Myers defies the odds to help rehabilitating patients

Atop Idaho’s highest peak, the 12,662-foot Mount Borah, on Aug. 17, 2016.

By Tony Craine

It takes real commitment for an inexperienced climber to try to scale a mountain. When the climber is Jonathan Myers (’05 MD), that commitment is exceptional, for several reasons.

Myers, who serves as medical director of rehabilitation services at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Regional Medical Center in Twin Falls, Idaho, didn’t choose just any mountain—he chose to climb Idaho’s highest peak, the 12,662-foot Mount Borah.

“Fortunately I don’t live in Alaska, or it would be Mount McKinley,” Myers jokes.

He chose Borah because he wanted to do something extra special to create awareness and help raise the $125,000 needed to purchase a Neurocom Balance Master for St. Luke’s. This would save patients in the area with balance and vestibular disorders from having to drive two hours to Boise to use one.

Myers knows from personal experience the value of the Balance Master. In 1999, he was paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal cord injury sustained in a car accident three weeks before he was to start his first year of study at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

Told by doctors in his hometown of Des Moines that he might never walk again, Myers deferred enrollment at the UI to begin rehabilitation. Just nine months later, he traveled to Iowa City to urge administrators to let him return to school.

Jonathan Myers

“My dream of becoming a physician hung in the balance,” Myers says of his meeting with Peter Densen, MD, associate dean of student affairs and curriculum. “I put on my best suit and did my best to hide my limp and other persisting physical impairments. I sat as tall as possible, looked him straight in the eye, and told him I knew I could do it.”

Densen didn’t just welcome him to begin studying; he served as a mentor to Myers, who graduated in 2005 intent on helping patients like himself. He served his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and in 2009 he joined St. Luke’s.

These days, Myers walks with a brace on his leg. Fatigue comes quickly, and spasticity varies. None of that stopped him on Aug. 17, 2016, however, when, after six weeks of grueling training, he and the “Borah 4 Balance” team made the climb and reached the top, just as he’d envisioned it.

“Everything in life is a question of will, not ability,” Myers says. “If you want something bad enough, you can accomplish anything.”

Still, in hindsight, Myers admits that Densen would not have been out of line if he had declined Myers’ request to enroll so soon after the accident.

“But he took a chance on me,” Myers says. “Without him, I wouldn’t be a practicing physician.”

And the patients at St. Luke’s might not have their Balance Master.