Top Doctors 2017
Our annual Top Doctors list features winning physicians in 72 medical and surgical specialties throughout 417-land.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.
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Top Doctors is a nomination-based project in which we ask physicians in the area to vote for doctors in various specialties. We ask the doctors to vote for the physicians they would trust to care for their family and friends—experts who exemplify excellence in their specialties.
This list is a service to our readers, giving them a doctor’s perspective regarding the top doctors in dozens of specialty areas. The list is intended to allow patients to see and celebrate their doctors who make the list. It also gives health care seekers a place to see doctors highlighted for achievement and reputation, and can be a great tool for finding the right doctors for their needs.
To complete this nomination project, 417 Magazine has contracted DataJoe Research to conduct nominations using an online ballot for collecting, vetting and tallying the votes. DataJoe Research is a survey/research company specializing in data collection and verification, and conducts various nominations across the United States on behalf of publishers.
Only licensed doctors practicing in 417-land were eligible to make the list.
A Decade of Healing
On the brink of kidney failure, Greg Dagnan went to Dr. Leslie Hamlett at Freeman Kidney Center for help. She treated him through his sickest days and saved his life.
By the time Greg Dagnan went in for a kidney transplant, his kidneys were at 3 percent function. His doctor, Dr. Leslie Hamlett at Freeman Kidney Center in Joplin, immediately left the room to call Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Dagnan received a new kidney on July 29, 2010. But his story begins long before that.
Dagnan grew up watching many people in his family, including his mother, suffer from polycystic kidney disease. He was tested for the hereditary disease in his youth and was told it was unlikely he would have it. In his 30s, Dagnan was teaching full time at Missouri Southern State University when he started having odd symptoms. He contracted gout. He suffered from fatigue. He went to the emergency room for a kidney stone, and that’s when he discovered his kidneys were in bad shape.
Dagnan started seeing Hamlett and was one of her first patients in 2008. At that time, his kidneys were between 50 and 60 percent function, but he was only getting sicker. He went in to see Hamlett every quarter, and every quarter his function percentage was lower and lower. Dagnan had become the Chief of Police for the Carthage Police Department, so he was working as much as he could and trying to hide his illness. But Hamlett knew he needed to get on the list for a transplant, and soon.
The search began for a donor match. Everyone in Dagnan’s immediate family wasn’t a match, so the search had to expand. “From my perspective, I didn’t want anyone to give me an organ,” he says. “I’m the guy that helps people. But my wife was handing out cards to everyone we saw with a number to call to see if you were a donor match. Barnes-Jewish called me and said, ‘Enough! We’ve tested 13 people; one has to be a match.’” Dagnan was at home catching up on emails when he saw one from Tricia Wadell, a former student of his. She was working for the Kansas City Police Department, heard about Dagnan’s situation and went to Barnes-Jewish to get tested. She was the perfect match. Dagnan was hesitant at first. “She’s just starting her career—she’s going to be gone too long,” he thought. “I told her no. But she said, ‘I’m not giving you the option.’” Dagnan and Wadell both had successful procedures.
Now, seven years after the surgery, Dagnan considers both Wadell and Hamlett members of the family. “In 27 years of law enforcement plus this illness, I’ve been around a lot of doctors,” Dagnan says. “Medical care with her is by far the best I’ve ever received. It’s always clear to me that she is an incredibly caring person.” Hamlett feels the same. “I’ve taken care of him for the last nine years,” she says. “I’ve seen the lowest points and highest points. My favorite part of my job is the relationships I develop with patients and their families. A patient can come in with a threat of dying, and I can immediately save their life.”
A New Hope
After decades of debilitating pain, Dena Carver had reached the end of her rope. But Dr. Troy Morrison, a Top Doctors winner in spinal orthopedics and sports medicine and in arthroscopy orthopedics at Citizens Memorial Hospital, helped her return to living the life she loved.
For Dena Carver, a Polk County juvenile officer, pain loomed over daily life and had for years. “I just had always hurt,” Carver says. Born with spina bifida occulta, Carver developed spondylolisthesis, the condition when one vertebra slips forward onto the one below it, causing agonizing pain. She saw numerous physicians, each of whom offered the same treatment—pain medication—with practically no hope of long-term solutions. The years came and went, and Carver’s pain and hopelessness intensified. “I looked like a 100-year-old woman walking across the room just because I was all bent over and couldn’t straighten up,” she says.
