Heart surgeon by day, stunt pilot by night

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Swiss surgeon saves lives in the heartland while pursuing his passion of aerial acrobatics

Rural health care often faces great disparities when compared to major metropolitan communities. One of the biggest differences is access to top talent. In many cases, highly trained doctors tend to gravitate toward opportunities in big cities. But nationally recognized heart surgeon Dr. Raymond Vetsch has been bucking that trend for over 20 years. To say he isn’t exactly what you’d expect of a small-town doctor is putting it mildly.

Born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, Dr. Vetsch would stand out at any hospital, let alone in the small town of Joplin, Missouri, population 52,000. When he isn’t repairing hearts, he’s participating in a heart-racing activity – being a stunt pilot.

“I’m a licensed commercial pilot and enjoy indulging in my love for aviation when not at work,” says Dr. Vetsch. “The local airport has an aerobatic practice box that allows me to fly my stunt plane, helicopter and other types of planes – and perform in air shows.”

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Dr. Vetsch earned his medical license in Switzerland in 1981, and since then he’s earned ten licensures from seven states. After graduating medical school, he spent six years in Switzerland’s military studying disaster management and general surgery. Once he’d completed his military service, Dr. Vetsch came to the United States and in 1998, moved to Joplin to join the Freeman Heart and Vascular Institute as a cardiothoracic and vascular surgeon.

“Joplin is the perfect place to be a heart surgeon, raise children (I have five) and still be able to be involved in their upbringing,” says Dr. Vetsch.  “Joplin has beautiful living spaces close to the hospital and is safe for my family. Usually hospitals don’t have that advantage of being in a nice neighborhood.”

While at Freeman Health System, Dr. Vetsch has pioneered new procedures and techniques such as minimally invasive surgical techniques for heart procedures. He specializes in complex and innovative reconstructive valve procedures and has returned to Europe for additional training to learn new techniques that allow his patients to avoid medications that would otherwise limit their lifestyles.

“We’re fortunate to have a cardiothoracic surgeon of Dr. Raymond Vetsch’s caliber on staff at Freeman,” says Paula F. Baker, Freeman Health System President and Chief Executive Officer. “Dr. Vetsch works with passion to help his patients, often going to extraordinary lengths to provide the best care possible. Freeman is committed to providing the most innovative medical treatments, and Dr. Vetsch helps us stay at the forefront of heart and vascular care.”

When not in the air flying, or on the ground seeing patients, Dr. Vetsch believes in public service and giving back to the community. He’s active on various committees and leadership functions and volunteers with an international organization dedicated to providing free medical services to underprivileged children throughout the world.

“I enjoy using my talent for mending broken hearts to help children from around the world,” says Dr. Vetsch.

When asked about what he sees for his future, Dr. Vetsch is focused on passing down what he’s learned to others at Freeman so that more patients can remain in Joplin while getting world-class care. “I want to continue to advance and train providers to bring their very best to Freeman, as well as to our patients, so they rarely have to be transferred away for care, taking them away from a key healing component – their families.”

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