How many Southerners gladly pick up and move north to a place where below-freezing temperatures and blizzards are anticipated and celebrated? Lee Schuh, MD, did. The Georgia native moved his family to Minnesota 13 years ago when he accepted a position at Gillette Children’s.
“The furthest north I had been was Indiana,” admits Schuh with a smile. “So I was a little wary about coming to Minnesota. The transition was made more difficult because we had 7-month-old baby.”
Schuh planned to remain at Gillette for 3 or 4 years, then return to the balmier weather he was accustomed to. But his plan changed when he became a part of the health care provider’s patient-first approach. “At Gillette, patient care takes priority over everything else,” remarks Schuh. “That’s unique in the health care environment we’re currently in.”
Childhood experience shapes a career path
Today Schuh treats older adolescent and adult patients who have cerebral palsy and other childhood-onset conditions. His early years in a Korean orphanage—an American family adopted him when he was 8 years old—inspired him to specialize in rehabilitation medicine. His diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy while in Korea played a part too.
“I was first exposed to people who had disabilities when I lived in Korea,” he explains. “From that point on, I felt there was a way I could help based on my experience as a child who had cerebral palsy. I could have that understanding of people who had a similar disability.”
During his residency Schuh realized a gap existed in cerebral palsy care. It was 1998. “Nobody was providing care for people who had cerebral palsy as they got older,” he remarks. He presented his Grand Rounds on cerebral palsy in adults and began his career-long focus.
Minimizing pain, maximizing function
Schuh says that today, awareness has increased. “It’s not perfect, but there’s improved understanding that cerebral palsy isn’t just in childhood.” He stresses this often to his patients at the Gillette adult clinic. After all, he points out, adulthood lasts far longer than childhood.
“When we think about the future most of us look at six months, maybe one year, ahead,” says Schuh. “We rarely see 10 or 15 years ahead. Most of my ambulatory patients are fine until they’re in their 20s or 30s—then we start to see musculoskeletal effects that accompany aging.”
For Schuh’s patients, this often means pain or problems with function and mobility. “My goal is to maintain or improve function, minimize pain, and if possible, prevent future musculoskeletal effects,” he shares. “That’s been a focus for me.”
Care delivered with a dual perspective
Schuh often draws on his experience living with cerebral palsy when he’s caring for adults. His insights are professional yet infused with a personal perspective. “What I've learned as a patient has been invaluable,” he says. “I understand the difficulties of walking and having falls, some speech problems, and receiving botulinum toxin injections. I’ve tried to incorporate my experiences into my medical practice.”
For example, Schuh tells patients about the benefits he’s seen since beginning to wear leg braces. He also shares his experience with botulinum toxin injections to relieve muscle tightness, called spasticity, when he believes a patient might benefit. He points to a young man so apprehensive about the procedure that he’d cancelled two appointments.
“One year later we talked about the option of adding music therapy to ease his anxiety,” recalls Schuh. “He and his mom started singing Bruce Springsteen during the procedure. He opted to decline the nitrous oxide and tolerated the injections well. It was a highlight for me.”
Reflecting on 13 years
Schuh is thankful that he’s witnessed and furthered the growth of adult-focused specialty care during his career. He’s also grateful for the circumstances that brought him from Korea to Georgia to Minnesota. “I’m blessed to be here. Not many people get the opportunity I did,” he reflects. Schuh says that, 13 years later, Minnesota feels like home. So does Gillette.