Personal Stories: Meet Your Top Doctors of 2011

Fifteen respected doctors in our area talk about their passions, plus our Top Docs Hall of Fame

By Elaine Porterfield, Sheila Mickool


June 30, 2011

All Conceivable Options: R. Dale McClure, M.D. (see photo above)

Specialties: Urology, male infertility
Practice and hospital affiliation: Seattle Reproductive Medicine; Virginia Mason Medical Center
Of note: Dr. McClure is director of the Male Infertility and Microsurgical Unit at Virginia Mason Medical Center. He is also a clinical professor of urology at the University of Washington and is past president and a board member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

Why focus on male infertility?
When I was a resident in the mid-70s, not much was known about male infertility or how to mitigate its impact on couples wanting to conceive. I wondered what we could do to improve that and accepted a research fellowship in endocrinology at UCLA to learn more about infertility. Ironically, the goal of the study was to create a male contraceptive.  We didn’t have much luck with that, but I’ve been interested in male fertility since then.

What has been your best patient outcome?
The development of microsurgical techniques (surgery using an operating microscope) has transformed our ability to treat male infertility. In the past, men with no discernable sperm count, a condition called azoospermia, were assumed to be unable to produce sperm. But using microsurgery, we can explore the testes under a microscope and search for pockets of sperm. You only need one to fertilize an egg; we try to find five to 10 to fertilize as many eggs as possible. In one memorable case, a patient appeared to have no evidence of either sperm or testosterone in his semen sample and was presumed to be infertile. Using microsurgery, however, we found pockets of sperm, carefully removed them and fertilized his wife’s eggs. She delivered twins.

Making the Brain Connection: Kyra Becker, M.D.
Specialty:  Neurology  
Practice and hospital affiliation: UW Medicine Stroke Center at Harborview 
Of note: Codirector of the UW Medicine Stroke Center at Harborview, one of the top acute stroke care programs in the nation. She holds appointments at the University of Washington School of Medicine in neurology and neurosurgery.

Why did you pick stroke as a specialty?
I don’t believe I had any conscious reason, but I have to say, when I was in first grade, my bus stop was in front of my grandfather’s house. I stopped by every morning to say hello. One day I went in and he couldn’t talk. He was having a stroke and he was aphasic. I had to run and find somebody to help. The ambulance came at the same time my school bus did.

I was always really interested in the mind-body problem, in the neurosciences from the start. What is it about our organic function that makes us human? Actually, in college, I did a minor in philosophy. Then I realized when I started doing a neurology residency, I really liked seeing [stroke] patients. It’s a virgin field, and you have to make the decisions quickly. You can see the effect of your decisions almost immediately…. How can there be anything more interesting than the human brain?

Children’s Champion: Leslie R. Walker, M.D.
Specialties:  Adolescent medicine, ADHD, substance abuse 
Practice and hospital affiliation: Seattle Children’s Hospital 
Of note: Dr. Walker is chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine. She is the president elect for the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine.

Why specialize in adolescent medicine?
In med school, I discovered that I really enjoyed gynecology, men’s and women’s health and psychology. When I met an adolescent medicine specialist, I realized that this specialty, because of its focus on both the physical and mental health of young people from 10 to 24 years in age, was the right choice for me, given all my interests.

What case was your most mysterious?
One case a few years ago was especially troublesome. A young woman, 16 years old, presented with chronic severe abdominal pain and extreme fatigue. She was routinely too tired to go to school or even to go to the mall with her friends. When the case was referred to me, numerous medical tests had already been conducted, and her medical file was the size of a telephone book. There appeared to be no medical cause for her symptoms, and mental health issues didn’t appear to be a factor either, but something was clearly off. A detailed review of her history led me to reexamine her original EKG and ask a cardiologist to rerun tests. We discovered she had a heart condition requiring surgery. Her condition would have become life threatening in time. Because of challenges like this one, I love my job; I love coming to work every day.

