Surgeon goes from March Madness to medicine with help from mentors

Former Michigan State basketball player and Stanford surgeon Michael Longaker served as an honorary captain on Jan. 17, 2018, at a Stanford men’s basketball win over Arizona State at Maples Pavilion.

Each year, 68 college basketball teams are chosen to compete in the sudden-death tournament known as March Madness, which involves a frenzy of brackets, betting and behind-the-boss’s-back game watching.

In 1979, 40 years ago, MICHAEL LONGAKER was part of the March Madness as a guard for Michigan State in its NCAA championship win over Indiana State.

Longaker, now a Stanford surgeon known for his work on scarring and skeletal stem cells, was recently profiled in Scope, the School of Medicine blog.

The final game that year pitted Indiana’s Larry Bird, who became a 12-time NBA all-star, against Longaker’s on-the-road roommate: Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

At the time, Longaker said his own future was unclear to him. He credits his transformation from a first-generation college graduate to an acclaimed academic surgeon almost wholly to a series of amazing mentors.

Longaker ended up earning his medical degree at Harvard University. He then went on to the University of California, San Francisco for his surgical residency. It was in the UCSF Fetal Treatment Center that Longaker said he first observed that embryos heal without a scar. That discovery led to his life’s work on scar-less wound healing.

“I’ve benefited from being in the right place at the right time more than most,” Longaker said. “So, I try to give that sort of handoff to the people in my lab.”

Longaker has been a mentor to hundreds of Stanford students, including several athletes. His athlete-mentees include Stanford men’s basketball forward OSCAR DA SILVA and football running back BRYCE LOVE.

“Basketball was my first love, and I’ve been fortunate to have an experience in athletics here at Stanford,” Longaker said. “But when students sit in my office, they don’t want to talk about their sport. They want to know how they can make an impact.”

Although his schedule is busy, Longaker regularly roots for the Stanford men’s basketball team. But the Cardinal is not part of this year’s tournament. So Longaker is cheering for – you guessed it – Michigan State.

Read the entire article in Scope.