• By Dana Sparks

Discovery’s Edge: Serving where needed

August 22, 2017

Dr. Michael Yaszemski in medical scrubs and military uniform
Engineer, Air Force brigadier general, and surgeon: Michael Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., builds research teams and polymer scaffolds to regenerate hope for patients.


Orthopedic surgeon Michael Yaszemski, M.D., Ph.D., dressed in his scrubs, glanced through the window to the operating room. The patient lay unconscious on the table, draped and ready for the doctor to begin surgery. But at that moment an odd sensation passed through Dr. Yaszemski’s head, unlike anything he had ever experienced.

“I suddenly became aware that something bad had happened inside my head,” Dr. Yaszemski recalls now, 10 years later. “I turned around, I told one of the colleagues, ‘I’m in trouble. I need help right now.’”

Dr. Yaszemski passed in and out of consciousness during the next two days. He recalls a priest performing last rites at his bedside. He had suffered a brain hemorrhage, of unknown cause. The doctors who operated on him told him mortality for that kind of event is 50 percent.

“I flipped a coin and it stayed up on the living side,” Dr. Yaszemski says. “Anytime I feel my temper want to rise, I just think about the day I said goodbye to my wife and got the last rites. All of a sudden what I have in front of me doesn’t seem like too much of a problem. Nothing bothers me anymore.”

Surviving, Thriving
While his equanimity and humility are Dr. Yaszemski’s hallmark among his surgical staff and research colleagues, they’ve also helped him be a part of and lead high-functioning medical teams. A nationally renowned spinal surgeon, chemical engineer, and retired Air Force brigadier general, he is a widely-published researcher in the fast-evolving field of regenerative medicine. And he was recently elected to the prestigious National Academy of Medicine.

“His leadership abilities kind of naturally come through in settings where he is able to effectively cross-collaborate, get people to work as a team and do that in the interest of promoting the best care for his patients,” says Dr. Mark Pagnano, M.D., Mayo’s chair of orthopedics. “Dr. Yaszemski is definitely someone who knows how to build an effective team. He’s demonstrated that in the surgical arena and in the research arena as well.” Read the rest of the article on Discovery's Edge.
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