Sports Medicine Physician Provides His Own Drum Beat

October 31, 2016
Ed Rabinowitz

If Dos Equis was holding auditions for the next Most Interesting Man in the World, Luga Podesta, MD, would be a shoe-in.

He’s a pioneer in the new field of regenerative medicine; has played drums on stage with Sheila E.; and has been a team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers. If Dos Equis was holding auditions for the next Most Interesting Man in the World, Luga Podesta, MD, would be a shoe-in.

Podesta grew up in New York’s Long Island suburbs, torn between pursuing a career in medical illustration or veterinary medicine. But once he learned that for medical illustration he had to not only obtain an art degree but go through medical school as well, that pretty much sealed the deal in favor of veterinary medicine.

But for a young man who grew up playing football and lacrosse, the lure of sports medicine was strong.

“You get hurt enough times, you spend time in the training room, you kind of get a feel for what’s going on,” Podesta says. “That’s kind of what pushed me into [sports medicine]. And I enjoyed it.”

And it has been one heck of a journey to this point.

The music man

Podesta grew up in the small community of Seaford, New York, where the sound of drums emanated from a neighbor’s backyard all summer.

“I began bugging my mom that I wanted to play the drums,” Podesta recalls. “But she said, ‘No way. There’s too much noise.’”

She pushed him instead to learn the clarinet and saxophone, which Podesta played throughout high school and college. And the neighbor who played the drums in his backyard all summer? That was Liberty DeVitto, who would go on to play drums for Billy Joel for 35 years.

But Podesta’s desire to play the drums never waned. The only thing that changed was that he no longer badgered his mother to let him take lessons. Instead, he badgered his wife. But the answer remained the same.

Then, while he was the team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Podesta received a phone call at home on a Monday morning. His wife answered.

“Hi, I’m Greg Bissonette,” the voice on the phone said. “I’m a professional drummer, and I got Luga’s name from the Dodgers.”

Of course, she didn’t believe him.

“She thought I had put one of my friends up to the call,” Podesta says.

But it turns out that while Podesta was working with the Dodgers, Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza was taking drum lessons from—you guessed it—Greg Bissonette who, among other ventures, played drums in Ringo Starr’s band. Bissonette was in Los Angeles for a recording session and couldn’t play for the pain in his arms. He contacted the Dodgers, who provided Podesta’s phone number.

“We became close friends,” Podesta says. “He came over, set up my son’s starter drum set, and started giving me lessons, which were about five hours long every time he came over. And he introduced me to everyone in the drum world.”

The relationship

Podesta says his journey through the music world has been amazing. And along the way he began caring for some of the world’s greatest drummers and musicians, including: Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge and Rod Stewart); Myron Grombacher (Pat Benetar); Tony Pia (The Doobie Brothers); Luis Conte (Madonna, James Taylor and Phil Collins); and Danny Seraphine (Chicago).

“Musicians are some of the most loyal people in the world,” Podesta says. “They send me their friends, relatives, and other musicians. It’s amazing.”

It’s also interesting to compare the injuries athletes experience with those of musicians. In particular, drummers.

“In drumming you see everything,” Podesta says. “You see shoulder problems, wrist and elbow problems; knees, back, ankles and feet. You’re using everything. Repetitive activities lead to repetitive stress injuries. It’s a very physically demanding instrument to play.”

The big difference, he says, is that if a professional baseball player gets injured, he’s still guaranteed his salary. If a musician gets injured and can’t play, he’s replaced.

“It’s a whole different mindset for me to be able to figure out a way to get them to be able to continue to play and perform without hurting themselves anymore,” Podesta explains. “And that’s the biggest challenge.”

Pioneering a new field

Podesta is considered a pioneer in the new field of regenerative medicine, an area of medicine with the potential to fully heal damaged tissues, offering hope for individuals who are unable to or do not choose to undergo surgery.

“Basically, it’s using the body’s ability to regenerate tissue,” Podesta says. “Our body has an innate ability to regenerate tissue.”

He explains that just as blood cells are replenished every few hours, tissue can do the same thing.

“We can get this regenerative ability to regenerate normal tissue,” Podesta explains. “So, if you put it into a tendon you can actually regenerate normal tendon cells. Whether it’s an athlete or a musician, the recovery time is much less after doing one of these procedures. Plus, it gives you normal cells, normal tissue, not scar tissue.”

He cautions that the procedure is not indicated for every injury. For example, if someone has an ACL tear or a complete rotator cuff tear, it can’t be used as the only mode of therapy.

“But you can do it to augment the surgery,” Podesta says, “which can speed up the healing time.”

Having a good time

When he’s not caring for injured athletes or musicians, or improving his drumming skills, Podesta enjoys spending as much time as possible with his family—but that’s not always easy.

Podesta is director of sports medicine at St. Charles Orthopedics in East Setauket, New York, but his two sons live on the west coast and his daughter lives in Boston. Combined with his hectic schedule, it makes getting together challenging.

“I’m at a point now where I really need a vacation,” he laughs.

But Podesta loves the work he does.

“It’s getting people back to what they want to do, functionally,” he says. “That’s the most rewarding, whether it’s a young kid or a professional athlete.”

And the drums?

“My wife tells me not to give up my day job,” he laughs. “But if I could go back and be a musician, I would do it in a heartbeat. I don’t know if I’d make any money doing it, but I’d have a good time.”