Dr. Richard Deming is the Medical Director at Mercy Medical Center’s Cancer Center. He’s used to being the doctor, not needing the doctor. On July 6, 2018, the 64-year-old, adventure-loving, Des Moines oncologist was on a training ride for his next Ironman competition. A small tap from the cyclist behind him sent him head first into the road. He endured six rib fractures, a broken shoulder blade and collarbone, a concussion, and a punctured lung. Without the help of his helmet, the neurosurgeon cycling alongside him, and excellent first responders, he may not have survived the crash.

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“It was definitely a brush with mortality,” he says. “I spent five days in an ICU followed by a week on a general acute floor. I was ready to be discharged from that hospital but still wasn’t able to get out of bed by myself. I live alone so I needed additional rehab. I wouldn’t have been able to go from the hospital directly to home. I wasn’t able to shower or get dressed, or get in and out of bed. Mercy Rehab Hospital really allowed me to leave the hospital at the appropriate time. After two weeks lying in a bed, I was pretty weak.”

On July 17, 2018, Dr. Deming was admitted to Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital an inpatient rehabilitation facility jointly owned with Kindred Hospital Rehabilitation Services. Upon admission his short-term goal was to return to his apartment independently without modifications. But that was just the beginning of his plans. His mid-term goal was to be able to lead 22 cancer survivors up a 19,000-foot Tibetan mountain on foot. His annual medical mission trip with his nonprofit, Above and Beyond Cancer, waited for him at the end of August. His therapists got to work. 

“The therapists were so professional and friendly. I enjoy a physical challenge, but being able to feel motivated and educated at the same time by highly trained professionals made my recovery not only easier and faster, but enjoyable,” says Dr. Deming. “They weren’t just interested in getting my muscles back, but cared about me as a person. They all knew I hoped to take the Tibetan mountain climbing trip at the end of August. They were all with me from the very beginning to work toward that goal.”

His therapy team was pretty fond of him, too. 

“Throughout his treatment, Dr. Deming was an extremely motivated patient,” says Director of Therapy Kevin Smith. “His positive outlook on life inspired and motivated other patients he interacted with in the short time he was at Mercy Rehabilitation Hospital.”

On July 20, 2018, Dr. Deming discharged home. “PT and OT allowed me to go home totally independently,” says Dr. Deming. That Monday he returned to full-time work. Once his broken collar bone is fully healed, he will begin outpatient rehabilitation at Mercy. His long-term goal is to complete the Ironman Triathlon he has scheduled for later this year—the one he was training for when his accident happened. 

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to swim that soon with my collar bone, but fortunately I can practice medicine with one arm!” he says. In the meantime, he’s been climbing 26 flights of stairs a day to prepare for Tibet.

“I’ll be at the back of the pack, not knowing whether I can make it up the whole 19,000 feet,” he says. “But trying will be transformative.”