Career paths can follow a single straight line or they can zig-zag like a ping pong ball in a tornado.
The latter is how Dr. Dirk Leverant describes his career, which has taken him from medical school to law school to now, a blend of both.
Dr. Amy Leverant took the straight-line approach. Together, the Leverants have shown that both paths can lead to success.
Dirk Leverant and Amy Aiello grew up in adjacent neighborhoods in Phoenix, but never met until their first day of medical school in 1984. They quickly became friends with fellow students and started dating before the end of their first year.
They received their medical degrees from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson in 1988, married in May 1991 and have raised two sons: Ryan, 23, a University of Denver graduate who is applying to medical schools, and Calen, 21, who will graduate from Vanderbilt University this year with a degree in chemical engineering.
Dirk and Amy were about halfway through medical school when Dirk realized he didn’t really want to be a doctor.
“But it had taken so much effort to get to where I was, I wasn’t going to stop until I got the degree. And after I got the degree I went and did an internship up in Phoenix, and while I was doing that I was applying to law school.”
Why law school? “That was sort of the fallback position that everyone had, and my dad was a lawyer in Phoenix,” he explained.
At the same time, Amy was doing her internship at Good Samaritan Hospital (now Banner-University Medical Center in Phoenix), aiming straight toward a career in ophthalmology. When Amy was accepted into an ophthalmology residency at USC-LA County, Dirk started applying to law schools in the Los Angeles area, and ended up with a scholarship to Loyola Law School.
A Single Straight Line
One of Amy’s mentors at USC was a pediatric ophthalmologist who led her down the next stretch of her career path.
“She was really fun and loved what she did, and she was a great teacher,” Amy recalled. “I just thought, I want to do what she does.”
After finishing her three-year residency, Amy completed her training with a joint fellowship in pediatric ophthalmology at USC and UCLA, while Dirk, now a lawyer, signed on with a Los Angeles law firm.
In January 1994, the Leverants – now with baby Ryan on board – moved back to Phoenix.
Along with three other pediatric ophthalmologists, Amy formed Arizona Pediatric Eye Specialists, which has since grown to the largest pediatric eye group in the country. The group was recently taken in by Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where Amy now holds a directorship for retinoblastoma.
“Pediatric ophthalmology is really very interesting because it’s comprehensive in many, many areas,” Amy said. “There’s a lot of surgery involved, but working with kids is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of cornea and retinal disease, and chronic eye diseases. And there’s a lot of really interesting things you can do for kids and see really quick results.”
She described a recent case of a 12-year-old girl with a history of retinoblastoma since she was a baby.
“Hers was bilateral, and she had one eye removed as a baby, and had chemotherapy and laser treatment to her other eye, and was stable for a really, really long time. We got to the point where we were seeing her once a year.”
At the girl’s recent follow-up, she had no complaints. But when Amy dilated her remaining eye, she found a recurrence – rare with retinoblastoma – very close to the center of the retina.
“We were kind of in a bind, because we couldn’t laser it because that would destroy her vision, and she couldn’t have more chemotherapy to shrink it because she had already had the maximum amount of systemic chemotherapy,” Amy said.
“But we were right on the cusp of starting a program here for intra-arterial chemotherapy, a procedure at that time done only in New York and Philadelphia. It’s a targeted procedure using a new chemotherapy drug, and it’s delivered through a catheter through the femoral artery, through the aorta and up through the internal carotid artery to the ophthalmic artery, so you’re delivering the chemo in a very localized way, directly to the eye.”
Amy connected with some endovascular neurosurgeons at Barrow Neurological Institute, and hustled to get her inter-arterial chemo program up and running.
After three intra-arterial infusions, the girl’s tumor is gone, Amy said.
“Her vision is not perfect, but this was a really nice way to treat her. And when I talked to my colleagues around the country, none had seen in recent years a tumor recurrence at this stage, so this was really gratifying.”
A Ping Pong Ball in a Tornado
After returning to Phoenix, Dirk went to work for a couple years with his father’s law firm. He then formed his own firm, and practiced law with an emphasis on medical law for about 15 years. “It was kind of a comfort zone, but a few years ago I decided I was tired of it,” he said.
Another career awaited.
Dirk decided to get in touch with one of his medical school instructors whose advice he valued. “He suggested I consider life care planning, where I could utilize both my medical and legal education. I had never heard of life care planning, but looked into it and I decided he was right. It was a perfect fit for me.
Dirk now works with patients, nurses and physicians to put together a detailed plan for a patient’s long-term medical needs.
“I take all of the information that I collect from the client, the family, the medical records, and the health-care providers, and I put together a plan that can run 50 pages or more, detailing the future care a person will need. I cover medical care, therapies, durable medical equipment, home furnishings and architectural alterations, medications, supplies, and pretty much anything that might be needed to allow the client to function at the highest level possible. The plan also serves as a guide, to make sure that the client gets the medical care necessary to avoid future complications.
He recently worked with a young man who was “really smart, really handsome, really gregarious and on his way to the National Guard.” It seemed like he had everything, until he bounced off a trampoline and became an incomplete quadriplegic.
“I went through all his medical records, discussed with him and his family what they are doing, how they are dealing with his injury and caring for his needs. I then interacted with his health-care providers to see what their recommendations are for his future medical care,” Dirk said.
“The man has some hand control and is able to drive a truck. It has a side that lifts up like a clam shell, and a tray will drop down, and his motorized wheelchair will wheel onto the tray and lock in place, and the truck closes on him. “It has reopened a lot of social activity for the young man; activity that he thought he had lost.”
A Common Thread that Makes Both Paths Possible
The ping-pong ball and the straight line – the career paths that Dirk and Amy followed – clearly have worked for both of them.
“I think we demonstrate that once you’ve acquired a medical background, the world opens up for you,” Dirk said. “Amy and I began with the same medical education and have used it in very different ways. They are still very fulfilling, and both serve a useful purpose.”