Shortly before our interview is set to begin I receive a call. An urgent, unplanned surgery has just come up and Dr. Pereles has asked if we can push back our meeting 30 minutes. I tell Dr. Pereles, who insists I call him Tom, that won't be a problem. For Tom, this is just another day at Augusta Health.
Tom spent his early days as a child growing up in the Maryland suburbs outside of our nation's capital where he attended public schools. He graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD before going off to study at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where he received his degree in Chemical Engineering.
If you ask Tom what he's most proud of, it's not graduating summa cum laude from Penn, or going to med school at Harvard Medical School, it's his family. Tom is a family man who has worked extremely hard to raise his three children and be a good husband to his wife Susan. This can be a challenge at times due to the extremely demanding nature of his profession but he puts in the work to try and keep a balance between his family and his career.
Trying to get Tom to share a bit more about his own background, I ask him of what accomplishment he's most proud.
His face lights up as he pauses to reflect on the accomplishments not of himself, but of his kids and wife. His older son is studying journalism at one of the premier journalism schools in the country (Northwestern). His daughter is a talented soccer player involved with the US Olympic Women's Soccer program. His younger son is a local spelling bee champion who finished 11th in the Scripps National Spelling Bee championships. And his wife performs charity in several different outlets including a local church where she's able to make an impact on the lives of people in our local community here in the Shenandoah Valley.
We're well into the interview before Tom ever even stops to talk about his own story, the one I'm here to write about. After much prying, I'm able to get Tom to open up and talk about himself for a moment.
Tom has some talents of his own, talents that extend beyond his work at Augusta Health. He's involved with the local theater community and has performed in local shows such as Mary Poppins. He has also won gold, silver, and bronze medals in international Open and Masters swimming competitions.
Following his residency in New York City, Tom was considering his options. He'd spent the majority of his life up until this point in and around some of the largest cities in the nation and wanted to see what else was out there. He received a call one afternoon from somebody seeking an orthopedic surgeon at Augusta Medical Center (now Augusta Health). He was intrigued because while there may be bigger money to be made in larger cities, there was a genuine need for people with his skill set in an area like the Shenandoah Valley.
Once Tom and Susan visited the area, they knew this was where they were meant to be. What they saw here was an area of immense beauty filled with amazing people. One of the things Tom said makes the people in the local community so great is not only their willingness to work hard but also their genuine desire to do the right thing. This is something that stuck with them and something he still sees every day as he interacts with his patients and the staff at Augusta Health.
Tom got into orthopedics because he loved to tinker with things as a kid and wanted to find a way he could use this curiosity to help people. He would take apart his lawnmower just to learn how it worked and then put it back together. As he was investigating the different areas of medicine, he was drawn to orthopedics because as a joint surgeon he would not only be able to help people but he'd also get to work with his hands – rebuilding a hip or knee joint isn't all that different than rebuilding a carburetor.
Tom shares with me a story of a patient who had come to see him who had been suffering from debilitating joint issues that were making it nearly impossible for him to get around. The patient had seen all of the best experts at another local hospital before coming to Tom desperate for something, anything, that would help.
Tom learned everything there was to learn about this patient and then started researching what options existed. He identified what he believed was a way to finally bring some relief to the patient to get back to his active lifestyle and discussed it with him. As with any surgery, there was some risk involved, but he believed this had the potential to make a difference. And make a difference it did – following the surgery and physical therapy, the patient began making huge progress. It no longer hurt to simply move around and do the things many of us do daily that we take for granted – getting up out of bed in the morning, going up and down stairs, or even just walking to the mailbox to get the mail.
It's these stories of success for his patients that make it worth all the late hours and missed soccer games for Tom. Knowing that he's truly making a difference in people's lives is the ultimate reward.
Tom's passion for people and for the younger generations is obvious so I asked him what advice he would give to youth today that may be interested in a career in medicine.
"Don't pursue medicine because you want to make money and be your own boss. There are many different ways to make a living and provide for your family and if that's your entire driving force, you may not find fulfillment. Go into medicine because you want to help people and make a difference in their lives."
As I consider the stories Tom has shared with me over the past hour I realize he's stayed true to his word. Amidst the chaos of unexpected surgeries and buzzing pagers, Tom has found a way to make a difference in one more life – my own. He's taught me that even after a lifetime of great accomplishment, there's even greater honor in humility.
Dr. Pereles and the other orthopedic experts at the Augusta Health Joint Center are ready to help get back your active lifestyle. If you're ready to take action and get on the road to recovery, call us today at (540) 332-5047 to talk to one of our experts and take the first step to taking back control of your life!