Behind the scenes at RODEOHOUSTON

f you live in or near Houston, March is the month you pull out your western gear and become a cowboy or cowgirl to celebrate the return of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™. RodeoHouston® has it all – a BBQ cook-off, mutton bustin’ for the kiddos, bull riders, barrel racers and hit music stars.

While Houstonians enjoy the festivities for the entire month of March, the rodeo contestants come to town to compete for three days before moving on to the next rodeo. Sprains, strains, fractures, concussions – these are just a few of the injuries contestants risk when they enter the competition. To continue their sport, contestants need a team of health care professionals to back them up. That’s why Houston Methodist is proud to serve as the official health care provider for RodeoHouston.

In a typical night, the @RodeoHouston sports medicine team averages 60-70 treatments for the contestants. Click To Tweet

Houston Methodist coordinates the RodeoHouston sports medicine team with medical volunteers from across the city to ensure a multi-disciplinary team is available to care for contestants and their families. For the sports medicine team, the show starts long before you find your seat in NRG Stadium. A typical day in the RodeoHouston training room looks like this:

  • 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. – A physical therapist treats athletes and Rodeo staff (think Rodeo clowns and other support staff) for injuries sustained the night before or pre-existing injuries
  • 12:00 – 1:00 p.m. – Lunch break (eat while you can!)
  • 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. – Restock supplies (we go through a lot of tape and ice)
  • 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. – Prepare for the pre-event madness
  • 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. – The competitions usually start around 6 p.m., so between 4 and 6 p.m. is the madness.

In a typical night, we’ll average 60 to 70 treatments for the rodeo contestants. The cowboys and cowgirls come in to ice sore muscles, get therapy for aches and pains, tape their ankles, ask the primary care physician about a lingering health issue like a cold or get the surgeon’s opinion on a recurring shoulder problem. Our team also performs and reads x-rays on-site. 

At the same time, we’re treating the rodeo athletes’ family members. Many contestants travel with their spouses and children, so they need medical care while on the road, too. It may be the husband of a barrel racer with back pain or the son of a bull rider with an ear infection – the team can take care of them all. 

When the competition starts, the contestants know the same team of medical experts taking care of them in the training room will be standing by in case a ride doesn’t go their way. In the arena, two athletic trainers, two emergency medicine/trauma physicians, a team of paramedics and an orthopedic surgeon are ready to provide care if a rider is injured. In case of a concussion, we have neuropsychologist on call to provide an evaluation and treatment recommendations.

When the rodeo is over and the fans are waiting for the concert to begin, the training room is once again packed with athletes coming in to see the medical staff. While not all injuries that occur on the arena floor are serious, they can cause problems if left untreated before the next rodeo in the next town. 

The next day, the cycle repeats. Although the medical staff may change from day to day, we all have the same mission and provide the same level of care for each of the athletes and their family members.

After three days, the contestants move on to the next rodeo, and at the end of March, the medical staff will go back to their normal practices. So, if you’re heading to the rodeo, keep an eye out for the guys and gals in red vests. We’ll be there all night, every night, keeping the contestants at their best. Yeehaw!

Dr. Gene Alford: A Story of Resilience

id you know 60 to 70 percent of surgeons play music in the operating roomDr. Gene Alford, better known as Dr. Gene, is no different. Tucked away in the neurosensory building at Houston Methodist Hospital, the songs of Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Pharrel Williams can be heard from Dr. Gene’s operating room. 

His love for playing music in the operating room came from a surgeon he was training under during his residency in Philadelphia. He also learned each type of surgery has its own genre.

“If I am doing a procedure to remove a form of cancer, I play rock and roll as it needs to be more aggressive. Whereas if I am performing a more delicate procedure I will play a classical number.”

Music really helps to set the tone for the surgery. An operating room can be stressful, but by playing music, he and his team are able to relax and focus on the patient.

At the end of every surgery, he always turns on his “closing music” which consists of dance, disco or funk music. The stress of surgery is over and the entire team can relax and enjoy the success.

What does a surgeon’s playlist look like? Everything from @BrunoMars to #TheEagles. Click To Tweet

So, what does a surgeon’s playlist look like? I asked, and he gave me his top 10 artists:

“Every surgery is different,” said Dr. Gene. “I pause, collect my thoughts and focus on the patient. Once my mind is right, the banter begins and music blasts through the speakers.”

New year, new resolutions

he holiday parties have ended, decorations are coming down and the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s food fest has come to a screeching halt. The start of 2015 is here and with that means an opportunity for many to start fresh. 

