Surgeons reflect on work with Kobe Bryant, star athlete's legacy: 'We'll miss him'

Orthopedic Sports Medicine

Sports medicine surgeons reflected on Kobe Bryant's legacy after the 41-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash, which also killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others.

Chris Uggen, MD, of Ascension Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Mich., worked with the championship-winning athlete while serving on the Lakers' medical staff during the 2007-08 NBA season, according to 3 WWMT West Michigan. Dr. Uggen was completing a sports medicine fellowship at the time.

The medical staff was on site for hours before and after games, but Dr. Uggen remembered Mr. Bryant putting in even more work.

"He was there well before us, and was there after we had already left and cleaned up. He was one of the hardest workers there of any athlete I've ever worked with," Dr. Uggen told 3 WWMT West Michigan.

Mr. Bryant was also respectful of the medical team, which he relied upon to keep his body in top shape, Dr. Uggen said. Once, Mr. Bryant even got back on the court to make two free throws after tearing his Achilles' heel.

"That mentality, that work ethic, leads to successes in many avenues of life," Dr. Uggen said. "In surgery, it's similar to sport in that it takes practice [and] preparation for the best outcomes, and so that same mentality has gone into me treating patients. And even though I was the low man on the totem pole, on the medical team, I was treated just like everybody else. So we'll miss him."

William Charlton, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Commonwealth Health Physician Network in Kingston, Pa., and Tunkhannock, Pa., worked with the Lakers during the 2000-01 season, when they won the NBA Finals, according to The Citizens' Voice.

Dr. Charlton was completing a fellowship at Los Angeles-based Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, allowing him to gain technical training alongside team physicians Steve Lombardo, MD, Neal ElAttrache, MD, and trainer Gary Vitti.

Dr. Charlton provided medical coverage and examined players during his time with the Lakers. He recalled that Mr. Bryant showed "remarkable work ethic" both on and off the court.

"He had the ultimate focus, which we all know is part of his excellence," Dr. Charlton said in an interview with The Citizens' Voice.

Despite experiencing Achilles' and knee injuries during his legendary career, Mr. Bryant became one of the top-scoring players in NBA history.

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