Battling Obesity: Joseph E. Chebli, M.D.
Specialties:  Surgery, bariatric surgery, obesity, minimally invasive surgery   
Practice and hospital affiliations: Northwest Obesity Surgery; Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, Northwest Hospital Medical Center
Of note: Dr. Chebli is the medical director of the bariatric surgery programs at Northwest Hospital and Evergreen Hospital. He was named a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 2004. In 2010, he was designated as an American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence Surgeon.

Why bariatric (weight loss) surgery?
As a resident, I was hooked on mastering the technical challenges of bariatric surgery, which is like reaching the top of the surgical mountain. When I started my own practice, Dr. William Roll, a pioneer in the field, taught me that surgery is only half the equation; caring for patients is just as important. He showed me that advance preparation and a high quality of care before, during and after surgery result in minimal complication and excellent recovery. My practice exploded after I learned this. It’s my life’s work.

What has been your best outcome?
Each patient achieves a personal best. Prior to surgery, obesity is only one of the conditions they battle. Many have type 2 diabetes, apnea, reflux, joint issues and high blood pressure. They may be taking lots of meds to control these conditions. They suffer from social stigma, and the simplest tasks we take for granted, like climbing stairs, may be beyond them. Bariatric surgery transforms their lives; there is no other single intervention that cures or improves their medical conditions so significantly. Moms will see their children grow up. Dads will walk their daughters down the aisle. Some patients even become marathon runners or glacier trekkers. Seeing patients succeed—it doesn’t get any better than that.

Combating Women’s Cancers: Barbara Goff, M.D.

Specialty:  Gynecologic oncology 
Practice and hospital affiliation: University of Washington Medical Center 
Of note: Goff specializes in cervical, endometrial, ovarian and other gynecologic cancers. She is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Her husband, Howard Mutz, is also a physician specializing in gynecologic cancers; he practices at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center, and they are perhaps one of a very few married couples in the nation sharing the specialty.

You’ve undoubtedly had many challenging cases over the course of your career. Have any really surprised you?
I have a practice full of people…with very advanced-stage cancer or tumors that have spread to unusual places. But as an oncologist, I try to treat each person as an individual. Statistics never apply to an individual patient, and I try to do the best for them. Several times of year, you’ll have a patient who you can’t believe how remarkable she is—the cancer melts away and 10 years later, they’re still in your practice and still going strong. To me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of being a doctor

I had one patient years ago from eastern Washington. When she came here, she collapsed and actually had to have emergency chemotherapy, she was so sick. She had thousands of metastases in her body. I told her [when she started her next treatment] we both knew she didn’t have long. But she then went three years with no sign of cancer. We kept repeating her chemotherapy. Another five years went by with no cancer. It didn’t come back. She never, never should have lived.

Serving Wounded Warriors: Andrew J. Saxon, M.D.

Specialty: Addiction psychiatry and general psychiatry  
Practice and hospital affiliation: Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System  Of note: Dr. Saxon has practiced addiction psychiatry with the Veterans Administration, Puget Sound Health Care System for more than 25 years. He is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington and director of the Addictions Treatment Center at VA in Seattle.

Your specialty sounds like it can be professionally and emotionally challenging. what is the most gratifying part of it?
I would say addiction issues have been prominent through human history. What is probably hot now is that we have really developed a scientific understanding now of what causes the brain disease of addiction. I prescribe a lot of medications these days, and they’re very good. I am also a strong believer in the physician-patient relationship. So much of the importance of medicine is the interaction between the patient and the doctor, and how important it is to know people’s stories and know their lives. I think it’s just a very important aspect of healing psychically and physically. If we can help people psychically, then their bodily ills improve. And I really get a sense of satisfaction about serving our wounded warriors; veterans with bodily and psychological traumas. About 30 to 40 percent of patients are homeless. It’s a great opportunity to be of service to people who don’t have much in their lives.