One day, Carver’s husband mentioned a co-worker who experienced great success with Dr. Troy Morrison, an orthopedic surgeon at Citizens Memorial Hospital’s Parkview Orthopaedic Clinic. She booked an appointment, expecting the same answers she’d heard for years. Morrison remembers her frustration and exasperation. “She was about to give up,” Morrison says of Carver. “She felt like she was going to be reduced to chronic pain and pain medications and a lifestyle that she absolutely did not want.”
Morrison developed an expertise in minimally invasive spine surgery during a fellowship at the Texas Back Institute. He gave Carver hope. “He said, ‘I think I can do something about this,’” she says. He proposed spinal fusion to stop further motion of the disc and believed getting her off pain medication was possible “I went home with my husband, and I’m like, ‘There’s just no way this can be true. I’ve been told ‘no’ so many times,’” she says. “It was a huge leap of faith.”
In that leap, Carver says Morrison’s reassuring manner made a difference. “He was always so kind and so patient in making sure that I understood exactly what was going to happen, how it was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and [he gave me] realistic expectations afterwards of what I could expect,” she says. For Morrison, those interactions are crucial. “I think that’s the most important part,” he says. “It’s so easy to really concentrate on the spine and what’s causing the pain or not causing the pain and forget about the person that’s all around that spine. So that’s something that I continually with every day and every patient think about. I’m not operating on a spine. I’m operating on a person.”
In October 2012, Carver underwent the surgery, was placed in a brace and told to walk as much as she could—which she did that very day because the surgery was done in a minimally invasive manner, meaning Morrison went in through the abdomen so no muscles were severed during the procedure. “It lets them get up right away and move around literally hours after surgery, so they get back to their normal life a whole lot quicker,” he says. After physical therapy and rehabilitation, Carver did exactly that. She took scuba diving trips, went backpacking for a week in Colorado and reveled in life’s simple pleasures, including playing with her grandchildren without pain. “I have a wonderful story,” she says. “Mine ends really great, and I owe it all to him. I am just so thankful and so grateful for him.”
For Morrison, such feedback is deeply rewarding. “That is really why I do what I do,” he says. “It gives me the opportunity to really connect with people at a time in their life that they can be completely hopeless. They are very vulnerable. And for God to give me the opportunity to be his instrument in not only fixing somebody’s back but also actually loving them and taking care of them is really special.”
It Takes A Village
Born at 26 weeks and two days, Toby Armstrong was welcomed into the world with a plethora of complications. But thanks to a team of caring nurses, several therapists and neonatologist Dr. Marie McGettigan, MD, MS, MHA of CoxHealth, he’ll celebrate his first birthday next month.
September 23, 2016, was a highly anticipated day for the Armstrong family. It was the day Amber and Brad were expected to welcome their second baby into the world. It was the day Carson, age 2, was going to become a proud big brother. It was the day the happy family of three would become an even happier family of four. But on June 19, 2016, those plans changed.
Amber had visited the hospital twice before this date due to complications. “I was having some problems bleeding, and the second time I came in, I had some fluid coming out,” she says. “That third time I came in, it was Father’s Day at 9:30 in the morning. My water broke. They were telling me, ‘Yep. Your amniotic sac is busted, and it’s not going to stop.’”
Ten hours later, the Armstrong’s new baby, Toby, was born at 26 weeks and two days. He weighed 937 grams, or 2 pounds, 1 ounce. Amber had a severe infection in her placenta, which was a contributing factor in the baby coming early. “He was appropriate for his gestational age,” says Dr. Marie McGettigan, MD, MS, MHA, a neonatologist at CoxHealth. And although he was in the 75th percentile of most 26-week-old babies, his early birth still came with several complications.
Toby was born with respiratory distress syndrome, meaning his lungs were not yet fully developed. The doctors also soon discovered that his ductus arteriosus—a fetal blood vessel in the heart that typically closes soon after birth—was patent, or open. “It did not close with two medicines, and that meant we had to do something else to close the PDA to avoid further damage to his lungs,” Dr. McGettigan says. On July 5, Toby was sent to a cardiologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to fix this problem. That operation was successful, but he was a very sick baby when he came back just over three weeks later. “It took a very, very long time for him to get stabilized,” Dr. McGettigan says.
