Dr. House—no, not the one on TV—grins when he talks about the action sports he loves. That’s not an uncommon statement in Colorado perhaps, but there is a twist. “The adrenaline need is why I ended up in a wheelchair in the first place. It doesn’t leave you,” says Dr. Glen House, the C7 quadriplegic who is the medical director of rehabilitation services at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital. The paralysis that understandably might have ended House’s medical dreams merely redirected them into a pioneering career with a highly personal understanding of his patients’ challenges.
“My junior year in college I had a snow skiing accident and broke my neck doing extreme skiing at Snowbird, Utah,” House says. As a 20-year-old, he spent the next three months undergoing inpatient rehabilitation at the University of Utah. Though the neck injury at his seventh cervical vertebra left movement of his arms, it affected his hand dexterity and ended his dream of becoming an oral surgeon.
Instead he pursued physical medicine. “What I like about physical medicine and rehabilitation is the fact that I had been through it, and I knew that I would be taking care of patients who were going through what I had experienced,” Dr. House says. “I wanted to know the most about myself as I possibly could, about my own condition.”
After becoming the first med student in a wheelchair at the University of Washington, House graduated in 1996 and began a noteworthy career. He was chief resident at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He trained at the prestigious Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey under the physician of the famously-paralyzed actor Christopher Reeves. Since 2003, House has directed Health Services Rehabilitation at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. His official title is physiatrist. “Rehab-ologist is what they should have called us,” House says of his work with spinal cord and brain injuries.
“I get to interact with people, talk to people, solve problems, and apply science to it … to make sure they have the best outcome,” he says.
“[ Dr. House ] makes everyone feel so comfortable,” says Marianne Scholtz, who has worked with House for years as administrative assistant. “Because of his condition, many patients feel they can relate to him and connect, that he understands them because he is like his patients.”
The doctor’s passion for medicine and people has also led him to pioneer new medical technology. From personal experience, House knows that intermittent catheters usually are impossible for spinal injury patients with limited dexterity to use on their own. So he engineered and patented a new one. When medical suppliers refused to sell his PerfIC Cath due to lower profit margins, he opened Elevation Medical Supply and earned an MBA from the University of Colorado to familiarize himself with the business world.
House remains an adrenaline junkie. The friends he made the summer after his injury helped him figure out how to continue pursuing the sports he loves, including skiing, which he enjoys with his daughters. “You don’t lose what that edge feels like in the snow, the cutting and the speed,” he says. He has also wheelchair-raced and skydived. “I climbed Pikes Peak five times in my wheelchair up the road to raise money for brain injury for the Pikes Peak Challenge,” he adds.
House laughs when I ask if he plans to add any more ventures to his full life. “I like it all, but I like the medical much, much better,” he says. “You can’t beat the reward that you get every day of taking care of patients.”