Making the Top Doctors list for one year is an achievement; making it for ten is worthy of our Hall of  Fame. Meet nine extraordinary physicians at the forefront of health care in the Puget Sound region.


Roberta Sherman, M.D.
Family Medicine
The Polyclinic
>> Particularly interested in improving the dynamic between physicians and their patients, Dr. Sherman is credentialed by the American Balint Society to lead Balint groups—physicians who meet to present clinical cases and share experiences with their colleagues. The groups focus on enhancing the physician’s ability to connect with and care for the patient, particularly in situations where the patient interaction leaves the physician feeling frustrated or unsettled.

Kim Gittere Abson, M.D.
The Polyclinic
>> In addition to her busy practice, Dr. Abson is a full clinical professor at the University of Washington, receiving the 1999-2000 Distinguished Teaching Award for the University of Washington Dermatology Department. She has a special interest in melanoma detection, using devices such as the dermatoscope and MelaFind unit.

Douglas P. Hanel, M.D.
Hand Surgery
U.W. Medicine/Harborview Medical Center
St. Louis University, 1977
>> Dr. Hanel has developed new techniques for the emergency treatment of complex fractures, hand and finger amputations and the reconstruction of damaged soft tissue requiring free tissue transfer. He also directs two of the most respected training programs in the country: the Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program and the Hand and Microsurgery Program, both at the University of Washington. He is also the director of the Pediatric Hand Surgery Program at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and is a professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington.

Steven M. Juergens, M.D.
Addiction psychiatry, psychiatry
Overlake Hospital Medical Center
>> Specializing in both general and addiction psychiatry, Dr. Juergens is a Fellow with the American Society of Addiction Medicine, an honor granted only to physicians who have made a great contribution to the addiction medicine field. He is also a psychiatric consultant for the National Football League, and a former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington.

Dennis L. Christie, M.D.
Pediatric Gastroenterology
Seattle Children’s Hospital
>> A pioneer in the treatment of pediatric gastrointestinal illnesses, Dr. Christie is the chief of Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. He was one of the first physicians to use minimally invasive endoscopic technology for the diagnosis and treatment of pediatric gastroenterology conditions.

Charles W. Drescher, M.D.
Gynecologic Oncology
Swedish Medical Center
>> A gynecologic surgeon at Pacific Gynecology Specialists, Dr. Drescher specializes in the treatment of all aspects of gynecological cancer, with a special interest in ovarian cancer and robotic-assisted laparoscopic surgery. He is a board member of the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research at Swedish, as well as co-leader of the Canary Foundation Ovarian Cancer Science team.

Julie L. Carkin, M.D.
The Seattle Arthritis Clinic, Northwest Hospital and Medical Center
>> A founding member of the Seattle Arthritis Clinic, Dr. Carkin is also the medical director of osteoporosis services at Northwest Hospital and Medical Center and a member of the clinical faculty of the University of Washington. Board-certified in rheumatology and internal medicine, Dr. Carkin’s expertise includes osteoporosis prevention, diagnosis and management.

Kathleen C. Y. Sie, M.D.
Pediatric Otolaryngology
Seattle Children’s Hospital
>> Dr. Sie performed the first cochlear implant at Seattle Children’s Hospital in 1994 and today co-directs the hospital’s Cochlear Implant program. She is the director of the Childhood Communication Center, which she developed in 2002 to enhance the multidisciplinary care provided to children with complex communication needs. Sie also directs the center’s Hearing Loss Clinic.

Richard Ellenbogen, M.D.
Neurological Surgery
Seattle Children’s Hospital;
Harborview Medical Center

>> With a special interest in brain tumors, craniofacial anomalies, Chiari Malformations and trauma, Dr. Ellenbogen is chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and fellowship director of neurological surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the chief of neurological surgery at Harborview Medical Center. In addition to his research and clinical practice, he is also the cochair of the National Football League’s head, Neck and Spine Medical Committee.


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