From July 27 to December 5, Toby remained in the NICU at CoxHealth. And it was during these crucial months of care that he touched the heart of not only Dr. McGettigan, but also of the many nurses, therapists and others. “I’ve been here 32 years in May,” says Lisa Westerman, a registered nurse who served as Toby’s primary night shift nurse. “He’s one of the most memorable little boys I’ve ever taken care of.” Brenda Garrett, RNC-NIC, BSN who served as Toby’s daytime nurse, agrees. “I remember when I first got him to stick out his tongue for me,” Garrett says. One of his night shift respiratory therapists, Carol Cummings Smothers, remembers Toby’s instant mood shift when she’d see him. “Every time I would walk in the room he’d start acting ‘better,’” she says. This high level of care from the hospital team and the parents makes all the difference. “The whole thing about primary nurses and respiratory therapists who know the baby—they can really help troubleshoot and make them more comfortable,” Dr. McGettigan says. “For him, it was great when his primaries were on.”
Toby was transferred back to St. Louis on December 5 for several other surgeries, and he was finally discharged home on December 18. He still needs oxygen assistance and a feeding tube, plus he receives 40-hour-a-week care from Phoenix Home Health Care nurse Angie Clamors. But he’s going to be okay. “The doctors and nurses pretty much got me through it all,” Armstrong says. “I’d be so down, and I wouldn’t think I could make it, but then I’d look down at him, and he’s fighting for his life.” And while Armstrong credits the hospital team, Dr. McGettigan is quick to return the praise to all involved. “There’s no way this happens without full cooperation of the team—the team here and the parents,” Dr. McGettigan says. “The parents are so important. If the parents are involved, the babies do so much better. They have a much greater will to live.”
Strength From the Heart
Dr. Stephen Meyer at Mercy Joplin has been treating cardiovascular patients the same way for 18 years: with no room for doubt.
Todd Camerer was driving across the country from New England when he started having severe leg pain. Instead of pulling into his own driveway, he drove directly to the Mercy Joplin emergency room. He told the staff about his leg pain, leading them to test for common leg ailments. But Camerer had carotid artery occlusive disease, and the doctors discovered his carotid artery was clogged. That’s when Dr. Stephen Meyer came into the room.
Meyer learned Camerer had also been having mini strokes and quickly scheduled him for a carotid artery surgery in his neck. The surgery was in November 2015 and started Camerer on a path of four operations in 15 months. Camerer admits he was nervous before his first surgery, but Meyer put him at ease. “Every time I saw him, I was scared to death,” Camerer says. “Every time he walked in the room he had this air of confidence. He knew exactly what I had and exactly what he had to do to fix it. I felt confident in his diagnosis.”
During Camerer’s neck surgery, he had a severe reaction to dopamine that caused his heart to fail. Meyer decided to schedule him for a triple bypass surgery. “They got me prepped and gave me a pregame speech,” Camerer says. “[Meyer] still had that confidence and just looks at me and says, ‘We’re going to fix you.’” The standard recovery time after a triple bypass surgery is five to seven days. Meyer visited Camerer on the third day and told him to go home. Camerer remembers his doctor’s tough love. “He said the hard part is done, and you need to go home to heal,” Camerer says. “People want to baby you after surgery and make sure you’re okay. But the way he treats it is you need to be babied before because that’s when you feel bad. After you’re out of surgery you’re fixed.”
Camerer joined his family for Christmas celebrations and even went back to work after a couple of months. But his vascular disease was still causing problems. In February 2016, he went in surgery for stenting in his left leg. At the time his right leg was not significantly simptomatic, but soon Camerer lost feeling below the knee in his right leg. In February 2017, he had his fourth surgery: a femoral bypass in his right leg. Through every surgery, Meyer’s confidence never wavered, which made a big impact on Camerer.
“It’s to the point now that he walks in like a great football coach,” Camerer says. “He wants you to go fight the world. The confidence he has rubs off on you.” Meyer’s confidence comes from 18 years of experience. He learned early in his career that vascular surgery doesn’t always start and end with the heart. “With disease, we may treat one problem, but it doesn’t make the whole problem go away,” Meyer says. This assessment is also true in Camerer’s case. “I still come back every six months to make sure [my arteries] are still flowing,” Camerer says. “I’ll see Dr. Meyer as long as he’s practicing and I’m alive.”