A Publication of WTVP

From Athlete to Orthopedist

by Amy Talcott | Photo by Ron Johnson |
Dr. Miguel Ramirez

The Journey of Dr. Miguel Ramirez

It’s said that our experiences shape us. In the case of Dr. Miguel Ramirez, his experiences have led him to become one of the premier orthopedic surgeons in central Illinois.

Ramirez, 41, was born in the Dominican Republic, the oldest of four children. “My dad, Miguel, worked for Colgate, and we moved a lot,” he said. “We were in the Dominican Republic until I was 10, then we lived in Venezuela, El Salvador, the Philippines … basically all over the world.”

As a teen, Ramirez excelled at sports, specifically basketball, baseball and track. He was so talented, in fact, that he played on national teams for all three, competing throughout Central America. “Being in high school, I was the youngest person on the team, playing in a semi-professional league,” he said. “I ate, slept and breathed sports.”

Miguel RamirezAt 16, Ramirez moved to Austin, Texas to attend St. Stephen’s, a boarding school. His parents “wanted to give me more exposure to sports as well as provide me with better opportunities for a college education,” he said, “and the States was the best place to do that.”

Baseball took him to the University of Kansas, but numerous shoulder and knee injuries limited his progress. “I thought I was going to be a professional athlete,” Ramirez said. “When I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I started thinking about alternative fields. With all my injuries, I had a lot of experience with orthopedic surgeons, and that piqued my interest in medicine.”

Baltimore bound

After finishing up at KU with a degree in genetics, he attended Harvard Medical School, graduating cum laude in 2008. “This was a big deal,” said Ramirez. “Once I realized that athletics wasn’t going to be my career, I had to learn how to study — and that was tough.”

He embarked on a six-year residency in Baltimore at Union Memorial Hospital, The Johns Hopkins University, The Curtis National Hand Center and R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. During that time, he also was one of the team physicians for football’s Baltimore Ravens and baseball’s Washington Nationals.

“That was a challenging time,” he said.  “The hours were long. I had a lot of 30-plus hour shifts … Getting through that and passing the boards was a huge accomplishment for me.”

He would remain in Baltimore for a one-year fellowship under nationally recognized shoulder and elbow surgeon Dr. Anand Murthi. In 2015, he moved to Peoria with his wife, Sarah, whom he met in medical school. Sarah Stewart de Ramirez, M.D., is a central Illinois native with impressive credentials of her own, having practiced emergency medicine before assuming her current position as vice president and chief medical officer for clinical innovation at OSF HealthCare.

A ‘Ramirez shoulder’

Ramirez joined Great Plains (now OSF) Orthopedics in 2015 as a surgeon specializing in shoulders, elbows and sports medicine. “I am the only fellowship-trained shoulder and elbow surgeon between Chicago and St. Louis who performs complex surgeries,” he said, “and being affiliated with OSF as a level one trauma center means we see some of the more severe injuries.”

Phil Jordan of Peoria was referred to Ramirez after another doctor told him his shoulder injury was among the worst he’d ever seen. “Dr. Ramirez had to do a complete shoulder replacement,” explained Jordan, “but he assured me that with a commitment to physical therapy, I could be swinging a golf club in 90 days.

“Even the physical therapists commented that they are easily able to recognize what they call a ‘Ramirez shoulder’,” Jordan added. “That seems like pretty high praise to me.”

Ramirez, like his wife, is an associate professor at UICOMP, and is involved with the National Shoulder and Elbow Society and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, where he is on the subcommittee that dictates the shoulder and elbow curriculum for surgeons across America.

Meanwhile, he serves as team physician for Bradley University and the Peoria Chiefs.

“Dr. Rodriguez has just been unbelievable to work with,” said Elvis Dominguez, the Braves’ head baseball coach. “He’s not only extremely knowledgeable, he’s compassionate, and he’s able to relate to these athletes because he’s walked in their shoes. I’ve been doing this for 36 years and it’s rare to have access to such a great surgeon and amazing individual for our program.”

Remembering his roots

In contrast to treating high-level athletes, an important focus of Ramirez’s career has been trying to bridge the gap between medical care and underserved communities.

“I come from a poor country,” he said. “I have seen firsthand that people of color have worse outcomes.

“Spanish is my first language, so I get particular joy out of seeing the appreciation in my patients’ faces when they have a doctor who speaks their language.”

The Ramirez and Stewart families
The Ramirez and Stewart families

While Ramirez has had many mentors, his biggest influences have been his parents, Miguel and Deyanira, who “grew up dirt poor” in the Dominican Republic “and worked hard to provide their kids with opportunities. They taught us that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”

Ramirez’s brother, Dr. Jose Gomez Ramirez, 38, is an orthopedic surgeon, as well, at Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria. “While I already knew I wanted to go into medicine, Miguel definitely was an influence,” he said. “He opened a lot of doors for me because he had already gone through them.”

‘Enjoy the ride’

While Ramirez may seem like he’s always been on a fast track, his advice to others is to slow down.

“The field of medicine has a lot of very driven people,” he said. “One of the things I’ve learned … is that life is more than just moving forward in your career. It’s about family and friends, just basically enjoying the ride.”

He’s happy to do that in Peoria. “It’s kind of a big small town,” he said. “I like the fact that I can go to a restaurant and bump into somebody I know. Peoria has a culture of community and of helping each other and I really enjoy being involved here.”

The charitable organizations the Ramirez family supports include Friendship House, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Easterseals, the Autism Collective, ART Inc. and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA).

“I enjoy giving back, and I enjoy changing my patients’ lives for the better,” Ramirez said. “I worked hard to get where I am, and I want to pass on to my kids what my parents passed on to me … If you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.”

Amy Talcott

Amy Talcott

is a senior marketing and communications analyst at RLI Corp. and a freelance writer.