. Any larger and this thing likely would require its operator to possess a commercial driver’s license, and the Sanders family still uses every last square inch of it to conduct their off-site affairs.
“If you’re a family of eight you can fit in a custom van, but you can’t get nine in a standard vehicle,” says Dr. Cary Sanders, orthopedic surgeon, husband to wife, Katrina, and father to seven kids ranging from 3 to 16. “When we had number 7, we got lucky and found this crazy van that looks like a limo. The first time the kids saw it they were, like, “This is soooo awesome. But it’s awful to drive.”
Sanders laughs heartily before adding saracastically, “We pull up anywhere in the thing and it’s not a spectacle at all.”
In a family of nine, form definitely follows function, and in the Sanders family the functions take many forms. “Evenings are craziest,” Sanders says. “The pick-up and drop-off activities are totally out of control.”
Sanders credits Katrina, his wife of 18 years, for being the “glue that holds the whole circus together. If the kids had to depend on me, it would be, ‘Sorry, you can’t take gymnastics. No music lessons. Nothing.’”
Of course, being a busy physician is a pretty good excuse for being a lousy activity director. Since moving to Roseburg and helping to establish Centennial Orthopedics in 2015, Sanders has seen his practice grow quickly as patients needing joint replacements and other procedures, many of whom were traveling to Eugene for care, have discovered another outstanding option in their own community.
Since moving from the Midwest, things have turned out nicely for Sanders, both at work and home.
Sanders was raised in southern Illinois, the youngest of seven boys in a blended family. Born with clubfoot, he spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices early on. He was too young to be aware of what was transpiring during those visits, but once he was old enough to understand, they made a lasting impression.
“I had a pretty normal childhood; I was running around and playing just like the other kids,” he remembers. “But at one point I was told, ‘Well, this doctor did this surgery and rearranged your foot and now you can walk.’ I was probably in seventh grade when I realized what clubfoot was and that this doctor completely changed my life in one day. I had always loved the natural sciences and thought being a doctor would be a pretty cool thing.”
That feeling was only reinforced when Sanders was introduced to a physician after his parents converted to Latter Day Saints faith.
“His name was Lowell Barrows and I thought he walked on water,” Sanders says. “He was just this unpretentious guy, and he became an icon for me.”
Determined to follow in Barrows’ footsteps, Sanders went to work on his grades (“I hadn’t been Mr. Academics to that point,” he says), and eventually enrolled at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he earned both his undergraduate and medical degrees.
He knew all along he wanted to “fix bones” and, after completing an orthopedics residency at Tulane University in New Orleans, Sanders opened a practice in southeastern Missouri, where his wife was raised. That’s where he thought he would finish his career, but a few years later, he was looking for new opportunities.
Sanders had never been to Oregon, but when a surgeon friend told him about an opening in Coos Bay he got his first impression of the state.
“The Coos Bay opportunity wasn’t what I was looking for, but when I came out here I fell in love with the area,” he says.
Soon after, he was in Roseburg talking with Mercy officials.
“Mercy and Roseburg offered everything we were looking for,” he says. “Roseburg is conveniently located right on the I-5 corridor. It’s close to a decent-sized city in Eugene, but not too close. I grew up hunting and fishing, and that was right out the front door.”
The Sanders family adapted quickly to their new hometown. “Everyone is very happy,” he says.
The slower pace Roseburg offers has even afforded Sanders a little more time to devote to some of his old hobbies and pick up new ones. He has taken up mountain biking since moving, and it has become a favorite pastime. And he has had more time to commit to one of his longtime passions, playing the piano.
As a youngster Sanders took lessons for eight years and got to a point where he “could play, but I wouldn’t call myself good.”
“EVEN OVER SKYPE TO BE ABLE TO LEARN FROM SOMEONE SO ACCOMPLISHED IS AMAZING.” – Dr. Cary Sanders
A turning point came more recently, when he ran across an accomplished classical pianist while browsing YouTube. An email conversation led to an invitation for Sanders to take lessons from the accomplished player via Skype.
“It changed my whole outlook on piano,” Sanders says. “Even over Skype to be able to learn from someone so accomplished is amazing.”
Sanders switched his focus from playing Elton John, Billy Joel and other pop tunes to classical music; his favorites are Chopin and Liszt. “But I still play and sing a lot of Disney tunes with the kids,” he says.
That’s, of course, when he’s not keeping his Portuguese-speaking skills fresh by phoning his Brazilian friends or reading Brazilian newspapers online. Sanders learned the language while serving a two-year mission in Brazil, but doesn’t have many opportunities to use it around here.
There are, however, plenty of chances to help people with often debilitating joint conditions get back to a higher quality of life. Whether the victims of osteoarthritis (“the king of joint destruction”) or just the normal wear and tear of knees and hips brought on by years of use, patients can see dramatic improvements in their level of activity and independence after treatment and/or surgery.
And every time they do, it reaffirms Sanders’ decision to become an orthopedic surgeon.
“I never tire of seeing bones heal or patients being set free after a hip- or knee-replacement surgery. Every time I see a patient walk into the clinic pain-free it makes me happy.”