The Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 24, 2002
June 24, 2002
VOL. 31, NO. 38


Time Out With...
Roger Blumenthal, Physician of the Fairways

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

While ornithology is not his particular field of science, it's safe to assume that Roger Blumenthal has never met a birdie or eagle he didn't like.

Blumenthal, director of Preventive Cardiology and an associate professor of medicine/cardiology at the School of Medicine, was introduced to the game of golf as a child and says it was love at first swing. These days, the lanky cardiologist says that if given a 32-hour day he would likely spend the extra eight trying to stay under par.

The eight-handicapped Blumenthal is director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, which is named for Henry A. Ciccarone, the legendary Hopkins lacrosse player and coach--and avid golfer--who died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 50. In 1989, Blumenthal helped found the Ciccarone Golf Classic, an annual fund-raising event.

Cardiologist and golf enthusiast Roger Blumenthal, seen here putter-ing around the East Baltimore campus, is heading up the medical team for the U.S. Senior Open, which begins today.

A busy father always in search of tee time, Blumenthal this year will have an additional opportunity to combine his two passions, as he will serve as the medical director for the U.S. Senior Open, to be held from June 24 to 30 at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore County.

The "crown jewel" Senior PGA Tour event will feature the sport's greatest living legends, and former President George Herbert Walker Bush is the event's honorary chairman.

Blumenthal, who anxiously awaits the opportunity to meet some of his boyhood golfing heroes, recently sat down with The Gazette to discuss his and Hopkins' roles in the upcoming tournament ... and the game he so dearly loves.

Q. How did the Hopkins connection with the U.S. Senior Open come about?

A. Jim Flick, the general chairman of the tournament, talked to Dean [Edward] Miller about advice on getting a medical director, and Dr. Miller then approached Bill Baumgartner, chief of cardiac surgery, who he knew was an avid golfer. Dr. Baumgartner had to decline because of the work and time involved but suggested that Mr. Flick and Dr. Miller contact me to see if I was interested. I thought it would be a really fun opportunity, but I didn't realize the time commitment that it was necessarily going to entail.

Q. I'm told you're a die-hard golfer, so you probably didn't need too much arm twisting?

A. My father got me started playing golf when I was 5 years of age. I love the sport, and the senior golfers like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were definitely heroes to me growing up, and to many other people. I think it will be a lot of fun for all the doctors who participate.

Q. What are a medical committee's re-sponsibilities for an event such as this?

A. The medical committee is in charge of providing acute medical service with the help of the EMS-trained personnel on site, and arranging for visits to other doctors and specialists off the course, not only for the people who are from out of town--such as the golfers themselves, their family members, members of the U.S. Golf Association--but also the spectators who may not be from this area. We had to line up pediatricians, obstetricians, gynecologists, as well as surgeons, internists, cardiologists, dermatologists. Even a psychiatrist is in our group. Some of the golfers, or their family members, may have a variety of medical conditions, so we want to make sure that we can get them promptly seen without interrupting their participation in the tournament. Also, we expect around 25,000 people each day during the tournament, and I'm sure some of these people have chronic medical problems, whether it be cardiac, lung-related or neurologic, and the heat can play a key role with their conditions.

Q. What are your duties as medical director?

A. I'm in charge of putting together all the schedules of who is supposed to be where and at what time, making sure that we have easy access to people of various specialties. I also make sure that if there are acute situations that we can get the reinforcements out. I will be one of the people in direct contact with all three medical tents.

Q. How do you know the medical conditions of these golfers?

A. We get all that information when they register, whether they have hypertension, diabetes, allergies or things of that nature. We will have a briefing on all the golfers' medical histories, plus some of the members of the U.S. Golf Association. We need to be prepared, especially if they or any of their family members are having problems. For instance, some of the golfers may have wives who are pregnant, or have daughters who may need to see a pediatrician.

Q. How many people are on the medical staff for this tournament?

A. About 120. We want to make sure there is always a surgeon on the course so that if someone needs some suturing if they fall, they can be promptly treated.

