Las Vegas Sun

September 18, 2014

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What Cleveland Clinic means for Las Vegas

When I heard the news that the Cleveland Clinic was partnering with local philanthropist Larry Ruvo to create a world-class medical facility in, of all places, downtown Las Vegas, I wondered whether people here knew what the city was getting.

I do.

Forget all the adjectival eruptions in the media — the facility is “renowned,” it is “premier,” it is “world-class.”

The Cleveland Clinic is all of that. But those are just words on a page. And until patients and their families actually are exposed to Cleveland Clinic-quality care at the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and share those experiences with others, they will not truly understand what the “patients first” mantra Marshall Allen wrote about in the Sun really means.

I do.

The Cleveland Clinic, which excels in many specialties besides brain disorders, has achieved its international reputation over many years. It could mean to medicine in Las Vegas what bringing in Wolfgang Puck and other culinary legends has meant to the city’s fine dining — taking it to the proverbial next level. Most people here, who think of snow and LeBron when they hear Cleveland, don’t comprehend it.

I do.

On Nov. 10, 1983, my life was transformed at the Cleveland Clinic. On that day, more than a quarter-century ago, a surgeon named Andrew Novick extracted my brother’s kidney and transplanted it into my body. Most people don’t get to see a miracle in their lives; that day I lived one.

I awoke the next day with a new lease on life, feeling better than I had in a couple of years. Novick, along with a phenomenal team of post-surgery doctors and nurses, turned my life around. Even after I suffered an unexpected rejection episode shortly after the transplant and returned to the clinic, the doctors and nurses took exceptional care of me. I was home in a few days and I have never looked back — although I don’t ever seem to be able to find enough wood to knock on.

You don’t understand the ability of world-class, renowned, premier medical care to change lives, to extend lives, to reinvigorate lives?

I do.

To have the Cleveland Clinic establish a beachhead in the most unlikely of venues will send a signal throughout the medical world that Las Vegas is no longer the place defined by the old joke:

Q: “Where do you go when you get really sick?”

A: “McCarran.”

Ironically, the quality of medical care, especially before the medical malpractice crisis a few years back, has been steadily improving in Las Vegas. I found a fantastic nephrologist here — Marvin Bernstein — and my equally talented urologist — Scott Slavis — was, coincidentally, trained by Novick in the art of kidney transplantation. These are superb physicians and fine men.

Indeed, Slavis has been involved for quite some time in efforts with Novick and others to induce the Cleveland Clinic to set up shop here. That Ruvo got there first can only, assuming the partnership thrives, make it more likely that the clinic sets up other outposts here in its many specialties.

I was fortunate to have dinner with Novick, whom I had not seen since the operation, in Las Vegas last year. A delegation from the Cleveland Clinic wanted to gauge the interest of the local community in having the prestigious establishment come here. About a dozen or so community leaders dined at Piero’s with the clinic folks, who I believe were impressed that in this city in the desert, there were some who aspired to make Southern Nevada more than it is.

Larry Ruvo is one of those diamonds in the valley rough, a philanthropist who made millions but has given his money and an even more precious commodity, his time, to a cause that his late father inspired him to pursue. His efforts and those of the likes of Heather Murren and Don Snyder to make Las Vegas more than the butt of jokes or the prisoner of stereotypes give me hope that we can emerge someday from the backwater.

Alas, Novick passed away only a few months after that Las Vegas dinner and will not see that the facility he helped make great will now try to make Las Vegas great. But many others from the clinic and many who live here will soon come to understand the importance of this news. Only days after Forbes declared Las Vegas the emptiest city in the country, our cup runneth over.

The facility’s new name will be the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Most people here have yet to realize the importance to Las Vegas of appending that name to Larry Ruvo’s great cause.

I do.

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