Family business: father and son surgeons
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do,” Dr. Richard Shrader said, “No question about it. It just humbles you.”
Sitting in the office of his son, Dr. Todd Shrader, Dr. Shrader Sr. wasn’t talking about medicine or surgery or even fatherhood. He was referring to golf.
“I’m trying to become a golfer,” he explained, “I’ve been playing golf now for seven years…and I’m slowly getting better.”
Dr. Richard Shrader, now 77, retired three years ago after practicing orthopedic medicine in the South Bay for 42 years. His eldest son Todd , 50, has practiced orthopedics in the beach communities for over 15 years. Both residents of Palos Verdes, Richard and Todd are beloved members of their community as well as revered physicians.
Richard began his own practice in the Torrance Medical Arts Center on Lomita Boulevard back when there were no other medical buildings on the street. He took on several partners through the years, most notably his son Todd. Dr. Shrader Jr. joined the practice in 1996, and father and son worked together in the same office for over ten years.
“It was pretty exciting,” Todd said. “Because I came out of med school with a lot of new techniques and my dad had a lot of techniques that had worked for him over the years… so we could work together and listen to each other about the way he does things and how I do things. By combining the two ways we came away with some pretty good results.”
“We’ve had some cases together that were pretty wild,” Todd continued. “We had one kid that had cerebral palsy so his body was really contracted. He had broken his femur. Trying to put him in a body case wasn’t possible because his body was so contracted. We wanted to put a rod down the middle of the bone but we couldn’t position him on the operating table to do that.”
Todd and Richard came up with an unorthodox solution.
“When I looked at his x-ray,” Todd said, “his femur looked like a tibia – because of the way it was shaped and because of his hip deformity. So we put him on the table on his side instead of on his back and we ending up rodding his femur with a tibia rod. The kid did really well from that.”
Todd ended up presenting the case at a trauma conference a Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where both he and his father taught.
Richard and Todd are as collaborative in storytelling as they were in medicine, filling in each other’s gaps in memory. One day that they remember equally well was the first time Todd set foot in an operating room.
“I was in high school,” Todd recalled, “My dad took me into the O.R. for the purpose of seeing a guy with a femur fracture caused by a motorcycle accident.” His father wanted to deter his son from riding motorcycles; he had little idea he was setting the stage for Todd’s future in medicine.
“I’ll never forget it,” Todd said to his dad, laughing, “I’ll always remember you putting your hand underneath this guy’s leg and gently moving it, just a little bit, and watching this guy just scream.”
“But then I watched you put it back together and I said, ‘That’s something that I want to do.’ That’s when I started getting interested in orthopedics.”
Despite the proclivity, orthopedics wasn’t a forgone conclusion for either man when they were in school. Richard, who grew up in Los Angeles and went to Inglewood High School, had originally thought he wanted to be a dentist in Layton. He decided instead to go to medical school after some encouragement from his uncle Grover, a vascular surgeon. A year into med school, he started having doubts.
“I really didn’t think I had made the right choice,” Richard said. “The medical part of being an internist just didn’t interest me. And then along came orthopedics and I said, ‘Boy, I can identify with this.’ I’ve always been good with my hands. I just like building things. So it worked out fine and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Todd, on the other hand, was certain about becoming a doctor but had some reservations about following his father into orthopedics. “I got into medical school and thought I should do something different,” Todd said. “I thought I should be my own guy. But what I wanted to do was orthopedics. It was in my blood. I always came back to it.”
Todd was also drawn to the athletic element of orthopedics. He is an accomplished athlete who played four years of collegiate soccer at Claremont McKenna. When he was offered a prestigious fellowship in sports medicine at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic, his future in orthopedics was sealed.
Todd now has two children of his own with his wife Linda, a fellow Palos Verdes native. Kyle is a sophomore at the University of Oregon and Amanda is a junior at PV High School. Amanda is considering a career in medicine but Kyle has no interest in becoming a doctor.
“Kyle’s headed toward business,” Todd said, sharing a laugh with his father. “I actually brought him into the O.R. just to show him what surgery is about and what we do and that there are all sorts of jobs that are in there besides what I do. And at the end he kind of looked at the rep that brought the equipment in for the surgery and he said, ‘That’s the job I want.’”
Linda Shrader became pregnant with Kyle while Todd was doing his residency at the University of California at Irvine. She was a practicing occupational therapist but the couple decided she would be a stay at home mom once Kyle was born. “I was a resident when we decided we wanted her to stay home,” Todd said. “But the resident income isn’t really enough to live on in Orange County or anywhere in Southern California, so what I did was I moonlighted in the emergency room to supplement our income.”
Hard work is something else Todd inherited from his father. Years ago, Richard had supplemented his own income by purchasing an orange grove in Orange County with the idea that the extra income would help pay for his children’s education. Todd remembers making weekend trips down to the grove with his dad and brother to pick oranges and tend to the beehives.
“We would go down there and my brother and I would get all suited up in the beekeepers outfits and rob the beehives,” Todd said. “We’d take the honey and then we had to spin it ourselves with this old hand crank. And I hated it at the time. It was hot as hell in those outfits and it was a lot of work. But that’s how my dad taught me to have a strong work ethic.”
Not all the work at the grove was tedious, however. “Every trip, we’d end up with over 100 mayonnaise jars full of just the best orange blossom honey. We made labels and called it ‘Shrader Sting’ and gave it away to all our friends.”
The Shrader boys also canned their own tuna after fishing trips to San Diego and Mexico. Dr. Shrader Sr. made the boys filet a trunk full of fish on an old ping pong table so that they could put it in a pressure cooker with his special sauce and preserve it. They handed the canned tuna out as gifts to friends, as well.
“We didn’t have a lot of down time as kids,” Todd said. “Dad kept us busy to keep us out of trouble.” That predisposition for staying busy comes in handy for Todd, who helped found the Torrance Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Group where he has very busy practice.
Richard, for his part, carried his active nature with him into retirement. He assisted his son in surgery three days a week after he retired, only stopping when the long hours on his feet became too much. He remains on the courtesy staff at Harbor-UCLA where he attends grand rounds every Wednesday to review the residents’ work for the week. Richard is still an avid fishermam and he loves to ski ride his bike. He loves spending time with his wife Maureen at their home in Rocky Point.
And, of course, he golfs.