Article first appeared in the fall 2010 issue of the Dean’s Discovery Report.

By Nan L. Johnson

Lance Goetz had a lot to do on Father’s Day 1984. Spending time with his father was top on the list. Having just returned home to Creston, Iowa, from his freshman year at the University of Iowa, he also wanted to catch up with his family. He had also planned a date. There was a lot to do and he was in a hurry to do it all.

“It had been raining a lot that May and early June and finally it was starting to get nice,” he remembers. “I had just started dating a girl who I knew from high school, but I’d never been out to her house. I was low on gas and running late.” Along the way to see her, on unfamiliar roads, he and his Triumph sports car slid across a bridge and fishtailed. Perhaps into a culvert. He doesn’t know.

“The last thing I remember was seeing trees coming at me,” he says. “I woke up outside my car and I knew immediately something was terribly wrong. I felt like I had a sledgehammer in my chest and my legs were floating behind me.” He usually wore his seatbelt, but didn’t that day.

Paralyzed from the chest down, Goetz spent five months in a rehab hospital in Des Moines followed by a month at Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado. “It was an opportunity for me to do some different things, to try walking with different braces and be exposed to some different sports and things like that. There were a lot of young people out there.”

Goetz, a former high school wrestler and cross-country runner, isn’t a candidate to walk with braces because of the extent of his paraplegia. “It’s not practical. I did it more for exercise. I got really strong trying!” He stays physically fit through recreational hand cycling and is now looking for less traveled roads to cycle in his new neighborhood in Richmond’s Woodlake community. One day, he says, he and his 6-year-old twin boys will cycle together.

Goetz and his family relocated to Richmond over the summer from Dallas, Texas, where he was a staff physician specializing in spinal cord injuries at the Dallas VA Medical Center and an associate professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Texas – Southwestern Medical Center.

He came to Richmond to join David Gater, M.D., chief of the spinal cord injury service at the McGuire VA Medical Center, and to continue his research in return to work issues for those with spinal cord injuries. He also joined the medical school’s faculty as associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“I’ve always been interested in doing research and I love taking care of veterans. My experience in rehabilitation led me to want to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation,” Goetz says.

People with spinal cord injuries face a lot of ongoing challenges that result in complications, he explains. “Urinary tract infections and pressure ulcers are the number one reasons for hospital admissions [among persons with spinal cord injury].” He also was involved with a national research project that studied anabolic steroid therapy to promote the healing of pressure ulcers in persons with spinal cord injury. Now at the McGuire VA Medical Center, he hopes to enroll patients in new urinary tract studies.

His research involvement also includes a special kind of vocational rehabilitation called supported employment, which is individualized, person-centered research based on an individual’s interests, not on vocational inventory. “It’s ‘place and train’ as opposed to ‘train and place’,” he says.

That busy day back in 1984 changed Lance Goetz's life. But he considers himself lucky. His patients are lucky, too. They can see, through his example, that though their lives have changed, anything is possible.