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions but can’t seem to make them stick. In fact, according to Forbes, 90 percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution every year and only 8 percent follow through. 90% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution but only 8% follow through Click To Tweet

I asked several of my colleagues at Houston Methodist Hospital what their New Year’s resolutions were. Here’s what they said.

  • I want to beat last year’s FitBit total. – Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist


  • Take advantage of the bike trail in my neighborhood and use it at least 30 times in 2015. – Dr. Angel Rodriguez, breast medical oncologist
  • Run at least 1,000 miles this year. – Dr. Mauro Ferrari, president and CEO of Houston Methodist Research Institute 
  • Take all my allotted vacation days and advance the field of telementoring in the OR. – Dr. Brian Dunkin, endoscopic surgeon and medical director of MITIE
  • Have less “electronic” time and more family time with my fiancé, Lisa and my two dogs, Cinny and Toti. – Dr. Joshua Harris, orthopedic surgeon
  • Strengthen my spirituality, strive to be a better person and participate in triathlons, injury-free so I can competitively participate in 2016. – Dr. Gavin Britz, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Houston Methodist Hospital
  • I would like to spend more time brainstorming with my postdocs, reviewing their data, troubleshooting protocols and critiquing their scientific communications. I also intend to learn a dozen new BBQ recipes.– Dr. John Cooke, director of the center for cardiovascular regeneration and chair, department of cardiovascular sciences

Don’t forget to check back with us next year to see who kept up their resolutions throughout 2015.

The value of childbirth classes

Despite being intensely type A about everything in my life, I am “that person” that consciously avoids listening to anyone talk about giving birth. When women share war stories at baby showers (which they all love to do!) all I hear is “la la la la la …”

I intentionally stopped reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting when it got to “those” chapters, and I actually got physically ill reading about my “cervix ripening.” As a result, everything I knew about giving birth came from the movies and TV.

Spoiler alert: It’s nothing like the movies and TV, which focus almost exclusively on a few minutes of pushing and voila! A baby arrives! Mom and Dad lovingly embrace; end scene.

At 30-plus weeks pregnant, it was time to get registered for both breastfeeding and prepared childbirth classes and a parenting series at Houston Methodist Hospital. For the breastfeeding class, I came to the hospital for a two-hour session (surprisingly, I was one of the only women without a husband in attendance.)

I furiously took notes and tried to absorb as much information as I could. Luckily when my baby arrived he had a great latch, and the class came in handy. Even still, I worked with the lactation consultant in the hospital, and even had a lactation consultant come to my house.

It’s one thing to go through the motions with a doll. It’s another thing to try it in the hospital, with a team of nurses at your side. It’s a whole new ball game when you’re at home, by yourself, engorged and sleep-deprived. I never would have made it through the first few months of breastfeeding without the information and support I had in advance.

For the prepared childbirth classes, I did bring my husband. The class is typically offered over four weeks, but we opted for the two-day cram session. I was by far the farthest along in my class, but that just meant I didn’t have as much time to forget what we learned!


We spent the first day talking about the phases of labor, contractions and breathing techniques. We even practiced breathing through simulated pain (our husbands pinched our arms.) I always planned on getting an epidural, but during this class I foolishly told myself, “I have a fairly high threshold for pain. I have run two marathons. Maybe I’ll just hold off on getting my epidural until I really need it.”

As it turned out, I went into labor before the second class, and I really needed my epidural before we even got to the hospital. I am a big wimp. Once I did get it, there was no need for breathing through contractions – I barely felt them (or anything else)!

What I valued most about the class was the mental preparation. I finally knew what “effacement” and “dilation” meant – even though I still get queasy just looking at those words. I knew how long my contractions were going to last and how much time I’d have in between each one. I also knew what to expect in the event of an emergency C-section.

I pulled back the curtain behind the mystery of labor and delivery, and armed myself with the information I needed to get through the most important day of my life, my baby’s birthday.

‘Tis the season to serve others

uring the holidays, it is easy to get absorbed in expensive gift giving and lose sight of the true meaning of the season: giving back. This year, instead of investing your time and money in retail stores, consider investing in a charitable organization or a family in need.

Here at Houston Methodist, employees shape the greater Houston community through the
I CARE in Action program by volunteering their time and providing their expertise and passion to assist others at organizations like the Houston Food Bank, Houston’s Children’s Charity and the Houston SPCA. This year-round program demonstrates Houston Methodist’s I CARE values of Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Excellence.

These local organizations support Houston families throughout the year and need your support this holiday season.

