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Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals

Extended: Madonna matters to me

September 15, 2017

Dr. Robert Buchman (right)  joins Dr. Samuel Bierner, medical director of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program, in front of the Madonna Omaha Campus residency office. Dr. Buchman’s generous gift to Madonna helped make the Omaha Campus and the residency program a reality.

Note: This is an extended version of Dr. Robert Buchman's article featured in the Fall 2017 issue of The Independent, Madonna's quarterly magazine

A reflection by Dr. Robert Buchman, retired thoracic surgeon
Generous Madonna donor
2015 Madonna Vision Award recipient

When I first came to Lincoln in 1972 to join the thoracic surgery practice of Dr. Steve Carveth and Dr. Herb Reese, I often checked on the group’s patients who had been sent to Madonna. I immediately encountered Sr. Phyllis Hunhoff, who was the hospital president at the time. She would go on rounds with me.

It became pretty apparent to us as physicians that the patients, who were sent to Madonna, tended to recover and go home and the ones who were sent elsewhere seldom went home. That got my attention and reminded me of some of my experiences in the military.

As a former Air Force and Army physician, I was aware that the military pioneered the concept of rehabilitation following World War II. When I was stationed in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to visit a 6,000-bed convalescence center – a type of facility that only exists during wartime. The goal was to get soldiers back to duty in as few days as possible. This included reconditioning battalions of light and heavy exercise companies depending on the soldier’s situation. Not everyone undergoing convalescence had battle wounds. In fact, a large number of soldiers were suffering from hepatitis, which was running rampant in Vietnam, as well as malaria and other illnesses.

The commanding doctor conducted his own research study. He took half of the hepatitis patients and prescribed an exercise regimen. For the other half, he prescribed rest. The group he exercised got well faster without impairment of liver function. Sister Phyllis understood the power of rehabilitation, bringing the concept to Madonna after she arrived in the 1960s. I truly believe that without Sr. Phyllis, Madonna would not be a rehabilitation hospital today. She had the vision and foresight to establish Madonna as a rehabilitation hospital as well as the unselfish genius to step aside and let others lead.

From a personal standpoint, my wife, Claire, had multiple operations on her back due to arthritis of the spine, so there were a lot of admissions to Madonna over the years. She and Sr. Phyllis developed a close relationship. One thing we noticed during her admissions in the 1990s is that she seldom saw the same physician.  I mentioned to Sr. Phyllis that wouldn’t it be great if we trained physiatrists (physical medicine doctors) locally so that they could benefit from such a diverse group of patients at Madonna and maybe stay in the region to practice.

The idea for a physiatry residency has been about 25 years in the making. A great deal of credit goes to the leadership of Marsha Lommel and Paul Dongilli for establishing the Madonna Omaha Campus which prompted the academic affiliation with the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

It is gratifying for me to see my gift to Madonna to establish a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency Program happen in my lifetime. What an incredible opportunity it will be for residents to train at a world-class rehabilitation hospital with such a diverse patient base.  I believe it will become one of the top-rated programs in the country.