2020 Top Doctor: Luis Manuel Tumialán, M.D.

Editorial StaffMarch 19, 2020
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Olympian Recovery: In 2014, Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, below, severed her spinal cord in an ATV accident. With a spinal fracture between her T11 and T12 vertebrae that threatened to puncture her aorta, Van Dyken-Rouen was airlifted to Phoenix, where Dr. Luis Tumialán led the team that saved her life. She was given only a 20 percent chance of surviving the accident.; Photography by Steve Craft
Olympian Recovery: In 2014, Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken-Rouen, below, severed her spinal cord in an ATV accident. With a spinal fracture between her T11 and T12 vertebrae that threatened to puncture her aorta, Van Dyken-Rouen was airlifted to Phoenix, where Dr. Luis Tumialán led the team that saved her life. She was given only a 20 percent chance of surviving the accident.; Photography by Steve Craft

Neurosurgery

Med School/Year Graduated: Georgetown School of Medicine, 1999

Years in Practice: 12

You served as a neurosurgeon in the United States Navy. What a unique origin story! What was it like?

My service in the world’s finest Navy came at an interesting and tragic time for our country. Within months of my arrival to the Naval Special Warfare Unit in Guam, the 9/11 attacks occurred, and the global war on terror began. Our operative tempo increased, and we found ourselves deployed all over Southeast Asia, in submarines, on aircraft carriers, in the jungle, etc.

How did it inform the rest of your career?

Serving alongside Navy SEAL(s) taught me the power of a shared consciousness, where everyone on the team has a razor focus on accomplishing one objective. It’s a powerful experience. That is the approach I now bring to every aspect of my practice.

You specialize in the spinal branch of the neurosurgical field. What are the most common issues or ailments you treat?

Spondylolisthesis, where one building block of the spine slips over another, causing compression of the nerves that go to the legs. Also lumbar stenosis, where there is a constriction in the passage of nerves to the legs. Finally, spinal tumors, whether they spread from the lung, breast or colon, or whether they come from the cells of [the] central nervous system themselves.

What do you regard as the most promising advances in brain surgery over the next 10 years?

Immunotherapy for glioblastoma multiforme or GBM, the type of brain cancer that afflicted Senator John McCain. Being able to harness the patient’s immune system to attack and destroy cancer cells I feel is the most viable direction for the treatment of that abysmal disease.

And for spine surgery?

Within the next 10 years, I can foresee the development of technology that will maintain the health of intervertebral body discs to prevent collapse and degeneration, which is part of the natural aging process. The combination of biomaterials and cellular technology could potentially halt the aging process and decrease the need for spine surgery.

Do you have any hobbies or interests you pursue in your spare time?

I have a 10-year-old virtuoso piano-playing daughter, an 8-year-old son who is a shooting guard, a 12-year-old son who is a lefty pitcher with a passion for baseball and a swift-footed 13-year-old son playing football. My wife and I spend all of our spare time enjoying and driving them to their various sports and disciplines.

What are you watching on Netflix these days?

My family and I watch an episode of the History Channel’s Vikings once a week. My sons are fans of Ragnar Lothbrok and Bjorn Ironside. My daughter is a fan of Lagertha the Shield Maker. I am a fan of the fact we are watching actual history and not some created alternate universe.

“If I wasn’t a doctor, I’d be…”

A history teacher. That way I could predict the future. After all, past is prologue.

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