Dr. Joe Gleason brings wide range of expertise to UT Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists
West Tennessee hit the jackpot when Joe Gleason, MD, decided to leave Canada for a warmer climate. From cancer to general urologic problems to robots, Gleason brings a wide range of expertise and technology to his patients, the area and to his pediatric urologic practice with UT Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists/St. Jude.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Gleason knew he liked math and science but had no affinity for medicine until he took an anatomy class in high school. "An ER doctor made a presentation to the class one day and at the end he said anyone who wanted could come hang out with him in the ER," said Gleason. "I took him up on it and got to spend a couple of nights in the ER and found it fascinating. I even aspired to be a trauma surgeon, so when I applied to college, I did so with pre-med as my plan."
At Notre Dame, Gleason decided that he would pursue biochemistry just in case he changed his mind about medical school. Graduating Magna Cum Laude, Gleason headed to the University of Minnesota for medical school where he found an interest in pediatric urology.
"I went into medical school thinking I wanted to be a trauma surgeon based on my time in the ER in high school," said Gleason. "When I went to do my first sub-specialty elective, a friend recommended a two-week rotation in pediatric urology because the doctor in charge of it would let you really 'get your feet wet' in the operating room which could really be beneficial down the road. I followed his advice and had an amazing two weeks with the pediatric urologist and the residents. My fourth year I changed my schedule to do adult urology since I would have to do that before I could pursue pediatric urology."
Toward the end of medical school, Gleason got married. With a wife that wanted to live in Los Angeles, his choices for a residency were somewhat narrowed. He completed his internship and residency in general surgery followed by a residency in urology at Kaiser Permanente Health System in Los Angeles. During his fourth year of residency he spent six months in pediatric urology, which rekindled his desire to pursue pediatric urology.
Upon completion of his general urology residency, Gleason headed to Canada to complete a two-year clinical and research fellowship in pediatric urology at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, a place that would become close to his heart.
"In my fifth year of residency, my brother died of brain cancer. At the Hospital for Sick Children, I would have the chance to be heavily involved in urology oncology which was a draw for me," said Gleason. "It just so happened that the head of the program there had also been touched by glioblastoma and we really bonded over that. During my second year of my fellowship, I started looking to come back to the United States as that was what the plan was with my wife as she wanted a warmer climate than Canada. Los Angeles and the South both fit that bill. A pediatric surgeon who was a year ahead of me called me and invited me to come look at UT Le Bonheur Pediatric Specialists, a multi-specialty group owned and managed by Le Bonheur Children's Medical Hospital."
One of the things Gleason found most attractive was the affiliation Le Bonheur has with St. Jude because it would give him the opportunity to continue to work with cancer patients and the fact that it was St. Jude, the leader in childhood cancer research and treatment. "St. Jude has a huge referral base which allows you to see more complex cases as well as some of the rarer tumors," he said. "That and having access to the latest technology were definitely a huge draw for me to come to Memphis."
In addition to working with Le Bonheur Children's Hospital, Gleason would become the Chief of the Pediatric Urologic Surgery at St. Jude as well as an Assistant Professor of Pediatric Urology with UT Health Science Center.
"I had also done a lot of training in the field of robotic surgery and in 2014, it was a relatively new field and a hot topic in medicine," said Gleason. "Le Bonheur Children's Hospital did not have a program at the time and coming here would give me the opportunity to start one, which was also very appealing to me. Within a year of my coming to LeBonheur, we started the robotic surgery program and I was named Medical Director of Robotic Surgery for Le Bonheur."
Gleason does not limit his time to patients in Memphis; he also spends time at the Le Bonheur Clinic in Jackson seeing patients from across West Tennessee. "We treat the same things in Jackson that we do in Memphis; we just do not do any surgeries in Jackson. Those are all done in Memphis. We also would see any patient with cancer at St. Jude," he said. "There is definitely a need for a clinic in Jackson because it saves 40 or more patients and their families from having to come to Memphis to be treated."
One other area of interest that Gleason brought with him from Canada, is a program of fertility preservation in pre-puberty boys. "For patients with testicular cancer, we want to give them a chance to have children in the future even though they cannot give a sample to freeze," he said. "We had a program in Toronto and when I came here, I said we needed to start one since there are few centers in North America. We have partnered with a program at the University of Pittsburg and it is in the pipeline to be rolled out in the next few months."