At 6-feet-5-inches strong, Thomas Ridder, once was voted the team captain as a forward on a Division 3 basketball team, in Ashland, Va . Not for being the usual top scoring player on the team, but rather for his gracious demeanor and innate leadership skills on and off the court.
A man concerned largely about the welfare of the group – the people around him – Ridder was the epitome of true sportsmanship, an instant friend to all of the players.
After college, Ridder’s teammates playfully kidded him about what he became — a pediatric neurosurgeon.
Ridder now carries his quiet leadership and altruistic nature into the clinic and operating rooms at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. He is the only pediatric neurosurgeon in southern Colorado and one of only six pediatric neurosurgeons in the state. While his is not a career often chosen by college athletes, Ridder finds parallels to sports. “There are so many triumphs and, yes, some tragedy,” he says.
“Highs and lows are a continuum with what we do,’’ Ridder says of his team at Memorial, which includes Drs. John McVicker, Todd Thompson and M. Sean McKisic. “You go from one high to the next high, and prevent as many of the lows as possible,’’ he says.
One of his first operations at Memorial was to remove a bony tumor from the spinal column of an 11-year-old girl. Before surgery, the small child did what Ridder describes as a “crab walk” to get from point A to point B. Her main mode of mobility became a wheelchair, a very hard realization for a young child. After Ridder performed surgery on her cervical spine, the girl regained her ability to walk. And jump.
“It is very hard to describe, not quite something you can fully put into words,’’ Ridder humbly says of the satisfaction he derives from such a transformation, “Knowing that you are making a difference in people’s lives.’’
Ridder spends his workdays at the UCHealth Memorial Hospital downtown and hopes to soon extend a helping hand to the Children’s Hospital Colorado Urgent and Outpatient Specialty Care at Briargate.
“The profound thing about pediatric neurosurgery is the versatile experience. You really treat all spectrums, both critically ill and healthy kids. You are able to work with the families and derive the most hopeful solution to the problem at hand,’’ he says.
Ridder is often on call – at a patient’s bedside in a moment’s notice – to help children or adults who have acute brain or spinal emergencies. That kind of dedication, he admits, just comes with the territory and is one in which he is truly invested.
“My wife comes from a family of dairy farmers, which is 24/7 job. So, we are accustomed to that level of commitment,’’ he says.
While playing basketball at Randolph-Macon College, Ridder admits, “I was not sure what I wanted to do.’’ After college, he went on to graduate school and studied neuroscience. Quickly, he was hooked, and soon thereafter, he enrolled in medical school. Upon completing a rotation with an inspiring neurosurgeon, Ridder was hooked again.
He combined his love for neurosurgery with his love for children. Growing up, he spent many summers coaching youth league sports. His passion to help children has led him to volunteer and treat children, not only in the United States, but across the globe.
Ridder has traveled to Honduras on mission trips with fellow pediatric neurosurgeons. The need is vast, as they have completed up to 35 surgeries in one week and treated more than 100 children in clinic. The children have ailed from varying problems ranging from meningitis and hydrocephalus to spina bifida.
During one such mission trip, Ridder remembers that the power failed and the operating room went pitch black. Ridder, along with the other surgeons, turned to ingenuity to ensure that the surgery ended on one of those “next highs” – a memory now forever etched in the mind of a tall doctor with a quiet leadership style.
The surgeons used the flashlights from their cell phones to drench the operating room in light.
“We completed the surgery safely together,” he says.