Yampa Valley’s only local podiatrist enjoys solving medical mysteries
Dr. Harper and his family
When his wife started experiencing foot pain while pregnant with the couple’s first child more than a dozen years ago, Derek Harper was with her for visits with several podiatrists.
While his wife, Talane, was looking for solutions to her pregnancy foot pains, Harper was finding his calling.
At the time, Harper was working the night shift as an electroencephalogram technician in Houston testing the electrical activity of patients’ brains. So, during the days, Harper began to shadow a podiatrist, which led him to enroll in podiatry school in Philadelphia.
Now Harper serves as the only doctor of podiatric medicine in Routt and Moffat counties.
“Podiatry interested me because of its broad focus. I can do so much, from treating skin issues to performing surgeries and everything in between,” Harper said. “You can do a lot of treatments with skin, bone, joints, tendons, ligaments, surgery and working with x-rays, MRI, CT scans.”
The medical specialty is limited to below the knee through the toes, but that includes plenty of foot and ankle issues needing solutions, treatments or surgeries to help patients get back on their feet and be more active.
“The lower extremities are all connected, so a lot of times pain in the legs or hips can stem from the foot or ankle from joints or foot deformities, such as flat foot, an arch too high or a heel bone tilted one way,” Harper said.
Harper, 40, treats a wide range of foot or ankle conditions that occur due to injury, improper mechanics, disease, birth defects and infection. The podiatry care helps patients have more functioning, stable feet with less pain and can help overall health of the body, Harper said.
A few years ago, for example, Harper saw a repeat female patient in her 50s with a lot of foot problems and pain. On the way out the door, she mentioned she had some soreness in her calf. Harper referred her to the hospital to be checked for a possible blood clot, which was found in both her legs and lungs.
“If we hadn’t sent her, I don’t know where she would be today,” Harper said of catching the dangerous condition.
Solving those medical mysteries is one of Harper’s favorite parts of the job. The doctor partners with other medical specialists, ranging from dermatologists to orthopedists.
In December, a female patient in her 30s came to see Harper after seeing multiple other orthopedic or podiatric doctors who could not address her foot pain problems. Harper found and then surgically removed a previously overlooked bone spur between her toes that had been causing her pain for years. The procedure, so far, eliminated about 75% of the pain in her foot, Harper said.
In addition to weekly clinic days in west Steamboat at Curve Plaza and in Craig, Harper performs surgeries on Mondays at Memorial Regional Health in Craig for issues ranging from reconstructive procedures to ligament repair from bad ankle sprains. In his five and half years serving in the Yampa Valley, he estimates he has performed about 400 surgeries in Craig.
Although he sees patients of all ages, the podiatrist treats a lot of senior patients and many diabetic patients who need regular care.
“As people get older, as their feet are wearing out, they have more aches and pains,” Harper said.
The doctor and his family moved to the Yampa Valley in 2016 when he purchased an existing podiatry practice in Steamboat, following his three-year surgical residency in Albuquerque. Originally both from southern Idaho, Harper and his wife met in college at Brigham Young University where he double majored in neuroscience and Russian. He also worked on his Russian language skills while serving on a two-year church mission in Ukraine for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Outside of medical duties, he enjoys gardening, playing organ on occasion for a Craig church and spending time outdoors with his young family, which includes four children ages 4 to 12.
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