KVH Orthopedics

Jim Repsher, PA-C

Jim Repsher, PA-C

His father was a pulmonologist; his mother a nurse. But growing up in a small town in Colorado, Jim Repsher, a certificated physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics, never planned a career in healthcare.

He was in love with outdoor adventure.  Ski racing and river rafting consumed him. By 18, he was a professional river rafting guide.

But his high school years were undistinguished academically. “I graduated by the skin on my teeth,” says Repsher, who went on to earn a degree in history at the University of Wyoming where his academic career was equally undistinguished.

After college, he considered a job as a river guide in South Africa but passed on the opportunity. “The ski areas were hiring ski patrollers so rather than go to South Africa I joined the ski patrol. So I was river guiding in the summer, skiing all winter – and starving in between,” Repsher says.

In retrospect, his first job as a river guide started him on a path to a medical career. “I found out you got a bonus if you took EMT (emergency medical technician) training. So I became an EMT,” he says.

Work with the ski patrol led to volunteering year-round with the ambulance service. In 1993, the county paid for him to become a paramedic.

In the years that followed Repsher was accepted into the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), taught white water rafting and canoeing during the summer and did ski patrol in the winter, then did a two-year stint teaching in a outdoor paramedic training program before moving on to work for an air ambulance service.

By then, he was a man with responsibilities.

He’d met his wife, a fellow ski patrol member, in 1990. Married in 1998, they have two children.

Repsher and his family eventually moved to Ashland, Ore., where he worked for an air ambulance service. Then came his decision to try to become a physician assistant.

“I figured there was no way I was going to get in a program because my grades were so atrocious,” he says. Despite his reservations, in 2004 he applied to the program offered through the University of Washington Medical School and was accepted. “It was based on my life experience,” he says.

While he’d been accepted into the program, he hadn’t been accepted into the university because of his grades. “So they (program officials) had to get a special rider in order for me to get in,” says Repsher, who moved his family to Ellensburg and enrolled at the UW’s campus in Yakima.

He grins at what happened next: “I made them proud. I made the Presidents List every semester.” His grade point average: 4.0.

In Yakima he met Dena Mahre, now also a physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics. She recruited him to his first job in Yakima and then to a second one in Yakima. Along the way he also met Dr. Gary Bos, a highly regarded orthopedic surgeon. When Bos came to KVH Orthopedics in 2012, Repsher came with him. Mahre joined them a short time later.

Repsher, who has worked in emergency departments in addition to his work at KVH Orthopedics, still relishes outdoor adventure and skis, rafts and rides his mountain bike “all over the place.”

Working in orthopedics is “a great job” with moments of absolute joy, he says.

“We had a lady,” he offers by way of example. “She was 88. She had a horrible hip, horrible pain. She’d been living with it for years.”

He recalls the day she first came into the clinic, minutes passing like hours as she slowly made her way down the sidewalk.

The woman had a hip replacement.

“Two weeks later she comes walking down the sidewalk in no pain, carrying the walker and wanting to know if she still needed it,” he says beaming. “The thing about this job is, people get better. With my dad, people died.”

Ada Cheung, MD

Ada Cheung, MD

She’s raced dirt bikes, motorcycles and cars, works on her motorcycles and likes tools and fixing things – especially people. It’s no wonder then that Dr. Ada Cheung, a surgeon at KVH Orthopedics, loves what she does.

“You can actually make people better and improve their lives – and I like working with my hands,” she says flashing a smile. “You get a chance to work with your hands and be creative.”

Born in Cleveland and raised in Alberta, Canada, she was still a child when her father, an economist, and her mother, a teacher, suggested she consider a career in medicine. But orthopedic surgery wasn’t her first choice.

“What I originally thought was I wanted to be a vet,” says Cheung. “Then I discovered I was allergic to a lot of animals so that wouldn’t work.”

It was at Stanford University, where  Cheung studied medical microbiology, that she fell in love with surgery while doing research involving heart surgery on pigs. Then came medical school at Yale and the chance to explore different specialties. Orthopedic surgery – a field that has the ability to change lives in dramatic ways – drew her.

After a residency at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, she went into practice in California and later practiced in Arizona and Virginia. Eventually, she and her family moved to the Northwest, settling on Mercer Island. “We wanted to move before my son got too far along in school,” says Cheung, whose son, now 19, is a student at Stanford.