Q. How many of the medical personnel are with Hopkins?

A. Probably about half of the doctors and nurses who participate are directly affiliated with Hopkins. What I tried to do was identify doctors here from various specialties who I knew liked to play golf. I also contacted doctors I knew at other hospitals, especially in the orthopedic and sports medicine fields.

Q. What kinds of injuries do golfers typically get? It's not a sport that people often associate with injuries.

A. A lot of it is much more cardiac- and pulmonary-related, dealing with the elements, the heat. Obviously, people can fall and break an ankle, or get a bad laceration or get hit with a golf ball. But a lot of the medical problems in the past have been related to exacerbation of heart problems or asthma, bee sting, bad rashes or things of that nature.

Q. What is the most bizarre golfing injury that you've ever witnessed or heard of?

A. Probably things related to throwing out a disk in the back. I've seen people who may have swung too hard and slipped, or their club hit a rock in the ground and the vibration led to some damage in their back. I've seen one person on a very hilly lie who took a swing and slipped and fell down and injured both his back and leg and fell into a creek. In the heat of competition, sometimes people will try shots that they normally wouldn't try otherwise.

Q. Who plays on the senior tour?

A. One of the nice things about the senior tour is that it has some of the legends that many of us grew up with. People like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer are still competing. Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller are some of the younger members. To be a member of the tour you basically are 50 years or older. This event is probably the last chance a lot of us will get to see people like Palmer, Player and Nicklaus out on the fairways together. An event of this magnitude brings out all the best players.

Q. Are there any special concerns because these golfers are seniors?

A. Certainly, because they are older and it's an extremely hilly course, and usually the last week in June temperatures can get really hot. All big sports gatherings have medical facilities and attention for spectators, but what makes this different--and what I think we are all worried about--is that if someone did have a major health problem during the time of the tournament, heat and dehydration, like I said before, can play a key role in how individuals behave.

Q. What kind of shape are golfers in, as compared to the average person?

A. Golfers are generally in better shape, partly because they realize their livelihood depends on their muscle strength, tone and endurance. Fitness trailers come to each of the senior tour stops, and we will be working with the trainers to make sure that everything is going well. Caves Valley will put a premium on being in good shape just because it's such a hilly course. In the Senior Open you can't take electric golf carts, except when you have a really elevated tee.

Q. How often do you play golf?

A. From June through September I try to play or go to the driving range once a week. However, my wife and I have a 2-and-a-half-year-old son, so it's a little more challenging than it was before he was around. But my son has started to take an interest in golf, so hopefully during the summer we'll take out the plastic golf clubs and hit the fairways together.

Q. Do you get to play with many of the faculty here at Hopkins?

A. We have a cadre of cardiologists who like to play golf. It seems like each year it gets harder to make time for it.

Q. Ever play with any of the senior administration?

A. Stephen Achuff, John Cameron and I got a nice surprise invitation from Dr. Brody last summer to play golf.

Q. Do you know Dr. Brody's handicap?

A. Dr. Brody is an excellent athlete and, from what I understand, an excellent tennis player, but he plays golf sporadically. He has a very good golf swing and a lot of potential to become a very good golfer.

Q. Do you play, or have you played, in many tournaments yourself?

A. I did. I was captain of my high school golf team and played a lot of junior tournaments growing up.

Q. At this point in time, not too far away from the event, what are you most apprehensive about?

A. The weather. I was in Salem, Mass., last June, where they held the 2001 U.S. Senior Open, and they had some extremely hot days, 95 plus. And they also had some lightning. Those are things that will be the biggest challenges. I'm hoping for temperatures around 70 with a nice mild breeze so that we can try to avoid some of the dehydration-related complaints.

Q. What are you looking forward to the most about this tournament?

A. Meeting and finding out a little more about the health histories of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Of course, I want everything to go smoothly. Recently, Jack Nicklaus had to pull out of a tournament because of a back problem. I wouldn't want that to happen here. I think the orthopedic specialists that I recruited will do whatever we can along with the athletic trainers to make sure the golfers can survive the week.