If you were to watch Chris Kager coaching a Manheim Township youth team, you would get a feel for the athlete and competitor in him. If you attend one of his seminars on back pain, you’ll notice his command of teaching and his ease at communicating. And if it were possible to observe him in the operating room, you would witness this skilled and experienced neurosurgeon doing the work to which he’s dedicated his life.
But perhaps the most telling glimpse of Dr. Chris Kager would be to see him with his patients as he explains a procedure and guides them in their choices. Then you would perceive the compassion and calmness that speaks volumes about his devotion to practicing medicine.
Early stirrings of a medical career
Raised in upstate New York, where his father worked in quality control for Owens Corning and his mother was on staff with the New York State Department of Health, he acquired a positive exposure to the world of technology early on.
“As long as I can remember going back to early childhood, I had an interest in science and medicine,” Dr. Kager remembers. “I have always been fascinated by the structure and function of the nervous system. My choice to become a neurosurgeon was a natural fit for me.” Another career he considered while he was initially enrolled in a combined MD/Ph D program at the University of Pennsylvania was in medical research. Today the scientist in him shines through in his work. He brings a physics-oriented approach to diagnosis and treatment that he learned during his Fellowship at The Cleveland Clinic. “It’s called biomechanics,” he explained. “It looks at forces and stresses on the spine in a pragmatic way.”
He’s able to share his zeal for education whenever he teaches students in Lancaster General’s health science programs and frequently addresses the nursing staff on neurosurgery topics. He’s also sought after for wider audiences as a key speaker at neuroscience conferences.
Patient care is his motivating force
The greatest satisfaction Dr. Kager receives comes from his experiences with his patients. “The ability to transform and improve patients’ lives through surgery is the most rewarding aspect,” he explains. “Sometimes the ‘high tech’ of modern medicine is intimidating to patients. I always try to put myself in the position of the patient, or consider how I would want myself or a family member to be treated. I also try to distill the science behind our specialty into something that most patients can understand.”
Currently Chief of Neurosurgery at Lancaster Regional Medical Center, Dr. Kager has performed approximately 4,000 simple and complex cervical and lumbar spine procedures at Lancaster General Hospital, Lancaster Regional Medical Center, and Ephrata Community Hospital. They include disc herniations, stenosis, spinal fusions, spinal tumors and brain tumors, carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve surgery, Chiari malformations and artificial disc replacement.
He says that with experience comes a more total view of the patient. “Instead of focusing on a specific spine problem, you tend to take a more global view—how it impacts their life, their work and their family,” he concluded.
“Stay Active! It improves physical and mental well-being.”
Dr. Kager practices what he preaches and his example resonates with patients and their families. “Stay active” is his motto. He plays tennis whenever he can and enjoys going to national playoffs. He’s also an avid runner with three full marathons and five half marathons to his credit and he coaches youth lacrosse and football in Manheim Township. His firsthand knowledge of sports is assuring to teachers, trainers, athletes and parents who are dealing with pain or injury.
The ability to transform and improve patients’ lives through surgery is the most rewarding aspect. – Dr. Christopher Kager
His wife Stephanie, a pediatrician, and their two sons and four daughters are equally passionate about sports. The Kager family is the very definition of high energy, directed towards tennis, lacrosse, baseball, football or equestrian— and schoolwork, of course!
Making time for the community
In addition to his volunteer coaching, Dr. Kager makes time to work with a child safety program through Lancaster General Hospital. He volunteers as Medical Director of Think First® Lancaster, a satellite chapter of a national head and spine injury prevention organization for children. He applauds the nurses of the hospital’s neurosurgical unit for their initiative in starting it and for their constant efforts to reach more children. The group educates kids on safe behavior like wearing helmets and avoiding risky behavior with the goal of fewer injuries and efficient, expedient handling of those that do occur.
He also maintains his ties with his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. He is outgoing president of the Penn Club of Lancaster and Director of the university’s alumni interviewing committee in Lancaster County.
“The time commitment to being a surgeon is pretty significant and you always wish for a little more time,” Chris Kager says. He and his wife like to use any precious free hours to enjoy sports together or to attend performances at the Fulton Theater. Chris is also an avid reader of history with an appreciation of the Revolutionary War period. And he says that his travel wish list includes trips to Europe, Australia, South Africa and South America.
His ability to strike a balance in his life –given his rigorous work schedule, his super active family life and his commitments to the community—underscores his beliefs. “Stay active,” he repeats with great enthusiasm. He is the best example of how well that works.