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Dr. Michael Salata '96 Excels as a Leader in Sports Medicine

By Joe Ginley '12, 07/15/20, 1:15PM EDT


Salata has a host of roles, including as a team physician for the Browns.

University Hospitals has a 3-pronged mission: "To Heal. To Teach. To Discover." It's safe to say that Michael Salata M.D. '96 fulfills all three.

Dr. Salata fills many roles for UH: Orthopaedic Surgeon, Director for the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute, and team physician for the Cleveland Browns.

In all of these roles, Dr. Salata lives by the motto of Men for Others and remembers the lessons he learned at Saint Ignatius High School.

After all, he first discovered his love for medicine at Wildcat High. After growing up playing sports, the future doctor watched as his brother tore both of his anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) and experienced an excruciating comeback with trials and tribulations. That experience spurred Salata to pursue a career in medicine. 

He never forgets a quote by renowned French biologist Louis Pasteur: "Chance favors the prepared mind."  

"When you're taking care of patients or players, or doing surgeries, being prepared is so important," Dr. Salata says. "Educating yourself, and learning and knowing what to do makes it easier when things test your intellect and experience. I always want to be prepared."

After a fulfilling four years at Saint Ignatius, the Beachwood native headed to another prestigious Catholic institution – the University of Notre Dame. Four great years later, he earned a bachelor's degree and headed back home to attend Case Western Reserve University. In 2004, he became Dr. Salata, acquiring his M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) from CWRU after four years of hard work. 

Dr. Salata then headed north to the University of Michigan for his residency in Orthopedic Surgery. His decision proved to be a good one, as he connected his love of sports with his passion for medicine. 

"Michigan has a strong sports medicine program. The mentorship and training was great. Also, I got to stand on the sidelines during the Rich Rodriguez era. And as a Notre Dame grad, it was fun watching Michigan go 3-9," Dr. Salata chuckled. 

His next stop was at Rush University in Chicago as part of a fellowship program. In the Windy City, Dr. Salata became involved in covering a team for the first time. He covered another Cleveland rival, the Chicago White Sox, which included a trip with the team to spring training. He also served as an assistant with the Bulls. It was a tremendous experience that had a significant impact on him.

In 2010, Dr. Salata returned home. He joined University Hospitals as an Orthopaedic Surgeon, treating patients in the operating room and in the clinic. He quickly thrived in the role and in the UH mission of "Heal, Teach, Discover." 

"It can be challenging to fulfill all of those missions well. My goal is to return our patients back to a high quality of life and get them back to doing what they love," Dr. Salata explains. "Whether it's getting a football player back on the field or getting a mom or dad back on the tennis court or golf course. The healing side of it is very rewarding."

Dr. Salata soon delved into other work, including as Director of the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute. In this job, Salata oversees sports medicine surgeons and athletic training staff. University Hospitals covers over 60 area high schools and colleges (including Saint Ignatius) the Browns, and the Monsters. 

"He is great to work with. He is a great referral source for many different kinds of sports medicine injuries," says Head Athletic Trainer Mo Sizemore. "Nobody ever has anything negative to say about him. He’s always happy to work someone into his schedule." 

In this role, Dr. Salata also aids sports medicine research. At the moment, the institute has 50-60 ongoing research projects aimed at injury prevention and surgical procedures with technology. Dr. Salata works tirelessly to improve operations by minimizing complications, so that no matter who the surgeon is, the operation is successful. 

Mentorship plays a large part in his job, as well. 

"I enjoy teaching medical residents. Someone has to do this when I’m done," Dr. Salata says. "I love training the next generation of thought leaders. It can be very rewarding. In particular I help with the 5-year residency for orthopedics. Our first accredited fellow just headed to Utah."

And on top of all that, Dr. Salata has another role that is essentially a second job during football season – team physician for the Browns.

