A Former Athlete, Dr. Laura Lendermon Now Treats Athletes
As a former all-sports high school athlete, a college basketball and tennis player, and now a veteran of 17 marathons, including Boston and New York, Dr. Laura Lendermon understands when patients come to see her with what others might see as minor aches and pains.
It's a quality of life issue.
"I get how it feels to be hurt and I get how it feels to be healthy, so that's why I want to try to help people be on the healthy end of things," says Dr. Lendermon, head of Lendermon Sports Medicine in Collierville. "If somebody comes in kind of whiny and says 'I can only run 10 miles and then I start to hurt,' most people might say, 'Seriously, dude? Get a life.' But when I hear that, I'm like 'I get it ma'am.' Keeping people in their sport is real important to me.
"If I don't work out, I'm not who I need to be. My husband doesn't think I'm who I need to be, either. He'll say, 'You really need to go run.' We have so many stressors in our lives, so if you can get out and exercise and do something that puts you in your good and happy and healthy place, that makes me happy to be able to help you do that."
Dr. Lendermon didn't take a direct route from college to medical school.
In high school at Harding Academy in Memphis, her goal was to be a doctor or a coach. After finishing at University of Tennessee at Martin, she chose in-between and became a physical therapist, a combination of the medical and athletic worlds. After 10 years, she was running a large group of out-patient clinics that involved lots of travel as well as business and financial details.
"I realized that I had gotten my hands away from the patients and decided this is crazy," Dr. Lendermon recalled. "I either need to go really far in business and become an MBA, or become an attorney, or get a little bit farther down the food chain in the healthcare industry, so I decided to go to medical school."
At the University of Tennessee School Of Medicine in Memphis, she met classmate and future husband, Dr. Nav Rangi, now a Memphis anesthesiologist. They have a 17-year-old son heading for UT-Knoxville this fall.
Still wanting to stay connected to the sports world, she then did a two-year primary care sports medicine fellowship after her residency with the famed Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham. (Dr. Andrews, a specialist in repairing damaged ligaments, has become one of the nation's most well known and popular orthopedic surgeons, having helped a number of high-profile athletes.)
In Birmingham she not only rubbed elbows with the stars, but also worked on some as well.
"When I was there, Dr. Andrews would see people like Michael Jordan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, John Smoltz, Drew Brees - it was really neat," she recalls. "I learned a lot about how to manage people and how to manage athletes from the highest pros to the garden-variety Little Leaguer.
"The coolest thing about Dr. Andrews was that, as well thought of and as successful as he is, he treats everybody the same. If you're Michael Jordan he's going to go in, sit down, cross his legs, take his time and hear to your story. And if you're Paw-Paw the farmer in the next room, he's going to go in, sit down, cross his legs, take his time and hear your story. I loved that. If someone asks me what about Dr. Andrews made the biggest impression on me, I'd say the way he treats people."
While Dr. Andrews is best known for his surgical skills, particularly Tommy John elbow surgery for baseball pitchers, Dr. Lendermon says an estimated 80 percent of orthopedic issues can be treated non-surgically. She believes surgery is the treatment of last resort.
Enter the era of regenerative medicine.
"For years my role has been to keep you out of the operating room, and let's say you came to me and said, 'Man, they told me I had to have a knee replacement. What can you do about it?'" Dr. Lendermon says. "I kind of kiddingly had a 12-step approach called 'How to keep you out of the operating room.' So we tried anti-inflammatories, ice and heat, physical therapy, bracing, over-the- counter supplements, and all these things. Then we got to the top of the heap and still weren't where we wanted to be, so we'd hand you over to the surgeon and say, 'Well, shoot. At least we avoided surgery for a couple of years.
"And that's how we were until about five years ago."
Then she heard about a St. Louis orthopedic clinic that had gone from high-volume surgical knee repair to stem cell and regenerative therapy. Dr. Lendermon was intrigued.
"I'm not a big box store," she says. "I'm not Wallmart. I'm a little boutique store that you come to, so I'm on the hunt for anything that's cutting edge and new and the latest. I want to offer you something you don't get everywhere else."
What she offers is autologous stem cells which are taken from one part of the patient's body and are transferred to another.
"With autologous stem cells, we take bone marrow from the pelvic bone above your hip, process that and get the stem cells out of it and put that into the joints that we typically do which are the knees, shoulder and hips," Dr. Lendermon said. "We'll also do it with subcutaneous fat. Believe it or not, there's tons of stem cells in fat. So I tell people, fat is not the enemy. I love fat. If you have fat, you're my friend."
Four months or so later, blood is drawn from the patient and platelet rich plasma is added to the joint to stimulate stem cells to regenerate at a higher rate. A similar treatment is then repeated 10 or 11 months later.
"So we're not getting you a new knee right out of the box that's made of plastic and metal, but we can really turn back the biological clock on your knee," said Dr. Lendermon. "We're not growing new tissue, but I feel that we're healing the tissue you have. If you come in and say I've got a 60-year-old knee that's kind of banged up and beaten up, we basically repurpose the knee and make it much younger than it was previously. I do think regenerative therapy has its niche."
Turning back her own biological clock, as a high school senior Dr. Lendermon had just accepted a scholarship to play basketball at UT-Martin when she got a phone call from coach Pat Summitt, the top name in women's basketball at the time.
"She said, 'Hey, we really want you to play at Knoxville' and I'm like, 'Ohhhhhhh,''' she says, recalling having to explain her dilemma to the basketball icon. "She said 'if you had signed papers at any other school, I could sneak you back up here to Knoxville and you could sit out a year and play for me.' But, she said, 'I graduated from UT-Martin, so if I took you from there I'd be in deep trouble.
"That was one of the blunders of my life, but I later went up there and helped with summer camps and worked as a college counselor. She was a great role model and influence for females."