Shepherd Center Medical Director Talks About His Goals for the Hospital
Dr. Leslie began his Shepherd Center career in 1983 as a physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation) resident. He joined the medical staff full time in 1986 and became medical director in 2005 after serving in various leadership roles at the hospital.
Q: What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishments as medical director of Shepherd Center?
A: During my tenure, Shepherd Center made its transition from being a spinal rehabilitation center to being a hospital that treats spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular disorders. We have certainly broadened the scope of patients we serve.
I’m glad to have been a part of this expansion. I’ve been riding the crest of this wave for eight years as medical director and for almost 30 years in total at Shepherd Center. In my time here, we’ve seen incredible growth from 40 beds to 60 to 120 to 130 and now to 152. With this growth, we’ve added more staff and more expertise.
Q: What do you still want to accomplish at Shepherd Center?
A: I want to be sure we have ample physician coverage for all the programs we offer and have the depth and expertise we need to serve all of our patient populations. We have just added two more physicians to our full-time medical staff, giving us a full contingent of physician expertise. Including our consulting physicians, we have 173 physicians on staff now. I want to add more physicians in subspecialties, such as nephrology, urology and otolaryngology (ENT). That has given us the depth of physician expertise we need to take care of all of our patients’ needs.
We have also expanded our research at Shepherd Center in spinal cord injury, brain injury and MS. We want to continue that effort. Though I spend most of time in administration and clinical practice, I have been involved with research, including the intrathecal baclofen study with Medtronic. Now, we’re studying several exoskeletal robotic devices to assist people with neuromuscular disorders in walking. There is a lot of promise with this technology if researchers can find a way to manufacture it at a reasonable cost.
Also, I didn’t set out to be a fundraiser for Shepherd Center, but I am fortunate to have some patients and friends who are incredibly generous. These people include Bernie and Billi Marcus, Jane Woodruff, Faye and Lewis Manderson, Tommy and Debbie Malone, Billy and Betty Hulse, and Kayrita and Harold Anderson, to name a few. I’ve never had to ask them to give to Shepherd Center. They have learned about our patients, outcomes, and research and technology, and they give to support it. I serve on Shepherd’s Board of Directors and also the Board of Trustees, and I hope to remain on the latter after I retire from active medical practice.
Q: Why did you choose to devote your career to physical medicine and rehabilitation?
A: As a resident physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., early in my career, I received training in internal medicine and neurology. We treated some patients with spinal cord injury, brain injury and stroke, but I was not introduced to the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation until I came to Emory University in Atlanta. I came to Emory to specialize in neurology, and soon thereafter, the departments of neurology and physical medicine and rehabilitation merged. That change fortuitously brought me to Shepherd Center during my residency training.
At Shepherd, I fell in love with the spirit of this hospital and the staff. Everyone was working to do the right thing for the patients. I now realize every day that working at Shepherd Center is a true gift.
Q: What attracted you to Shepherd Center, and what about the organization has kept you here?
A: Shepherd Center’s mission to restore hope, dignity and independence to patients with spinal cord or brain injury attracted me. Our patient population was even younger when I first started at Shepherd than it is now, but we still largely treat people who are young and otherwise healthy. We work to give them an opportunity for a new life.
The people who work at Shepherd Center, as well as our board members, are some of the most benevolent people I know. They all want to be here. Our mission statement is not just some words on a wall; it’s what everybody is doing every day.
And I was drawn to Shepherd Center because of James Shepherd’s story. James and I are close in age. And, having two children, I can relate to that call that James’ parents, Alana and Harold, got when he was injured.
Q: You will be honored at this year’s Legendary Party, the hospital’s biggest fundraiser of the year. What does that recognition mean to you?
A: The Legendary Party is aptly named because Shepherd Center is truly a legendary place. I see that on a daily basis. People who are injured come to Shepherd for rehabilitation and return to productive, satisfying and happy lives. To offer them what we offer takes a lot of money and benevolence on the part of our benefactors. The Legendary Party is a time to celebrate what we do at Shepherd Center, and to be an honoree this year is absolutely amazing to me.
To be co-honored with my friends, Lewis and Faye Manderson, makes it even more special. Lewis has been a patient of mine for the past 10 years because of back problems. We had a professional relationship that developed into a great friendship. They are wonderful people, whom I admire very much. I am looking forward to The Legendary Party. The money raised through the years from this event has allowed us to provide our patients and their families with value-added services, such as therapeutic recreation and housing on campus, that go over and beyond what other facilities offer. This year, The Legendary Party will benefit the SHARE Military Initiative for injured service members.
Q: What have you learned about yourself and others in the process of treating people with spinal cord and/or brain injury?
A: I’ve learned that when a person sustains a spinal cord or brain injury, or is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the loss is so great and far-reaching. It affects so many aspects of a person’s life. Treating people with these injuries has taught me humility and made me grateful. I used to take for granted the activities of daily living, but not now.
I had an injury myself several years before I joined the medical staff at Shepherd Center. I was snow skiing in Snowmass, Colo., and experienced a traumatic rupture of a disc. I had temporary neurological deficits, including foot drop, and underwent emergency surgery. So I know how frightening paralysis can be.
Interesting Facts about Dr. Leslie:
Experience at Shepherd Center:
Medical Director, 2005 to Present; Associate Medical Director, 1991-2005; Attending Physiatrist, 1986 to Present; Resident Physiatrist, 1983-1986
Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.
Emory University School of Medicine, Mayo Graduate School of Medicine, Mayo Clinic
Baptist Memorial Hospital, Memphis, Tenn.
University of Tennessee
- Dr. Leslie is an avid golfer and has played since age 4. His father was a golf professional.
- He loves international travel and has gone around the world to treat foreign patients.
- Airedale terriers are his favorite breed of dog.
- Dr. Leslie’s parents were a big part of his life. He is proud of the Shepherd Center garden named in memory of his mother, Mavis Pruet Leslie.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.