The long way home: Dr. Kevin Lanighan
At press time, 7,355 people had climbed the forty-six highest Adirondack Mountain peaks; accordingly, they are called the Forty-Sixers. Of these, 584 carry the elite Winter Forty-Sixer designation, meaning they completed this task during winter months. One of these is Lockport native Dr. Kevin Lanighan.
“It’s an opportunity to hang out with a bunch of guys, to spend some time doing something vigorously athletic,” Lanighan says. “It’s gorgeous and almost spiritual, and even though it’s only a few hours away, it’s wilderness, not being able to make a phone call, sometimes sleeping overnight. I’ve climbed some peaks with my family; I’ll bring my wife out and she’ll say, ‘What are all these people doing out here?’ and I say, ‘Feeling their hearts pump in their chests, and loving that they are out in the wild and in touch with nature.’”
Becoming a Winter 46er requires determination—and no small amount of athletic prowess—traits Lanighan exhibited long before he began charting Adirondack climbs. A self-described “focused, goal-oriented individual,” Langihan realized he wanted to be a doctor when he chose to do his Eagle Scout service project at a nursing home. “That was my first experience being involved with people who were ill or had needs, and it tweaked something that made me feel that taking care of people was a way to give back, to use your brain to cultivate opportunity for people to get better.”
In 1978, as Western New York’s top miler, Lanighan began pursuing that goal with a full cross-country and track scholarship to Niagara University. “I paid my way through college by running, and then I had to figure out how I was going to finance this medical school thing,” Lanighan laughs. “And there was this Navy scholarship program that would pay your way through medical school … ”
And so it was that Lanighan went to Johns Hopkins Medical School, graduated with no loans, and embarked on his five-year commitment to the US Navy. “I did my surgical internship at Bethesda [Naval Medical Center], then spent two years on a helicopter carrier as a ship’s doctor. It was quite an experience caring for [US troops, as well as incoming wounded],” he says. “Thirteen of the twenty-two months I was assigned to the ship, I spent at sea. It wasn’t so great for married life, but I’m proud to have served in the US military.”
Lanighan then returned to Johns Hopkins to complete his residency, spent his final two Navy years as a staff orthopedic surgeon at Charleston Naval Hospital, completed his formal training with a fellowship at the Curtis National Hand Center in Baltimore—“hand surgery in particular has a kind of anatomic meticulousness to it that’s very exacting and really appeals to my personality”—and finally made it back to Buffalo with his wife and three children in 1996. “It was a lot of skipping around, which in some ways, put me behind the curve,” Lanighan says. “I was a doctor for ten years before I even started a practice, but, at the same time, it was a different level of experience. On the ship, I essentially spent two years as a family doctor, taking care of anything that came in, and that helped me see things from a broader perspective and to mature as a person. I look back at that time quite fondly as important formative years.”
Today, Lanighan is happily ensconced as a hand/arm specialist at Northtowns Orthopedics in East Amherst, dividing his days between patient visits and surgery. “On surgery days, I only have to do one thing at a time, which I find very peaceful,” he says. “I can be in the moment and focus on the task at hand, and there’s also something very special about surgery, a certain reverence to the operating room, where this person has allowed you to be their advocate and look out for them. The other three days, I’m in the office and the phone is ringing and everybody wants a piece of you, it’s very high energy, and a bunch of things are happening, and I love that juggling, too. I’m doing what I want to do, and I feel very lucky; I thank the powers that be that this is my life.”
Donna Hoke is Buffalo Spree’s ancillary editor and frequent contributor.