In 2011, Cheung joined Multicare in Auburn where she practiced for seven years. But that changed this summer when she moved to KVH Orthopedics, lured by Dr. Gary Bos, a longtime acquaintance who taught at UNC while she was there. “I kept on seeing Dr. Bos once a year at these orthopedic meetings,” she says. “He told me, ‘This is the best job I’ve ever had. You have to come.'”

She’s glad she did.

“It’s a nice community, a nice hospital and the people seem happy here,” says Cheung who plans to practice “five days a week, a couple of times a month” while continuing to live on Mercer Island. It’s a location that puts her closer to her elderly parents now living in Vancouver, B.C.

The schedule may give Cheung, a petite woman with a quiet, focused demeanor, a little more time for other interests. She’s long had a passion for racing motorcycles and cars. “I used to race dirt bikes when I was back East,” she says. “Then I saw there was a school where you learn how to ride a motorcycle on a track so I took that.” She eventually moved on to include “open wheel” car racing her repertoire.

Despite retiring from motorcycle racing in 2001, she still owns several motorcycles including a 1995 Ducati sport bike and a 1978 Yamaha that she restored. And she still races “open wheel” cars three or four times a year though not as often as she did back east where there were more tracks.

The races, run not on Nascar-style ovals but on paved courses set up to look like winding country roads, are less about speed than they are about cornering and handling.

Why the fascination with life in the fast lane? “I like stuff that has wheels and a motor,” she says, smiling.

She also likes seeing lives change for the better – and she’s seen that plenty of times. “It’s good to see people – especially people in bad shape – who you can help get back to a normal life,” she says. “That’s the thing I like best. You see people who come in on crutches and you help them walk again.”

Want to know more? See Dr. Cheung’s medical education and clinic information here.

Dena Mahre, PA-C

Dena Mahre, PA-C

She loves sports and outdoor recreation, laughingly admits to “living life vicariously” through her grandchildren and beams when she talks about the photo she captured of young male elephants, their ears flared intimidatingly as they advanced toward her during a photo safari in Africa.

At 50, Dena Mahre, an orthopedic physician assistant at KVH Orthopedics, is living a life she loves – and intent on helping others do the same. “I like helping people get back to the activities they love to do – whether it’s knitting or running marathons,” Mahre says.  “I like the challenge of dealing with people who have been told, ‘You’re going to have to learn to live with that.’

“I like giving them hope. I like helping them get back the lives they had. We may not always be able to make them perfect but we can make them better.”

That Mahre herself thrives on an active lifestyle is no accident.

Raised in a tiny town outside of Denver that didn’t have a traffic light or fast food restaurant until she was in high school, she grew up active and athletic. “I played soccer, softball, a little basketball,” she says. “My family hiked and took weeklong backpacking trips. I was the only one who skied so I hitched rides with friends.”

Fast forward a few years. Mahre graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in athletic training, worked as athletic trainer at Yakima’s Eisenhower High School for several years then enrolled in the University of Washington’s physician assistant training program.

After working at orthopedic clinics in Yakima, Mahre joined KVH Orthopedics in 2015. Dr. Gary Bos, an orthopedic surgeon she previously worked with in Yakima, was already here. “It was a perfect fit. I liked the people and the small town feel. I liked what was happening here,” says Mahre who assists Dr. Thomas Mirich in surgery in addition to her office practice.

Away from her career, Mahre – still active and athletic – says she’s a much better skier than she was in the past. Credit a chance encounter in a crowded waiting area at SeaTac Airport in December 2002.

Headed back from Colorado after spending Christmas with her family, she was waiting for a connecting flight to Yakima. So were two of the Yakima area’s most famous athletes – the Mahre twins, Phil and Steve – who finished first and second respectively in the men’s slalom at the 1984 Winter Olympics.

When a seat opened up next to Steve she sat down and they began talking sports, a companionable conversation that continued on their “puddle jumper” flight back home.

It might have ended there.

She’d given him only her first name, not her last. But he recognized the friend who picked her up at the airport and called to get her number. The rest is history.

