Maui surgeon is a living
example disabled are not

The paraplegic is the only
American to get his medical
training in a wheelchair

\ WAILUKU » After surviving 1 1/2 years as a U.S. Army special-forces weapons expert and medic in Vietnam, Peter Galpin was taking premed courses at a California college and on his way home from a study session when his motorcycle was struck by a car, leaving his legs paralyzed.

"Basically, when I got injured, I never considered giving up. ... I just really assumed I was going to be a doctor and surgeon. Then it became a matter of if that's my goal, how do I make it happen," said Galpin, chief of surgery at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

Galpin, 54, the only surgeon in the United States to start and complete his medical and surgical training from a wheelchair, participated last month in ceremonies with U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in Washington, D.C., observing the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Galpin said he considers himself "handicapped" and dislikes the term "disabled" because he has been able to do a lot of activities by making adjustments.

With modifications in his automatic motor vehicle, such as changing foot pedals to hand controls, Galpin is able to drive without assistance.

He has been a youth soccer coach and Little League baseball coach and scoutmaster of his son's Boy Scout troop in Kula.

Last month, he escorted scores of Hawaii youths from Maui and Oahu to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia.

He has volunteered his surgical skills on medical missions to Afghanistan and Laos.

He has served as vice president of the Maui County Medical Society and vice president of the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association.

Galpin said all of these activities, in addition to his medical practice, keep him busy and focused on accomplishing various tasks.

"It's not like I get up every day and think about being a paraplegic. I don't really even think about it as a challenge. It's really my life," he said.

"Everybody in the world has limitations. It's really how you address those limitations. ... My handicap just happens to be a little more obvious than others."

Galpin did competitive weightlifting before the accident and continued after the paralysis in his legs, ranking fourth in the middleweight wheelchair class nationally.

With his busy schedule, he usually swims at the county pool near War Memorial Gym in Wailuku about two mornings a week.

Galpin said he feels better after he exercises, but he is the type who will sometimes sit for minutes in the parking lot outside the pool and persuade himself that the exercise will do him good.

"Sometimes it's cold and raining a little, and I really don't want to get wet," he said.

Galpin said recovering from his motorcycle accident and becoming a surgeon required him to think outside the box -- figuring how to get around in a wheelchair and show his potential ability to perform as a doctor.

After eight months of recovering in the hospital, he finished his premed studies in a wheelchair at San Francisco State University, and in 1980 was accepted into Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

Galpin said he knew becoming a surgeon was difficult, and there were more applicants than internships.

"I had to demonstrate to them I could do anything any able-bodied candidate would do," he said.

While studying to become a surgeon in Miami, he and his wife, Nina Sato, became volunteer test subjects in a fertility program under the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, whose advocates include Hall of Fame football star Nick Buoniconti, whose son, Marc, became a quadriplegic from a college football injury.

Through the project, Galpin said, Nina had Akira and Mikiko, the first twins born to a paraplegic. Both are now 12 1/2 years old.

"We were really, really lucky we were there at that point in time," Galpin said.

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