1. Houston Children’s Charity: Every year, Houston Children’s Charity receives thousands of applicants seeking adoption at Christmas and each year individuals and corporations throughout the city step up to the plate and adopt families of varying sizes. Sign up with a group of friends, family members or co-workers and sponsor a local family in need. (Volunteer opportunities available for Houston Methodist employees through the I CARE in Action program.) 

2. Houston Food Bank: Many Houston-area children eat one meal a day – their school lunch. During the holidays, many families struggle to pay bills and put food on the table for children who normally eat at school. Fortunately, organizations like the Houston Food Bank are able to provide support for these families in need. Last holiday season, with the help of many generous Houstonians, the Houston Food Bank was able to provide 1,627,115 nutritious meals for children, adults and seniors who struggle with hunger. Join them in the fight against hunger this holiday season and throughout the year. Volunteers are essential to the mission of the Houston Food Bank so they are always in need of more volunteers, but will also accept monetary or non-perishable food items donations. (Volunteer opportunities available for Houston Methodist employees through the I CARE in Action program.)

3. Michael E. DeBakey Houston Veterans Administration Hospital: Houston’s DeBakey VA Hospital brings greatly needed programs and services to thousands of military veterans in our community. Help them lift the spirits of America’s heroes this holiday season by donating an item from their wish list to ensure that every in-patient veteran receives a gift.

4. Eileen Murphree McMillin Blood Center: The Eileen Murphree McMillin Blood Center at Houston Methodist transfuses more than 50,000 components each year to support the needs of patients with cancer, blood disorders, and a host of other conditions, as well as those undergoing surgical procedures. This holiday season, share the gift of life by making a donation at the Eileen Murphree McMillin Blood Center. When you make one blood donation, you can save up to three lives.

5. Houston SPCA: The Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s mission is to promote commitment to and respect for all animals and free them from suffering, abuse and exploitation. Help them continue to carry out their mission by donating items such as newspapers, towels, pet food and pet toys. If you want to add to your family this holiday season, consider fostering or adopting a pet. (Volunteer opportunities available for Houston Methodist employees through the I CARE in Action program.)

The time volunteers spent giving back in 2013 was worth an estimated $163 billion Click To Tweet

“It is great to volunteer during the holidays, but it is more important to give your time throughout the year,” said Ryane Jackson, community benefits manager at Houston Methodist, who oversees the Houston Methodist I CARE in Action Program. “Unfortunately, people’s needs are not confined to a single season. There are so many different ways to give back – people just have to take the time to find where their passion lies. Whether it’s helping children, the homeless, cancer survivors or abandoned animals – the possibilities are endless, and there are plenty of people in need of support.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the time volunteers spent giving back in 2013 was worth an estimated $163 billion. Additionally, the value of volunteer time combined with private giving accounted for just under half a trillion dollars. Whether you decide to donate time or money, you will be making a huge difference in someone’s life.

Forrest Gump and chaplaincy care

Bill was an atheist—the card carrying, self-proclaimed, unambiguous kind. When he was admitted and the nurse asked religious preference, Bill said, “Look, I don’t have a religious preference because I don’t have a religion. And no, I don’t want chaplaincy care. I’m an atheist. A-T-H-E-I-S-T.”

During my morning rounds, a nurse in Bill’s unit asked, “Hey, Bob, would you go see Bill? I need to tell you though, Bill’s been very clear that he’s an atheist. I don’t know what you’ll get when you go in there.” She said Bill had a very serious diagnosis, but never had any visitors and seemed to grow more despondent with each passing day. Despite her warning about Bill’s views on religion, I was glad to see him.

I knocked and a voice invited me in. As soon as I finished introducing myself, Bill said “Whoa,” as he raised his hand to the “talk to the hand” position. “I’m an atheist. I don’t want to pray or anything like that. I’m not a believer, but you were kind to come in.”

“Yes, your nurse told me about that already,” I explained. “It’s really OK. Actually, if you are up for a visit, we don’t have to pray or anything like that. I respect that you are an atheist. I just had heard that you were having a tough few days and wanted to check in on you as a way of offering friendly support since I was already here making my rounds. We don’t have to talk about anything spiritual at all. I’d just like to visit you as a friend, if that’s OK.”

My momma always said, Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

To my surprise, Bill was quite willing to talk as a friend. We had a lively, pleasant chat about several topics from weather and pop culture to his general experience so far in the hospital. When it seemed that the conversation had run its course, I began my usual process of bringing things to a gentle conclusion, but I had a nagging feeling that I needed to pray for Bill. I continued to wind the visit down, but this feeling continued to nudge the edges of my consciousness.

