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New Ulm doctor serves global church and Rwanda needy online

Despite a disabling, painful genetic, degenerative spinal condition that confines him to a bed, New Ulm doctor Rob Trautloff has been described as a testament to letting God use you right where you are at.

November 20, 2011
Story, photo by Fritz Busch , The Journal

Those looking for inspiration on overcoming disabilities and other challenges life can throw at you, would do well to learn about Dr. Rob Trautloff of New Ulm.

As a youth, he enjoyed riding surf boards in the Pacific Ocean at Huntington, Doheney and Blacks Beach in and around Los Angeles. He sailed catamarans in Mission Bay, near San Diego, lifted weights and played high school football.

Forty-five years ago, the Trautloff family was on their way to church near Disneyland when another vehicle driver ran a stop sign.

Article Photos

Dr. Rob Trautloff of New Ulm at work on a laptop in his home.

"My dad swerved but we had a serious accident. My mother and a brother were killed. Several other family members including myself were burned badly," Trautloff recalled.

Rob studied nursing in Southern California. He worked as a nurse before becoming a doctor in his forties, graduating from Kirksville (Mo.) College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1993, then doing his residency at the Cleveland Clinic.

Rob and his wife Kristin moved to New Glarus, Wis., a small town near Madison regarded as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the U.S.A.

After five years in Wisconsin working at an HMO-run practice he helped build in nearby Monroe, Trautloff found himself searching for more fulfillment.

He found it with the Physician Group of New Ulm, Ltd. where he could treat patients with diabetes, high-blood pressure and cardio-vascular ailments with Abbott Northwestern Hospital physicians and Mayo Clinic technology. The Trautloffs and their two boys moved to New Ulm in 2002.

Several years ago, Rob's degenerative spinal condition began rupturing discs in his back.

He has had four major surgical operations in the past decade.

His upper spine has been reconstructed three times. He has two 18-inch titanium rods and 16 screws in his neck and down his spine.

"A doctor told me I couldn't continue my practice and that I'd be permanently disabled," Rob said.

Trautloff tried spinal injections and braces as the illness took more of a hold on him. Now he takes many medications daily.

Able to play guitar, type and surf online with a laptop computer suspended over him while he lies flat on his back, Trautloff found Pastor Rick Warren and Saddleback Church.

The connection came when he got a call from an old college friend about the prospects of making better healthcare available to many needy people in Western Rwanda through Saddleback Church.

That's where Rob's faith kicked in.

"Pastor Rick (Warren) talked about projecting our faith on a daily basis. I prayed to God to bring people to me because I can't move," Rob said.

Thanks to Skype video and audio online technology, he's now a Saddleback Church small group host, PEACE team member and an (online) church-attendee.

Trautloff's medical work continues too. He's a virtual medical missionary, answering Rwanda doctor's questions about their patients on Skype.

Rob said he's excited about chance to partner with other world health organizations and Saddleback Church, doing surveys to help doctors in Rwanda deal with patients who often die of heart failure by age 35, heart valve disorders in their late teens and diabetes and high blood pressure at a young age.

"As we get past the fact that HIV/AIDS kills so many people there, we're learning more about other humanitarian crises and how to help doctors deal with them," Trautloff said.

Churches in Rwanda are the main, social gathering places. Now "clinical churches" are becoming a way to help citizens live longer, more productive lives.

"The Rwanda government is receptive to what Saddleback Church and world health organizations are doing there. We hope it will expand to other countries including The Congo with surveys some simple tests like blood pressure checks and finger sticks," said Trautloff.

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