Community mourns loss of world-class surgeon
Patients across Northwest Colorado, Wyoming and Tennessee say the brilliant, even-keeled and kind orthopedic surgeon from Steamboat Springs who died Dec. 10 in a plane crash worked diligently to give them back their lives.
Repeatedly this week, patients and friends have talked about how Dr. Clint Devin, a physician and partner at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute for the past three and half years, was an amazing man who changed many people’s lives for the better.
Former construction worker and coal miner Rich Reynolds, 75, of Parachute came to Devin with constant pain and unable to stand up straight. Now, after two successful surgeries, he is able to hike, play and ride bikes with his grandchildren.
“It wasn’t just that he was extremely good at what he did, he also went the extra mile to study results and the different ways of approaching care to be innovative,” said Reynolds, adding that Devin was friendly and fun in conversation.
Patient Becky Ferris of Laramie, Wyoming, was in such debilitating pain from a smashed nerve that she said she contemplated suicide before having surgery with Devin in March.
“The man literally saved my life,” Ferris said. “I have a full and active life now and can walk miles, when I could not take 500 steps in a day before.”
Medical colleagues remember Devin as triply talented: a world-class surgeon, an inspiring teacher and a researcher who helped improve the way spinal surgeons practice.
Working with the spinal team at SOSI, Devin helped people in pain and those who had lost function due to everything from car crashes to horse accidents and spine tumors to degenerative conditions.
Walden mom Whitney Milek, who was injured in horse accidents and had multiple surgeries with Devin, said she broke down crying when she heard of his death, just as she would for a close friend.
“It’s a huge loss,” she said. “He was remarkable not only as a surgeon but as a person. For people who had any kind of back issues, he was a second chance. He gave us hope, and he did not make promises he could not keep.”
Post-surgery, Milek now plays with her two young boys without pain and she can do ranch work again.
Craig resident Jeannette Bergquist underwent a complicated spinal fusion surgery performed by Devin.
“I feel fortunate to have known him when I needed very serious surgery. When you have such a serious surgery, your trust in the doctor has to be huge,” Bergquist said. “He really cared about the people who walked through his door.”
Elizabeth and Dean Danielson of Steamboat Springs also praised Devin, who performed successful spine surgery for both of the married couple — Dean for a complicated, degenerative issue that was chronically painful and Elizabeth when she ruptured a disk in her neck.
“He was a special person, a very competent physician, and we were fortunate along with everybody in the region who has benefited from his skills,” Dean Danielson said.
“He gave me my life back, because I could not have continued living with that kind of pain,” Elizabeth Danielson added. “We thought the world of him.”
Patients say Devin instilled calm and confidence. Many knew the 46-year-old surgeon was very experienced, knowledgeable and well respected by other physicians.
Yet most patients did not realize Devin was recognized around the country as an elite surgeon. Devin also was known as an expert instructor of surgical residents at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and a progressive researcher.
Dr. Ginger Holt, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Vanderbilt University, knew Devin for 15 years in his roles in Tennessee as medical student, medical resident and later a fellow faculty member. Holt compared Devin to a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson in the world of orthopedic spine surgery.
“He wanted to provide the most outstanding care for patients and advance the field by doing research and training residents,” Holt said. “He was a phenomenal surgeon but an unbelievable teacher, and the residency program is devastated by this loss. … He taught 10 years’ worth of residents, over 50 residents, and those people idolized him.”
Before coming to Steamboat, Devin served as head of spine trauma at Vanderbilt University and remained an adjunct associate professor of orthopedic surgery and neurosurgery at Vanderbilt advising residents and research fellows.
Medical colleagues say the surgeon’s legacy will include the creation of two registries for spinal surgery outcomes, which also led to Devin to write an impressive 169 peer-reviewed publications documented on PubMed.gov.
Devin tracked patient outcomes originally through a database that started in 2009 at Vanderbilt and then through the American Spine Registry via the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
“Dr. Devin was a national leader in developing and maintaining patient outcome databases in spine surgery in his efforts to deliver ethical spine care and improve patient outcomes,” said SOSI Physician Assistant Jessica Nyquist. “He believed in holding surgeons accountable and was devoted to progressing and bettering spine care.”
Devin performed more than 5,500 spine surgeries and was an invited speaker and teacher throughout the country, often focusing on outcomes research and treatment selection strategies. Dr. Sandra Gebhart, a Wyoming hand surgeon, was trained by Devin at Vanderbilt.
“His footprint was huge. He has impacted so many people’s careers and lives. Clint demystified spine surgery,” Gebhart said.
Friends and colleagues say Devin and his wife Dr. Jessica Devin, an endocrinologist at UCHealth Endocrinology in Steamboat Springs, moved to the Yampa Valley to raise their two young boys in the close-knit, outdoor-oriented community, similar to where the surgeon grew up in Laramie, Wyoming. The physician couple have two active sons, ages 9 and 11.
Through the SOSI practice, Devin and the institute’s spine team worked in Steamboat; Craig; and Rock Springs, Laramie and Lander, Wyoming. Devin, who earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wyoming, also spent time caring for patients at Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker; Thunder Basin Orthopaedics in Gillette and Douglas, Wyoming; and Yellowstone Sports Medicine in Cody, Wyoming.
“Working with Dr. Devin, I had the utmost respect for him as a technician as well as a human being,” Nyquist said. “The impact a good spine surgeon can have on someone suffering from spine pathology is immeasurable.”
The Devin family has planned a private memorial service for Sunday afternoon in Steamboat Springs. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to Routt County Search and Rescue and Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
“All of us at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute are devastated by the loss of our colleague and friend, Dr. Clint Devin. With deep sadness we spread our collective arms around Clint’s wife, Jessica, his two sons and their extended family.
Our community has lost a brilliant spine surgeon who helped many to move forward in their journey toward healing. As a father and husband, Clint was dedicated to his family and was thrilled to move them to Steamboat to be part of our active, caring community. As a partner, Dr. Devin was a driver in the creation of the new SOSI practice and the Steamboat Surgical Center. Clint, with his intellect and genuine smile, will truly be missed by all of us.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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