Respected pulmonologists Thomas Petty, MD, and Kent Christopher, MD, played important roles in turning would-be surgeon Eric Yaeger, MD, Medical Director of Kindred Hospital Denver, into the prolific expert and outstanding pulmonary clinician he is today.

 Dr. Yaeger with mentor Dr. Thomas Petty. Dr. Yaeger with mentor Dr. Thomas Petty.

“I was thinking of surgery, or maybe interventional radiology, but then as a resident I met two very influential leaders in pulmonary critical care,” Dr. Yaeger said. He has never looked back.

Both Dr. Petty and Dr. Christopher were pioneers and leaders in the continued development of transtracheal oxygen therapy, which optimizes oxygen therapy for patients by delivering it directly into the trachea and bypassing the nose, which can cause challenges related to discomfort and anatomical breakdown. Dr. Yaeger took the transtracheal baton and has continued to advance the field through his work at Kindred and industry partnerships.

Kindred patients have been benefiting from Dr. Yaeger’s expertise and forward-thinking approaches to patient care since 1996, when he arrived at Kindred – then Vencor – with a plan to change the paradigm in order to better serve patients. Instead of the care being directed by an internist with pulmonologists consulting, Dr. Yaeger felt care would be improved and delivery more efficient if a pulmonary and critical care doctor directed patient care.

At Kindred, Dr. Yaeger saw opportunities to augment patient care by implementing transtracheal oxygenation therapies.

“The patients were breathing easier, and we could more easily wean them from the ventilators,” Dr. Yaeger said.

Over the years, he has overseen the use of master protocols in weaning patients from vents, and served as an advocate for the hospital’s pulmonary patients.

“We take critically ill patients and we get them up and walking around,” he said. “I like to say, just because someone’s lungs don’t work well, doesn’t mean their legs don’t work well. We concentrate on the holistic care of the patient.”

He finds Kindred to be a national community in which he can share ideas, and learn from others as well.

“I’ve gotten to interact with the physicians in our region and go around the country, learning and sharing best practices,” he said.

Seeing patients get better is one of his biggest rewards.

“It’s fulfilling when you take a patient who everyone says is not going to get better, and get them not only out of the hospital, but back to a pretty normal life,” he said.

Seeing patients who return to visit after discharge is often the most fulfilling.

“When someone comes back in and we haven’t seen them in six months, and they and show us how wonderfully they are doing, it’s incredible,” he said.

The job doesn’t come without challenges. Regulatory and financial issues can be difficult and effective care transitions can prove tricky, but the landscape is getting better, Dr. Yaeger said, and the integrated market plan is the right one.

“We are getting closer to the continuum we want to create, and Kindred leading the way,” he said.

Dr. Yaeger lives in Denver with his wife of 24 years, and his two children – a 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. Last year, he received the 2012 Outstanding Clinician Award from the American Thoracic Society. On this National Doctors’ Day, Kindred Healthcare celebrates Dr. Yaeger, and our other outstanding physicians, who work tirelessly for our patients while advancing their fields, which benefits us all.

Do you know a Kindred doctor who deserves recognition on Doctors’ Day? Tell us!

Dr. Yaeger with mentor Dr. Thomas Petty.