“We went out on New Year’s Eve. We’ve been together ever since,” Dena Mahre says. Steve’s proposal came one night when he handed her a poem as he cleared dishes after dinner. Suffice it to say, he changed her skiing as well as her life.

“I was self-taught. He took me all apart and put me back together,” says Mahre, who relishes her own role of putting people “back together” in a different way.

Examples? There are plenty. “There was a young gal, maybe 26, who had hip pain for a year and a half. She’d injured herself hiking and hadn’t hiked since,” Mahre says. “She’d been to three or four places looking for an answer.”

Mahre diagnosed the problem as sports injury joint dysfunction and “working in conjunction with some good physical therapists she was able to get back in six to eight weeks doing everything she wanted to,” Mahre says, smiling. “I love seeing people doing what they love doing.”

Want to know more? See Dena’s medical education and clinic information here.

Thomas Mirich, MD

Thomas Mirich, MD

He’s an accomplished orthopedic surgeon with decades of experience in changing lives for the better.

Ask Dr. Tom Mirich of KVH Orthopedics why he became a doctor and he answers with a wry laugh. “I was doomed from the start,” he insists, flashing a wide grin. “My dad was a doctor. My mom was a nurse.”

His father, an orthopedic surgeon in private practice, also worked in a free-standing emergency clinic in West Hollywood back in the 1960s. Patients from all walks of life walked through the door – including celebrities like Lucille Ball.

Mirich was ten when he started “camping out” with his father during some of those long shifts. “To keep from getting bored I helped out where I could, developing x-rays, bringing him stuff, holding patients’ hands,” says Mirich who also spent time at his father’s orthopedic office.

Mirich’s dad, a federally licensed gunsmith, had worked his way through medical school using that skill. “So I grew up not only in the ER and in the orthopedic office but also working in the machine shop,” Mirich says. “I grew up knowing the tools I would use as an orthopedic surgeon.”

He was hooked. “So off to medical school I went,” he says. “I loved surgery. When I landed in orthopedics I was like a pig in mud – done deal. Orthopedic surgeons have more tools than anyone on the planet.”

Mirich went on to a five-year orthopedic surgery residency at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, then moved on to private practice in Riverside, California.

Twenty years later the acres of orange groves that had dominated the area when he and his wife Susan, a Registered Nurse, arrived had been decimated by developers and swallowed up in the housing boom. The 5.4 mile commute from home to office took 45 minutes to an hour and a half.
Determined to move, Mirch was looking at multiple offers in the Midwest when Susan got a “cold call” from Glasgow, a remote town in northeastern Montana.

Just 60 miles from the Canadian border, Glasgow was polar opposite to Riverside. A trip to Costco took four and a half hours. The town had just 3,000 people – and an aching need for an orthopedic surgeon.

“Northeastern Montana had nobody,” he says. “So being the altruistic people that Susan and I are we went to Montana to fill a desperate need. I was the only orthopedic surgeon for nine or eleven counties, the entire northeast corner of Montana.”

Eight years later, he and Susan were ready for change. Their daughters – Mirich laughingly calls them “princesses” – were grown and doing post graduate work, one pursuing a PhD in chemistry in Connecticut, the other an MBA in Arizona. With their family spread, the Miriches wanted easier access to travel and other amenities.

Mirich was researching opportunities when he ran across an opening at KVH. A young physician in Glasgow who had grown up in the Tri Cities assured him he “would love” Ellensburg. A look at the KVH Orthopedics website revealed a familiar name: Dr. Gary Bos who had trained with Mirich at the Mayo Clinic.

The rest is history. Bos arranged a visit. The couple flew in and “fell in love with Ellensburg.” The young physician in Glasgow and  Bos “were the ones who sold me on Ellensburg,” Mirich says.

Two plus years later and now 63, Mirich’s passion for orthopedic surgery endures.

“Improving a life – oh yeah. We actually improve people’s lives and most of the time the improvement in pain and function is visible,” says Mirich whose appreciative patients not only voice gratitude but sometimes invite him to weddings or send birth announcements.

“I hear, ‘Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!’ I can’t go anywhere without meeting someone I’ve helped,” he says. “That’s the personal reward. That’s what drives orthopedic surgeons to continue learning the latest and greatest techniques.”

Want to know more? See Dr. Mirich’s medical education and clinic information here.