Dr. Salata serves as an associate orthopedist under Dr. James Voos, the lead team physician. In essence, Drs. Voos, Salata, and Gobezie are the Browns' team surgeons, taking care of any injuries that arise during the season. It's as daunting a task as it seems.

During the season, the gig requires long hours. The three doctors split up the days at training camp, but all three are at every game. That includes flying with the team to road contests, so weekends in the fall are consumed by football.

"We work with the incredibly talented athletic training staff, led by Joe Sheehan, to improve player safety and maximize performance. When injuries occur, we're trying to get players back to the field," Dr. Salata says. "It's like a second job. During training camp, you're doing surgeries all day, then you go to Berea to check in on the guys. And for a Sunday away game, you leave on a Saturday, so it gets pretty busy in the fall." 

The hectic nature of the job leads to many long days, but it's an amazing experience.

"To perform athletic medicine at the highest level, doesn’t get much higher or acute than the NFL," Dr. Salata says. "The athletes are tremendous and the injuries can be significant. We're fortunate to have a very talented team to take care of our Browns."

Now in his seventh season with the Browns, Dr. Salata has plenty of memories.

The team's trip to London sticks out in his mind as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The little things also stay with him.

"As a kid growing up in Cleveland, you're dead inside if you don't get a rush coming out of the tunnel with thousands of excited fans," Dr. Salata says. "In the last seven years, we don't have the most wins in the NFL, but I did get to be there when Brian Hoyer ['04] and the team beat the Bengals to get into first place a few years ago. And the relationships with players and the team are special. The relationships are my favorite part."

As the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, few healthcare workers have not been affected. Dr. Salata is among the doctors working to battle the coronavirus and maintain his practice.

"The last month or two has been incredibly busy seeing athletes and folks. I've also put together some helpful resources to return athletes back to sports," Dr. Salata says. "I've had help from infectious disease colleagues as we work to minimize risks. I've also given lots of virtual lectures to surgeons around the country, helping them get better at their practice. And of course, I've been spending time with my boys and my wife."

The father of four boys (ages 5, 9, 11, and 13), Dr. Salata couldn't be much busier. And did we mention that he's helping to coach his sons' baseball teams? 

"I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's a great profession," Dr. Salata says. "It's rewarding because I get to help people in meaningful ways. It's a great career." 

In his work as a doctor, mentor, leader, husband, and father, Salata remembers the principles he learned at Saint Ignatius. 

"Ignatius has left a huge mark on me," Dr. Salata says. "I live my life by the motto of Men for Others. It's interwoven into how I practice medicine and take care of patients. It's a special place. I'm fortunate to have passed through the doors."

Dr. Salata and his family are very giving towards the Ignatius community. His father, Dr. Robert Salata, is always generous, as well. The elder Salata, the chair of Department Medicine and physician-in-chief at UH, gives vaccinations to students before mission trips.

"Dr. Robert Salata has been a great friend of the mission trip program for perhaps 20 years," says Languages teacher Bill Kelley '62. "He and some of his associates from UH come each year prior to the international trips to speak to the students and adults going on the trips about health issues and also to take care of any immunizations needed by the students and/or adults. He is of course a renowned expert in the field of international medicine, epidemiology, and so on. He always speaks to the students (and any parents present) in a very clear, calm, and reassuring manner about health concerns."

Indeed, the Salata family, including Dr. Michael Salata, is an integral part of the school community. Saint Ignatius President Rev. Raymond Guiao, S.J. '82 has known him for a long time, and has always recognized him as a good Ignatian man. 

"I find it so gratifying to follow the careers and life trajectories of my former students. Mike was in my Honors English III class in his junior year, and I knew then that he was a young man destined to lead life of real significance," says Fr. Guiao. "I was honored to be asked to preside at his wedding Mass when he married the love of his life Kristen, and to give First Holy Communion to his sons. While Mike is a man of great influence in his medical profession, he is also a man of genuine faith, humility, generosity, and care, among other virtues. He's a credit certainly to his good family, but also to our famed Alma Mater."