For nearly 30 years, Dr. Clyde Carpenter never took a two-week vacation. He began working at age 12 and held summer jobs throughout high school and college, eventually moving on to medical school and beyond. When he became a full-time orthopaedic surgeon, family trips were one week, during which he would worry about his patients back home. Apart from one journey to Europe 10 years ago to visit his children, stationed at military bases, it’s been a long stretch of short breaks.
That’s about to change. After 21 years as one of the early members of Olympia Orthopaedic Associates (Oly Ortho), Carpenter is retiring at the end of 2021. During his tenure, he’s participated in Federal Drug Administration (FDA) trials focused on outcomes for new devices used in spine surgery, invented a patented artificial disc for the lumbar spine called the Anatomic Total Disc Replacement, and treated patients from around the United States as well as from Mexico and Guam. He’s also published multiple studies on factors that impact patient outcomes in spine surgery.
Carpenter first became interested in orthopaedics after meeting a famous surgeon in his hometown of Salt Lake City. When he let his parents know about his newfound passion, they made one thing clear: he would have to figure out a way to pay for schooling on his own. “I didn’t come from a wealthy family,” he explains. “My dad said, ‘We can’t afford to send you to medical school, so you’re going to have to study hard and get scholarships.’” That’s exactly what Carpenter did, earning full scholarships to both college and medical school.
The mechanical nature of orthopaedics appealed to his problem-solving abilities, and he discovered a talent for spine surgery. At the beginning of his career, Carpenter spent three years at Madigan Army Medical Center as a teacher, training residents. From there he joined Dr. Stephen Snow and Dr. Pat Halpin at a westside Olympia clinic that merged with the existing Olympia Orthopaedic Associates practice in 1998.
The most rewarding aspect of his work has been the difference it makes for patients. “I do spine surgery that increases lifespan,” Carpenter says. “You have people who are getting around in a wheelchair because their back and legs are so painful from compression of the nerves in their spine. When you relieve that pressure, it gives them a whole new life. Every day I’m in the clinic here, some patient will say, ‘You really changed my life.’”
One family stands out in his memory, a mother and two daughters all suffering from Scheuermann Kyphosis, a structural deformity of the thoracic spine that results in a hunchback. Carpenter had worked on similar cases, and they agreed to surgery for the daughters. The first operation went well, and as he was preparing for the second, the mother looked down and noticed his boots.
“I was wearing my python cowboy boots,” Carpenter explains. “She said, ‘Oh good, you’re wearing your lucky boots today.’ That surgery went really well, too and then the mother asked me to fix her back as well. She’s the one who named these my ‘lucky boots’ and now I’m a little hesitant to not wear them on the days I’m doing surgery because I don’t want to rock the boat.”
While he is looking forward to retirement, Carpenter appreciates what a journey it’s been, for both himself and his colleagues. “I work with a talented group of orthopaedic surgeons, and they’ve certainly supported me in building a spine practice,” he says. “I appreciate them for being great partners and colleagues and the fact that we now treat patients in five counties besides Thurston County. They’ve done a great job of moving forward with providing more care for our region.”
Looking ahead, he anticipates spending more time on other interests, particularly drone videography and music. Several years ago, Carpenter earned a drone pilot’s license, which he maintains is almost as difficult as getting a private pilot’s license. “You have to study aerodynamics, flight mechanics and weather patterns,” he explains. He’s shot drone videos of the construction of Oly Ortho’s new spine center as well as real estate projects for commercial websites.
Carpenter also plays the keyboard, including a grand piano and a synthesizer with samples of violins, saxophones, guitars, drums and various brass instruments. Aside from playing music, he also composes musical selections, recently scoring a soundtrack for a bonus feature on a Hollywood film.
And then there is travel. Already, Carpenter and his wife have visited China, Korea and South America. They had a cruise to Antarctica planned for his retirement, but it’s postponed due to COVID-19. When it’s safe to do so, they plan to revisit Italy and other parts of Europe, for more than a week this time.
Learn more by visiting the Olympia Orthopaedic Associates website or calling 360.570.3460.