I was determined to respect Bill, but because of the insistence of this feeling, I decided to draw on the friendly conversation of 25 minutes and just ask him. I said, “Bill, I need your help. We’ve had a great visit, but now that I’m trying to leave, I have this persistent feeling that I should pray for you. I know, I know. Prayer isn’t something that resonates with you. I am definitely going to respect your beliefs, but this impression within me just won’t go away. I am not sure what to do.”  

Holding my breath, nervous that I had shredded our tenuous friendship and waiting for Bill to decline my prayer, I was amazed to see tears well up in Bill’s eyes as he looked toward the window. “Oh, I wish you would pray,” he said. “You see, I really want to pray, but I’ve got nothing to pray to.”

Now, it was my turn to get teary. “Well, Bill, we can definitely pray. What do you want me to pray for?”

After I got a run-down of what he wanted said in the prayer, we joined hands and prayed together.

I never heard from Bill again, but I never forgot him. It was one of the most powerful pastoral encounters of my entire career. Forrest Gump was right: you never know what you’re going to get. 


*Bill is not the real name of the patient. The patient’s name was changed in order to ensure patient privacy. 

Gingerbread house brings joy to all

he holiday season is officially in full gear. For many families, decorating a gingerbread house is an annual holiday event and at Houston Methodist Hospital we are no exception. What started as an idea back in 2006, has now become the norm for patients, their families and employees to enjoy during the month of December.

Gerardo Rosas, pastry chef at Houston Methodist Hospital, teamed up with other members in the hospital to create a life-size gingerbread house that would be put on display in our hospital lobby. His vision starts becoming a reality in September and takes about three months to complete. Gerardo sketches his design and works closely with the carpentry department to create a plywood frame that holds the cookie house together.

Some of the key ingredients used to complete his masterpiece:

  • 200 pounds of powdered sugar
  • 4 gallons of egg whites
  • 1 pound cream of tartar
  • 8 ounces of almond flavor
  • 80 pounds of candy
  • 45 sheet pans of gingerbread. 

Once the frame is complete, Rosas goes to work rolling out 45 sheet pans of the gingerbread and starts designing the house. He takes the gingerbread and turns it into the logs and stone to create a cabin like feel.

Our gingerbread house contains over 200 pounds of sugar and 4 gallons of egg whites Click To Tweet

After he lays the gingerbread on the framework he begins icing and decorating the house using 80 pounds of candy. Each year his design and vision are different from the last. The roof is made of 50 pounds of cake icing. To ice and decorate the entire house it takes about two weeks.

The Monday after Thanksgiving Rosas and his team begins to assemble. The house is wired with electric lights, some of which can been seen through the gelatin windows. The carpentry department builds a picket fence, installs the lit Christmas trees and wrap the fake presents.

“I do this for the patients,” said Rosas. “The holidays are a time to be merry and bright and I want them to feel at home. A gingerbread house feels like home to me.” 

The gingerbread house process

Planning the gingerbread house:

Planning the gingerbread house

Cutting the gingerbread:

Cutting the gingerbread

Making the house:

Building the house

Decorating begins:

Decoration begins

The front of the gingerbread house finished:

The front of the house is complete

The completed gingerbread house:

The completed gingerbread house December 2014

The completed gingerbread house December 2014

Recovering from a sports injury

 have been playing football since I was 10 years old. Like most football players, I’ve had sprains and scrapes, but had never experienced an injury that kept me from the game I love. But during a game in 2013, I felt the fear and panic that comes with a season-ending sports injury. 

I’m the starting center for Rice University. Rice and the University of Houston have been sports rivals for years, and the teams have played an annual football game since 1971. On Sept. 21, 2013, we were playing against UH at NRG Stadium. We lined up to kick an extra point when my right arm was caught between our long snapper and a UH player. I felt the weight crushing down on my arm and saw the doctors rushing toward me, but it took me a moment to feel the pain and realize that my right arm was broken in several places. Intense pain was all I could feel, and all I could think was that I’d just experienced my final play of college football.

I was taken off the field and had X-rays taken at the stadium before being transported via ambulance to Houston Methodist Hospital. Dr. Shari Liberman was on call that night. By the time I met her, I was panicking about everything – using my arm again, finishing college, playing football, getting a job, having a normal life. Dr. Liberman calmed me down and explained the extent of my injury and exactly how she was going to fix it. She didn’t sugarcoat anything and told me recovery would be hard, but that regaining normal use of my arm was possible.

