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Published on March 25, 2021

Hometown Heroes Reunite

Coach, former student switch roles

It was a Husker game day, 2018.

Retired Columbus High School football and track coach Richard “Dick” Luebbe parked his car, joined
the throng of fans crossing the viaduct just west of Memorial Stadium, and climbed the steps to his seat.

“I’m kind of a bigger guy,” he says, “and I was in the stadium when I saw Dr. Chad Travers. He was with his family, and I was huffing and puffing and trying to catch my breath as he introduced me. Being a cardiologist, Dr. Travers expressed a bit of concern.”

Dr. Travers, a 1998 Columbus High alum and now a cardiologist at Bryan Heart, remembers the moment well. He had good reason to be concerned.

His former coach and math teacher — who had bypass surgery at Bryan about nine years earlier — was suffering from coronary artery disease (CAD). Tests would reveal one of his arteries was 99 percent blocked. Soon after that encounter at the stadium, Dick visited his primary care physician back in Columbus.

“I told him I was having the same issues when I was playing golf,” Dick says. “They did a stress test and immediately asked if I could be in Lincoln the next day for a heart catheterization procedure.”

Interventional cardiologist Matthew Johnson, MD, placed stents to keep Dick’s arteries open. Following his recovery at Bryan Medical Center, Dick returned home and received follow-up care at Bryan Heart’s satellite office in Columbus.

And that’s when Dr. Travers assumed the ongoing cardiac care for his former math teacher and football coach. The doctor says, “With both Omaha and Lincoln just an hour and 15 minutes away, people have options for their care. I’m grateful Coach Luebbe selected me to be his cardiologist, and I feel a great responsibility to him.”

Proud of student successes

Coach Luebbe knows he is in good hands. He remembers Chad Travers as a hardworking teen, a member of Dick’s summer corn detasseling crew, an exceptional student and a starter on the varsity football squad.

Dick says, “I tried to impress on my students that high school is a stepping stone for their future. They need to do well at this level so they can meet the needs of society as adults. Chad was committed to doing his best.

“It’s a great feeling for an educator when your students are successful. I know what I had to go through academically to become a  teacher, and Chad becoming a doctor required even more commitment. To get to that level is outstanding.”

He continues, “I told my students ‘enjoy yourself and have fun.’ Now when I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, I see Dr. Travers greeting his patients, and he looks like he enjoys what he’s doing. He always has a smile on his face — real personable.”

Coach Luebbe says Dr. Travers relates well to people. “He has insight about his patients and an understanding about their lives. He knows their backgrounds and is well-liked,” he points out.

Clinics reunite physicians with hometowns

Doctors become road warriors

Like many of his Bryan Heart colleagues, Dr. Travers regularly drives long distances to see patients in rural communities. Some weeks he travels as much as 500 miles. Besides Columbus, which he visits every week, he also serves several towns in the southeast corner of Nebraska, including Auburn, Nebraska City and Syracuse, as well as Fairfax, Missouri.

Dr. Travers usually travels alone, although before COVID-19 and its social distancing restrictions, a nurse sometimes accompanied him on the drive to help at those outreach clinics.

In Columbus, Bryan Heart has its own space and staff, so patients can expect to receive the same diagnostic services they would get in Lincoln. In smaller towns, Bryan Heart may bring a mobile truck with diagnostic equipment and set up a clinic in the local hospital.

Traveling to these outlying communities might seem like a hardship, but Dr. Travers calls it “the perfect job.”

He says, “I feel like I have the best of both worlds — the technology that Bryan offers in those clinics is just like in a major metro area and I get to care for people in my hometown.”

Like so many of his colleagues who were raised in the Midwest, Dr. Travers deeply appreciates what living in a closeknit community is like. He says, “I grew up liking math and science, but I think it is life experiences and mentors like Coach Luebbe who influenced me the most. I have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better upbringing.”

He notes, “My best friend’s dad was a physician, Dr. Ronald Klutman, who cared for our whole family. I looked up to him and admired him. In my senior year of high school, we had the opportunity to shadow people in different professions, and I did a rotation in the hospital. I remember it being a great experience.

“My parents pushed me to do my best, and when I decided to pursue medicine, they encouraged and supported me.” Dr. Travers went to medical school thinking he would enter family practice but changed his mind during a residency at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He recalls, “I fell in love with cardiology — the subject matter, the people I worked with — everything. Cardiology is challenging and rewarding, and I like being able to step in and help.”

While at Rush, he met and married Carolyn, who’s a dentist and the mother of their four children. They decided to move to Nebraska to provide their children with the kind of hometown experience that Dr. Travers enjoyed. Coach Luebbe is among those hometown patients who are thankful that Dr. Travers decided to return home, and he is deeply grateful for the help he’s received. Married for more than 50 years to his wife, Patti, this father of three and grandfather of 10 says, “Dr. Travers is helping me maintain my health. Thanks to Bryan Heart, I am enjoying my life — traveling to University of Nebraska games with Patti, watching my grandkids’ sporting events and going on summer vacations with my whole family.”

The coach and physician would agree — life doesn’t get much better than that.

To learn how you can support the work of Bryan Health, please call 402-481-8605. To meet Dr. Travers, see the introductory video about him at bryanheart.org/DrTravers.

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