Steve Marshall and Tom Fleeter were packing up the car for the trip home from Northwestern University to Ohio. Problem was, there wasn't enough room for all their stuff, so Fleeter took matters into his own hands.
"He ripped open a suitcase, and guess whose it was, and got everything to fit," said Marshall, who has known Fleeter since elementary school. "There we were in the car — two unicycles and two college juniors’ year worth of stuff with my socks and underwear shoved everywhere."
Marshall said it's Fleeter's ability to think on his feet and his problem solving skills, not to mention his ability to rip things apart and make them fit, that makes him a successful orthopedic surgeon. However, it's Fleeter's boundless energy and big heart that makes him a mainstay in the community and one of the "Best of Reston."
"He has the energy of 12 normal people. Even as an elementary-school kid, he crammed more into one day than anybody," Marshall said.
Even this weekend's snowstorm couldn’t stop Fleeter, who used cross-country skis to get from his home in North Point to the Reston Hospital to make his morning rounds.
FLEETER MOVED to Reston in 1984 with his wife, Joanne, after completing his medical training at George Washington (GW) Hospital. At the time, the area was still pretty undeveloped and Fleeter was the only orthopedic surgeon in the area. To help get his name out, he began volunteering to be the physician on-site for athletic games at South Lakes, started coaching his children's youth sports, helping out with the local Special Olympics and became involved in the Reston Triathlon, recruiting not only Marshall, who is an emergency medical technician and editor at USA Today, but also his sons and co-workers, to help out as well.
"I work with him at the Reston Triathlon and doing sports physicals at South Lakes and I'm working with him at the world figure skating championships [in March at the MCI Center]. He asked if I could help and the next thing I knew, I was organizing all the nurses," said Nancy Susco, director of the surgical unit at Reston Hospital. "He'd give the shirt off his back if he could. He really does have the sense, and I feel the same way, that our families have been blessed and we need to give back to the community."
SUSCO FIRST meet Fleeter 27 years ago when they were both at GW in Washington D.C.
While at GW, Fleeter solidified his interest in orthopedics, but it was an accident as a youngster that pointed him in that direction.
"I fell off a skateboard as a child and hurt my knee," Fleeter said. "And when I got to med school I couldn't decide what I wanted to specialize in. So my parents invited the orthopedic surgeon who operated on my knee over for Christmas dinner."
Fleeter was able to become affiliated with Reston Hospital when the facility was just opening. Since then, his office has grown to five partners. Besides growing his own business, Fleeter has helped future medical students get started on the right path. It was Fleeter who suggested the hospital take some of the dues it collects from the physicians for the medical staff account and use it for scholarships. For the past 10 years, $10,000 per year in scholarships has been awarded to local high-school students that intend to enter the medical field.
MEDICINE IS a family trait for the father of three, Dan, a college student, Drew, a 10th-grader, and Diane, a sixth-grader. He has several family members who pursued medicine and he met his wife at GW while she was working as an administrator.
"My grandfather was a doctor in a small town. He would walk down the street and everyone knew who he was. I thought that was the appealing part," Fleeter said.
Medicine is not Fleeter's only interest, however. He is an avid cyclist, learned to ride a unicycle when he was younger, scuba dives, skis and earned his pilot's license in his early 20s. He gave up motorcycles after becoming a surgeon.
"His family had a little Cessna and I remember we would just go for lunch somewhere in the family’s plane," Marshall said.
In fact, Marshall said aggressiveness is also a family trait. Growing up, the Fleeters were always the first to try something. He said that even now, Fleeter and his brother cycle every weekend and Marshall had to bow out.
"I stopped going with them because it's depressing. I couldn't keep up with them," Marshall said.
"Our family motto is 'If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much room.'" Fleeter said. "I don't look at life as a risk that should be avoided. A certain amount of manageable risk is OK."