I've played football since I was 10. In 2013 I experienced the panic that comes from a sports injury Click To Tweet

I needed surgery as soon as possible, but we had to wait four days for the swelling to go down. Dr. Liberman planned to put my arm back together using titanium plates and screws. However, during surgery she found that the titanium wasn’t going to work because the thread on the screws was too fine for the extent of my injury. She removed the titanium plates and screws and replaced them with stainless steel. Eight hours later, the surgery was done. I stayed in the hospital five more days for observation and treatment.  

For the next two months, my arm was in a locked brace to give the bone time to heal properly, but the brace made even simple tasks difficult. I had amazing family and friends supporting me, but I could not wait to get that brace off. As soon as the brace came off, I started rehabbing with Ricardo Young, a certified hand therapist at Houston Methodist. When Ricardo first started working with me, I was barely able to move my arm because I’d lost so much muscle strength. I had therapy nearly every day for several months and slowly regained my strength and mobility.

Before I knew it, I was able to start training with the Rice athletic staff. A few weeks after that, I was able to work out with the football team again. In June 2014, less than a year after that fateful game and play, Dr. Liberman cleared me to play football again – just in time to start practicing for the 2014-15 season, which will be my last as a Rice college student. 

After such a severe injury, I thought I would never play again, but I’m a starter! It was a feeling of relief and excitement to be back on the field with my teammates. I don’t even worry about my elbow – I just play football. And, it’s all thanks to Dr. Liberman and Ricardo. Go Owls!

A nurse from birth: Shella Shook’s story

I lived with my grandmother until I was four years old. I do not remember doing the things she told me because I was too young, but I fondly remember the stories she told me about how I have been a nurse since I was 3 years old. 

She said I would brush her hair and fix it for her. She said I would get a bottle of lotion and rub it on her feet and legs and massage her feet for her. All of this was without prompting, completely self-initiated. 

shella shook2
At an early age, Shella knew she liked taking care of people and that a career in nursing was in her future.

When I was eight, I remember visiting my great aunt and uncle. My great uncle would always wear polished shoes. I thought his shoes needed polishing, so I went about polishing his shoes. When I was done he gave me a dollar, which surprised me because I did it out of love. Whenever they visited I always tried to carry their luggage for them, and my uncle would laugh at me and tell me his luggage weighed more than I did and he would take it.

Later in life, I attended San Jacinto College knowing I needed a skill and a job as fast as possible. The counselor told me the quickest step to a job was one semester to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), so off to EMT training I went.

shella shook1
In her 22-year career, Shella has worked in nursing homes, cardiac step-down units, post-anesthesia care units (PACU), extended-care units, and hospice units from coast to coast.

My instructor, Mr. Richard Bowling, who I will never forget, mentored me. During this one short semester, he set me up to assist with BLS (basic life support) instructing and allowed me to help with planning programs in the class. 

Mr. Bowling then told me I did not need to be an EMT; I should be a nurse. I explained I did not have money for school and the waiting list for nursing school was a year. He asked me if I would be willing to go to nursing school if he helped me. My answer was yes!

Mr. Bowling gave me the number to Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and told me they would pay for my classes, books and uniforms to go to school for my Licensed Vocational Nurse training. I could hardly believe it — all I had to do was pass.

Now the only hurdle left was to get into the nursing program. Mr. Bowling asked the president of San Jacinto College to write a letter of recommendation to the nursing department asking them to place me in the next semester, and it happened. 

I fondly remember stories my grandmother told me about how I have been a nurse since I was 3 years old Click To Tweet

Twenty-two years later and I have worked in nursing homes, cardiac step-down units, post-anesthesia care units (PACU), extended-care units, and hospice units from coast to coast. I worked as a floor nurse for the majority of my nursing career, and five years ago moved into the management role. I have finished my master’s degree in Nursing Administration from UT Houston Health Science Center as magna cum laude and recently completed my Nurse Executive Certification from the ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center).

Shella is now the Nurse Manager of the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) at Houston Methodist Hospital.

Six months ago I started working at Houston Methodist Hospital as the Nurse Manager of the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). I have yearned for the culture that exists here at Houston Methodist my entire career — a culture of integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence. This culture has been at my core since childhood, caring for others in a compassionate manner. I am grateful to find Houston Methodist Hospital and to work where the goals, mission and vision are consistent with mine.

I have searched for Mr. Richard Bowling to let him know where I am now and the immense impact he had on my life by seeing something in me and encouraging me to pursue a life’s passion that started when I was a mere three years old.

This piece is part of a continuing series of why our employees chose their professions. Click here to read more.