Bob Meister was a 21-year-old lineman for a utility company when he fell 40 feet from a pole and fractured his spine. The injury left him paralyzed from the waist down and changed the direction of his life. Following treatment from a Mayfield Brain & Spine neurosurgeon and a long recovery, Mr. Meister went back to school, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in rehabilitation counseling, and became a social worker on the rehabilitation unit at Good Samaritan Hospital.
Mr. Meister also became the very first Voice for Injury Prevention (VIP) speaker for the Cincinnati Chapter of the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation. Over the years he would make an estimated 150 presentations to adolescents and teens about the permanence of brain and spinal cord injury and why they should “think first” before engaging in activities that might harm them.
Wednesday evening, Mr. Meister and dozens of fellow ThinkFirst volunteers were honored at the Cincinnati Chapter’s 30th Anniversary Recognition Dinner at Rookwood Exchange. Local ThinkFirst organizers Stephanie Lambers, MEd, OTR/L, and Krista Jones, BS, of TriHealth also acknowledged:
- Dale Horne, MD, PhD, a Mayfield Brain & Spine neurosurgeon, and his wife, Rachel, who have supported ThinkFirst during the last eight years;
- Stefanie Stevenson, MD, the widow of Paul Cohen, MD, a Mayfield spine specialist who also was active in injury prevention efforts. Dr. Cohen died following a tragic skiing accident in 2014.
- The Mayfield Education & Research Foundation, sponsor of ThinkFirst’s CrossTown Concussion Crew, which is made up of professionals and students from the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, as well as Bethesda Family Practice Medical Residents. The college students, accompanied by medical professionals, travel to Cincinnati area schools to educate youth about the science of concussion and neurotrauma prevention.
- Thomas Saul, MD, a former Mayfield neurosurgeon who helped develop and promote the local and national ThinkFirst organizations after their founding in 1986.
- Mayfield Art Director Tonya Hines, who created “the confused, dazed brain” that is used in the Crosstown Concussion Crew logo, and Mayfield Events Specialist Christa McAlpin.
Also honored was Debby Gerhardstein, Executive Director of ThinkFirst’s national office in Naperville, Illinois. Ms. Gerhardstein praised the Cincinnati chapter for being a role model and mentor to other ThinkFirst chapters over the years and for pioneering new programs, including the CrossTown Concussion Crew and Think First for Your Baby. There are 153 U.S. ThinkFirst chapters and 37 outside the United States.
“Countless chapters have come to see your programs,” Ms. Gerhardstein told Ms. Lambers and Ms. Jones. “You are well known throughout the United States by injury prevention specialists.”
‘I know who you are’
Bob Meister, the first Voice for Injury Prevention speaker in Cincinnati, recalled his experience following his fall from a utility pole. When he was transferred from a community hospital to Good Samaritan Hospital for surgery, Mayfield’s John M. Tew, MD — who was by then already a local legend — happened to be in the operating room, treating another patient. “I was the luckiest spinal cord injury patient ever,” Mr. Meister said. “I’ve never forgotten Dr. Tew. I love that guy.”
Prior to the surgery, Mr. Meister recalled lying on his back on the operating table and seeing Dr. Tew lean over him. “He was wearing a mask, and all I could see was his eyes. I don’t remember that he said anything, but I do remember hearing the anesthesiologist say, ‘Hi, I’m the sandman.’”
Mr. Meister came under the care of a different Mayfield neurosurgeon, Richard Budde, MD, after his surgery. But two weeks later, while he was on the rehabilitation floor, he had a visit from Dr. Tew. “I know who you are,” Mr. Meister said, before Dr. Tew could open his mouth. “You’re Dr. Tew. You operated on me.”
In the years that followed, Mr. Meister answered a new calling. During a 31-year career as a social worker at Good Samaritan Hospital, he became active in ThinkFirst.
“Bob’s work over the course of his career impacted the lives of many people who sustained spinal cord injury,” Ms. Lambers said. “He turned their attitude from negative to positive with his unique sense of humor and communication to breathe new life into those who had just sustained a traumatic life event. His work and the lives he has changed have left an indelible mark on so many.”
Mr. Meister, looking around the room at the ThinkFirst volunteers, noted that many were his former patients. “We have become close,” he said. “We’ve become lifelong friends.”
For more information about ThinkFirst, or to schedule a program, please call (513) 865-1742.
— Cindy Starr