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Dr. Leonard Kaplan, a former Army captain, has served in a peacekeeping zone, so it came as no surprise last year that he would emerge as the new leader of Buffalo Spine and Sports Medicine, which has offices in Batavia, Lockport, Orchard Park and Williamsville.

Kaplan, 47, joined the practice as part of a fellowship in 2002, and grew under the tutelage of Drs. Frederick McAdam and Michael Geraci, the first physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors in the region to leave a hospital setting, in 1988, and set out on their own. In recent years, the physicians have brought on two more doctors, Michael Cicchetti and the former Corine Kaufman, who married after they met at work.

The medical team also includes five physician assistants, five physical therapists, four chiropractors, a yoga instructor and, since last summer, a mental health counselor.

“We always start with looking at the whole person, asking what they want to get back to doing, and then we work backward to figure out what we need to do to get them there,” said Kaplan, a Brooklyn native who volunteered for the Armed Forces as a way to help pay for medical school at Midwestern University in Chicago.

“The partners have very active voices,” he said. “I’m just making sure that things get done and I’m trying to keep a unified vision that we don’t lose track of.”

What was Army life like, especially during four years in Germany, which included a year near Tuzla, Bosnia?

It’s different for a doc. We have a little bit more freedom. It was gratifying in general. There were frustrations, because you were working for the biggest bureaucracy and if you’re not used to answering to people – there’s a reason I don’t work in a hospital – that’s how the Army is to some extent. There was a lot of down time, so we set up clinics on the Bosnian Serbian side. Each government would donate supplies, and we’d run a clinic, and I’d see 100 people in a day …

The mission was to keep Serbs and Bosnians apart and confiscate weapons the Serbs were hiding in the mountains. The fields had to be de-mined. I would go with the soldiers – far back. I had to manage staff, so I came to Buffalo with managerial experience. As an Army officer, you’re not just doing your job, you’re in charge of 10 to 15 personnel.

What was the equipment like?

Very basic. Very basic. I wasn’t given a defibrillator. They told me I didn’t need one. So we just commandeered one. We went to MASH one day and just took one. You’ve got to be very resourceful. I used it a couple of times.

You ended up in Buffalo?

The fellowship was what I was looking for. The East Coast really represents a very holistic scope of musculoskeletal care. There was a lot of manual work and as an osteopath, my training is hands-on spine and joint mobilization.

Are you doing any surgeries?

What physical medicine rehab is as a specialty is a residency that trains people to diagnose and treat conditions of the body that have to do with muscles, nerves and joints without operating. We do procedures, but they’re not surgical procedures in a pure sense of the word.

What are some of the most common conditions that you treat?

We treat all ages, from maybe 7 to over 100. It probably splits pretty evenly down the line between back problems – back pain – and chronic joint problems.

Can you talk about the approach you take when it comes to pain management?

What we do is really restoration of function, and not pain management. Pain management is secondary. If I have a person who comes to me with a chronic pain injury and they ask me to help them with their pain, I tell them that I can’t do it, that what I can do is help them improve their function and, through that, they can commonly reduce their pain.

We try to minimize medications. We always focus on ‘Let’s not talk about what hurts you, how much pain you’re having, but how this pain is not allowing you to do things you want to do, and let’s focus on you getting to do what you want to get done. Part of that may involve medication from time to time, an injection as needed, restorative therapy. It may be yoga. Whatever it takes.

It really takes the will of the patient. There’s some people who are not interested in doing the work. I’ve had people come in for pain medications and I’ve said, ‘Hey, look at the way you’re walking. Look at your footwear. Look at the tightness here, the imbalance there. We can work on that and we can make it better, but you have to be a partner in this. You have to do the work. It’s 50/50.’ Some people will look at me and say, ‘Where have you been all my life?’ … And occasionally you’ll have a person say, ‘Nah, that’s too much work. I’m not interested in that. I just want to get my pills.’ And then we just part. You appreciate the honesty because then we don’t waste each other’s time. There’s other doctors who can help with that.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: See how Buffalo Spine and Sports is using ultrasound and a new procedure to ease joint and tendon pain at blogs.buffalonews.com/refresh