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Doctor Gives Time Freely to Others

Personal Best / Noteable Achievers in Your Community

October 22, 1998|DIANE WEDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Dr. William Stetson arrived at the remote Haitian town of Milot last spring with a small surgical team, 40 boxes of supplies and a strong desire to help the dozens of children and adults awaiting medical attention at the village hospital.

Performing operations from 8 in the morning--when the electricity was turned on--until 6 at night--when the power was switched off--the Glendale surgeon and others involved with the weeklong humanitarian effort corrected the long-neglected orthopedic problems of more than 40 patients.

"The doctors' contribution there is huge," said Ted Dubuque, a St. Louis physician who helped build the 50-bed hospital for the Center for the Rural Development of Milot--a Catholic charitable organization--in 1986. "There are children who probably couldn't walk or use their limbs without these surgeons."

"The experience woke me up to how much I have," said Stetson, 38. "It was the highlight of my life so far. How can I replace that experience?"

Fortunately for him and the Haitians awaiting his return, the orthopedic surgeon will answer that question early next year, when he goes back with his fellow medical professionals for another volunteer effort in the Caribbean country.

Meanwhile, when he's not seeing patients at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, he can usually be found at his second favorite location: one of the five East Valley high schools at which he volunteers as a team physician, cheering on and treating athletes at a variety of sports events.

"He's a great, great doctor and person," said Patty Gallego, the certified athletic trainer at Bellarmine-Jefferson High School in Burbank. "He doesn't just stand around the sidelines; he's involved with the kids. They love him."

A former professional athlete with a passion for medicine, Stetson is no stranger to the physical risks inherent in team sports.

The youngest of nine children, the Torrance native used to accompany his father, also a physician, to high school games, where the elder Stetson volunteered his services to local athletic departments.

Admitted to USC on an athletic scholarship in 1978, Stetson served as captain of the men's volleyball team his senior year. He was also a two-time All-American and a finalist for the 1984 Olympics volleyball team.

Stetson played on the U.S. Junior National Volleyball teams in 1978 and 1979, and was among the first athletes to train at the U.S. Olympic Committee Training Center in Colorado Springs 20 years ago.

Following his graduation from USC with a degree in classics, Stetson took a year off from his studies to play professional volleyball in Europe. He then enrolled at USC Medical School, earning his medical degree in 1989.

"I always wanted to be a doctor," Stetson said. "I just took a few detours along the way."

Last summer the surgeon returned to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado for two weeks, this time as a volunteer physician to about 350 Olympic hopefuls. He said he treated ailments from colds to broken bones.

"I can understand the thinking of athletes because I'm one, too," said Stetson, who gave up professional volleyball four years ago.

"I get a lot out of my life," Stetson continued. "I love the relationships I have with my patients and with the school athletes I treat. It's rewarding to give back to the community."

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, CA 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com.

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