Retired doctor talks about his fitness regimen, state of medicine

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Dr. Len Kreisler believes we all should be the best we can be.

It’s 7 a.m. and 87-year-old Dr. Leonard Kreisler has been up for two hours. He’s had breakfast — a bowl of Cheerios with skim milk, strawberries and blueberries — and read the newspaper.

Now it’s time for the former chief of staff at University Medical Center to do what he does practically every day — ride his bike to a Sun City Summerlin recreation center half a mile away to work out on exercise machines and light weights.

And practice his serve for doubles tennis matches he has weekly.

His tennis racket is strapped to his back as he rides. At 5-foot-8 and 162 pounds, he doesn’t carry a paunch. Eating just 1,500 daily calories — lunches often consist of two hard boiled eggs, and dinners of fish salads — keeps the waistline trim.

“My biggest problem with my health was breaking my leg in 1976 skiing,” the retired physician says, following his workout. “I eat to live, not live to eat.”

Kreisler attributes his zest for life to something his parents instilled in him as a child: Leave the world a better place for having been here.

That mindset drives his disciplined exercise and dietary regimen, his overall good health, and his desire to continue being active in the community more than 20 years after retirement.

“I really believe my parents’ philosophy of what life should be about,” he says as we talk in the kitchen of the home he rents in Sun City. “And if you really believe it, it takes a real commitment. You have to be at your best physically and mentally to try and make it happen. And I’m still trying.”

Kreisler regularly contributes at meetings for physicians about how best to deliver medical care, says Dr. Weldon Havins, president of the Nevada State Medical Association.

“It’s quite impressive how he still is involved,” Havins says. “I must point out that not all doctors like what he has to say.”

It’s not uncommon for Kreisler to rail at what he calls “Gucci doctors,” noting the 13 years he practiced in Peekskill, N.Y., often working 18-20 hours a day in a general practice delivering babies, sowing up wounds and making house calls.

“There are too many (doctors) interested more in money than patients,” says the physician who spent two years as an officer in the Army Medical Corps prior to going into family practice. “They’ll basically commit fraud by doing too many tests to run up a bill. … They need to treat people the way they want to be treated. ”

Aspirations for medicine

The son of a cabinet maker and a stay-at-home mom, Kreisler knew at a young age he wanted to be a doctor. His mother told him that at age 3, he told their family doctor that he, too, would be a doctor someday — she said the youngster wanted to get even and take out the doctor’s tonsils.

That kind of aggressive directness, cute for a toddler, continues today — and it sometimes hurts Kreisler when he tries to a make a point at meetings, Havins says.

“He can be passionate and emotional and some people will think the criticism is directed at them when it’s really not,” Havins says. “Some people are offended. I’m not sure how effective this technique is at affecting change. But he was one of the most prominent of a relatively small group of physicians … who made a substantial difference in Nevada medicine. He has integrity and expects doctors to always practice the best medicine.”

Kreisler came to Nevada in 1973 to become medical director of the atomic testing program at the Nevada Test Site. Not long after he arrived, he became the first vice president of Temple Beth Sholom, then the only temple in Las Vegas. He would work at the Test Site (now known as the Nevada National Security Site) for 18 years.

Kreisler did a concurrent stint as UMC chief of staff in 1982-83. He was the prime mover in getting the hospital’s name changed from Southern Nevada Memorial to University Medical Center, which better reflected the teaching of students from University of Nevada, Reno’s, medical school.

Late-blooming author

Kreisler has written and self-published five books since he turned 75.

His most recent, “In Bed Alone: A Caregiver’s Odyssey,” came out last year. It chronicles the years his wife struggled with dementia. Joan Kreisler, with whom he had three children during a 60-year marriage, died this year of complications from the condition.

“I felt I may give people some insight into how to deal with a difficult situation,” he says, shaking his head. “It’s hard.”

As he cared for his wife, he experienced the sense of isolation that caregivers often confront.

Researchers have have found caregivers frequently lose contact with people with whom they had long associated — people caregivers need more than ever after their soulmates have lost the ability to have a meaningful conversation. Yet because people are uncomfortable with dementia, they don’t know what to say, so they stay away.

While Kreisler understands their awkwardness, he says caregivers seldom want to talk about their loved one’s condition. “We want to talk about sports, politics, life, the weather. We’re just people like everybody else. There’s nothing to fear.”

Looking ahead

As Kreisler looks forward to an upcoming cruise, he wonders whether he’ll live long enough to see what President Harry Truman tried to do in the 1940s — make universal health care a right for all Americans.

“It was right then and it’s right now. I’ll let the politicians know how I feel as long as I can. Do we really want people to go bankrupt or to die because they don’t have insurance?”

Paul Harasim’s column runs Monday in Health. Contact him at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.

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