Doctor volunteer time for rodeo

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The only rodeo Dr. Jeanne Fitzsimmons attended as a youngster growing up on Long Island was in Madison Square Garden.

Now, coordinating a group of physicians who cover Steamboat's twice weekly pro rodeos comes naturally.

"I did my emergency medical training in Buffalo, N.Y.," Fitzsimmons said. "When I finished, I decided to work in a rural area and I thought it would be fun to be close to the mountains."

Fitzsimmons took a job in Montrose where friends on ranches introduced her to gathering cattle and barrel racing. When she came to Yampa Valley Medical Center, Dr. Bryan Bomberg convinced her to get involved with the rodeo series.

For more than a decade, Steamboat has provided free medical care for cowboys who pass through each summer. Yampa Valley Medical Center donates two athletic trainers and a group of nine doctors volunteer their time. At each rodeo, one trainer and one doctor are working.

Emergency room doctor Jeanne Fitzsimmons, who heads the group this year, said almost all the doctors have some connection to the rodeo.

"It's in their past, they have a passion for it, it's an opportunity for them to bring their family and give back to the community," she said.

Along with Fitzsimmons, this year the volunteer doctors include Laila Powers, Bryan Bomberg, Michael Sisk, Dave Wilkinson, Nate Anderson, John Lupori, Lambert Orton and others.
The doctors come from a variety of fields encompassing internal medicine, emergency medicine, orthopedics and plastic and reconstructive surgery.

"I think you have to enjoy it or have some experience with it in the past," Fitzsimmons said.

The sports medicine team of physician assistant Frani Jenkins and physical therapist Fred Manning are the backbone of the operation, Fitzsimmons said. The two are at every rodeo event, along with a Steamboat Springs ambulance crew.

According to professional rodeo statistics, almost 50 percent of major rodeo injuries occur to bull riders and almost 24 percent of all major injuries to bareback riders.

The most common rodeo injury is a concussion, followed by shoulder fractures or dislocations and chest or rib fractures.

The advent of Kevlar vests for all rough stock competitors has made a big difference in the avoidance of serious injuries, Fitzsimmons said.

"They help tremendously," she said. "Without them, there would potentially be more serious chest and internal injuries."

Last year, emergency medical providers treated at least two serious injuries, but both had good outcomes. One cowboy sustained a back fracture, and another suffered a spleen injury.

Having doctors on hand for the rodeo can give peace of mind to those competing.

Cowboys have an aggressive schedule, traveling from rodeo to rodeo for weeks at a time all over the West. And if cowboys can't compete because they are injured, they lose out on the chance to win prize money from the rodeos that they would enter.

"They are reluctant to go the hospital. They have the cowboy up (attitude). They tend to get right up and get right back on," Fitzsimmons said.

For doctors, it is a fine line between making sure the cowboys are taking the right precautions for their injuries and allowing them to continue competing.

"We don't want to miss something, but we also don't want to prevent them from not being able to do what they are there to do," Fitzsimmons said.

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