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From doctor of medicine to professor of magic

IU Health Methodist Hospital

From doctor of medicine to professor of magic

A longtime physician known for his love of card and coin tricks couldn’t wave a magic wand to heal himself. He turned to IU Health for a lung transplant that saved his life.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

Dr. Steven Gatewood is a little old to be graduating, but this was one ceremony he didn’t want to miss.

The 70-year-old physician-turned-patient recently rang the bell signifying the end of his month-long rehab at the COLTT center (Center of Life for Thoracic Transplant) at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

For 40-plus years, he’s been on the other side of the stethoscope, working in his general practice in Anderson and in the emergency department of a hospital in Elwood – a combined 80 hours a week.

But then COVID happened. And the husband, father and grandfather who says he never missed a day of work due to illness found his life permanently changed.

“I got COVID after Thanksgiving 2020,” he said. “I wasn’t terribly sick at the time, but it progressed.”

Turns out he had an underlying condition called pulmonary fibrosis that had been mostly symptom-free, other than a little cough.

“COVID definitely shoved me over the edge.”

Eventually, the Sheridan resident stopped seeing patients and started seeing pulmonologists and other specialists at Methodist Hospital, including Dr. Mrunal Patel, medical director for the lung transplant program, Dr. Chad Denlinger, surgical director, and Dr. Kashif Saleem.

It was a tough transition for a guy who says he wasn’t in the habit of going to the doctor himself, other than maybe consulting with the physician in his practice.

By the first of this year, his lung function had seriously deteriorated. He had already begun the extensive workup necessary to qualify for a lung transplant, but the clock was ticking.

“I really think that by the Fourth of July I would not have been here, the way I was progressing,” he said last week. “I told my family if we don’t get transplanted, I don’t think I’m going to last.”

After just nine days on the transplant list, Dr. Gatewood received a new right lung April 7.

Twenty days after that, he was home again. His recovery was slowed by a gastrointestinal issue post-surgery, but he weathered that and feels profound gratitude for his second chance.

“I was really going downhill fast. But it all worked out fine. “I have nothing but praise for the whole team.”

That includes the team at COLTT, where he reported every day for what he called “intense” rehab.

“It’s a wonderful program, very helpful,” he said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without it, and I’m thankful to be here.”

The deconditioning that occurs after spending weeks in the hospital is extreme, he said. COLTT was a commitment, but his doctors insisted on it, and he understood why.

Dr. Gatewood, who described himself as a good patient, said he listened to and appreciated the doctors and everyone else on his care team.

Transplant coordinator Kathy Decker said Dr. Gatewood has been “a stellar patient” and that his family has been extremely supportive, assisting with transportation, meals and medications.

“He has done everything that has been asked of him,” she said. “He continues to improve his strength by attending pulmonary rehab and exercising regularly. I think he is doing everything in his power to honor his gift from his donor.”

Just as he graduated from COLTT, Dr. Gatewood’s wife, Linda, fell and broke her leg. She required surgery and is now in rehab herself, attended to by her husband.

He visits the rehab facility twice a day to share meals with her and keep her spirits up. At home, he stays busy maintaining the couple’s 4-acre property. He wonders how he ever had time for work.

And now, rather than work defining him, he is leaning into his other identity. He has dabbled in magic tricks for decades, a passion he is passing on to his grandchildren.

While recovering in the hospital, he held what he called “a solemn swearing-in ceremony” for his two youngest grandkids, during which he had them swear on a deck of cards that they would not divulge the secrets of the trade that he was about to disclose.

Then they had to practice the tricks seven times before they performed them publicly.

“I tell people I stopped being a doctor of medicine and started being a professor of magic.”

Before he became ill, the physician’s idea of slowing down might have been working 60 hours a week, instead of 80. He sees his forced retirement as a blessing in a way, but he plans to stay busy.

“I’ve got an eternity to rest,” he said. “My spirits are good, my thought process is good, I’m not on any oxygen, and I’m doing my magic. Life is good.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,

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