Orthopedic Surgeon Runs to the Beat of His Own Drum

September 30, 2015

Charles Edwards II, MD, had every intention of entering into a traditional medical practice when he completed his residency and fellowship. He really did.

Charles Edwards II, MD, had every intention of entering into a traditional medical practice when he completed his residency and fellowship. He really did. But first he decided to take a year and study at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore under his father, a prominent spine surgeon.

So he went to Baltimore … and never left.

Edwards, who today is the medical director at The Spine Clinic at Mercy, says that the year working under his father helped him realize that he could best achieve his professional goals not at a larger university, but at a smaller, community-focused hospital like Mercy.

“At Mercy I’m able to both advance research but also remain very personally involved in the care of patients,” Edwards says.

And he’s been actively on the run, literally and figuratively, ever since.

Avid Marathoner

Edwards has actively participated in marathons in each of the last 16 years. And in the last 9 years he has run them in Europe as well as the US. It’s a means to stay healthy, but offers the doctor other benefits as well.

“It’s a time to reflect and focus on what I should be doing that day, and it’s a good time to collect my thoughts in a way that I’m not distracted with any other obligations of life,” Edwards explains.

His favorite domestic marathon is the annual event held in New York City. Running through each of the five boroughs, the excitement of running in Manhattan, and being cheered on by the different ethnic groups in Brooklyn and Queens is an experience he believes will never be equaled in marathon running.

However, the depth of experience he received running in Europe was on a whole other level.

“You get to know these other cultures, not just as a tourist, but on foot, running through their cities,” Edwards says. “I’ve run across bridges over the different canals in Amsterdam, and through the streets of Dublin, where people would yell, ‘Brilliant,’ to the runners, which I thought was charming.”

But his most memorable European marathon was his first in 2006 in Athens, Greece.

“It just had a timeliness that was so inspiring,” Edwards recalls. “To think that this was where the first Olympics was held over 100 years ago.”

Mentoring Factor

Edwards also uses running to relate to and build stronger bonds with some of his patients as they will often run together. Mentoring, he explains, is a major part of the work he does.

“I spend a good part of my Thursdays away from the office in mentoring relationships with younger and middle-aged men who are seeking to live their lives well, and to fulfill unique designs for their lives,” he says. “And also as a form of ministry, I am very involved in mentoring other professional men.”

Effective communication, Edwards says, is critical in the work he does. For many of his patients, their spinal condition has not only affected their neck or back, but has profoundly affected their life and the lives of those around them.

“I see people with chronic neck and back pain often losing their employment, gaining weight, becoming depressed and unfortunately, not an uncommon end product of that, addiction and divorce,” Edwards says. “And so with that broader context, it’s very easy to see how a patient coming to me is being affected not only with the pain, the numbness, and the weakness arising from a particular spinal condition, but has a much broader holistic pathology, which is intertwined with and has results from their spinal condition.”

To fully understand a patient’s condition, Edwards says he needs to be sensitive to not only their physical findings, their MRI images, but to the broader state of their life as the condition has far reaching implications. And since it is his goal to restore the patient not only to feeling better, but to having a more healthy and full life, then he needs to have an understanding as to the depth of the pathology that they find themselves in.

“And that,” he points out, “comes primarily through intentional observation and listening.”

A Large Shadow

As noted, Edwards’ father, Charles Edwards, MD, has done groundbreaking work in the field of orthopedics, and specifically in the subspecialty of spinal reconstruction surgery. It’s not surprising, then, that as the younger physician entered the field of medicine he was very uncomfortable with the prospect of following in his father’s footsteps.

“As a very accomplished surgeon and researcher who was very well-respected internationally, I did not want to to feel as if I had taken the easy path and followed his footsteps,” Edwards explains. “So I rather intentionally pursued a residency in Atlanta for five years where I had other mentors, and I was able to begin my own resume of accomplishments independent of him.”

When he returned to Baltimore at age 32, Edwards came back just only as his father’s son, but as a confident spine surgeon with his own list of experience and accomplishments. That brought him into partnership with his father, which he says was a much healthier relationship from which to begin working.

“Working with him has been a rich gift to both of us,” Edwards says. “To be a resource where we unquestionably support each other. Where we have a very open and honest relationship. I invite him to join me as a co-surgeon in my unusual and challenging surgeries, as he does with me. And those are opportunities for us to not only provide the highest quality of care to our patients, but also to challenge each other to develop superior technique and to continue to sharpen each other’s skills as surgeons.”

Having an Impact

Edwards feels he is very fortunate in that the care he provides makes a tangible impact on the quality of life for his patients and their families. When they return to his office following recovery from surgery, he feels “unspeakable joy” seeing them stand straight, walking without pain, and looking forward to the joys that life affords.

“The hugs and smiles that I receive as they graduate from their post-operative care to a new life which was only a distant hope even a few months before is very encouraging,” he says. “It’s what motivates me to keep doing what I’m doing.”