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Malta native playing key role in Shriners Children’s Hospital Spokane's expansion into sports medicine

Dr. Thomas Halvorson
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jun 11, 2024

SPOKANE, Wash. — Sports medicine has come a long way in a short amount of time.

“Sports medicine, when it first started, was basically just a doc would go to the ball games on a Friday night, and they were just there if somebody got hurt," said Dr. Thomas Halvorson, an orthopedic surgeon at Shriners Children's Hospital.

"We now have certified athletic trainers that are involved with the local high schools, and we have physicians who are involved in helping provide the coverage, so we're really integrating ourselves into the community and the schools to help keep the kids healthier.”

The Shriners Children’s Hospital in Spokane is known for its work in pediatric specialty care and recently expanded its coverage to include sprains, strains, fractures, overuse injuries and other sport-specific ailments.

Dr. Halvorson is part of the hospital’s fast-growing sports medicine team, but he wasn’t always sure this is where he would end up.

“When I first started, I didn't think it would be sports, even though I sort of played sports and stuff and had some minor injuries," Halvorson said. "But then when I was started doing my rotations in medical school and residency and stuff, I’m like, ‘OK, this is for me. This is what I want to do.’”

Halvorson long had his eye on the Shriners Hospital and joined their staff about a year ago. And just a few weeks ago, the hospital added a sports medicine therapy gym.

“More and more kids are starting younger. They're being more focused on what they do. They're doing things, specialization earlier, and we're actually seeing a lot more injuries," Halvorson said.

"So, we're trying to get really involved, and I think the biggest thing we'll see is better injury prevention so that they have to come see us less. Even though we’re a surgical hospital, our department’s goal is to get these kids healthy so that they don’t have to come see us.”

Halvorson has now lived in Spokane for 25 years, but he grew up on the Hi-Line in Malta.

“There's something about growing up in a small town that just makes you different," he said. "There's a certain amount of self-reliance and and initiative you have to have when you're out there in the middle of nowhere.”

Halvorson played football during what he considers the first heyday of Malta football in the 1970s. The Mustangs were the Class A runners-up in 1976 and 1977.

“Some of those kids that I played with went on and played in the Shrine Game. I'd watched the Shrine Game with my dad from when I was younger. We used to go to the game, so I knew about it," Halvorson said. "Now here I am working at the place that we were raising money for.”

The Montana East-West Shrine Game is one of the longest-running all-star games in the country and raises funds for the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Spokane, which has been providing children with specialized healthcare for 100 years.

“I didn't appreciate the love of the mission when I was younger watching the ball games," Halvorson said. "We knew it was a Shriners hospital. We knew it what it was for. But I didn't really appreciate back then.”

This year’s game will represent a full-circle moment for Halvorson — the boy who grew up attending the game with his father will be the doctor on the sidelines at Daylis Stadium in Billings.

“I'm excited," Halvorson said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. It's been a long time since I've been to one, but I'm looking forward to it.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast and streamed on MTN platforms.