Most folks know Dr. Edmond Obeng-Gyimah for his deft skills as a cardiac electrophysiologist who treats rhythm problems of the heart. The director of the Ventricular Tachycardia and Complex Ablation Program at WellSpan, he was named to the Top Physicians Under 40 list by the Pennsylvania Medical Society this year.
But for a week in July in Vienna, Dr. Obeng-Gyimah was known as number 39, running, kicking, passing, getting his thumb squashed by some guy from Brazil – all as a member of the U.S. Medical Soccer Team competing in the World Medical Football Championship games.
The physician’s journey to the international soccer tournament began in February and included months of workouts, training, practices all over the U.S., and some serious injuries that he recovered from with help from WellSpan’s own sports medicine team.
“I had a great time,” he says. “For me, this event was a match made in heaven. You have medicine and soccer, which together are my two most favorite things in the world.”
A native of Ghana in western Africa, Dr. Obeng-Gyimah has been playing soccer since he was 3 years old, competing during his early school years, after he moved to the U.S. when he was 16, and up through college. When his medical training became more intense, he shifted his play to intramurals and men’s leagues, finding teams to play with in Boston, Philadelphia, and eventually South Central Pennsylvania, where he plays in an indoor league and in pickup games on weekend mornings.
It was his wife, Jessica, who discovered the opportunity for a global outlet for his soccer skills in an advertisement in the American Journal of Cardiology promoting tryouts for the team, which promises the opportunity to play soccer, do community outreach, and make friendships with physicians from all over the country and the world. Dr. Obeng-Gyimah wanted in.
Unfortunately, as he prepared for the tryouts, he injured his left hamstring in a Sunday morning pickup game. He was treated by Dr. John Deitch , vice president and chief medical officer for the WellSpan orthopedic service line, and learned his injury was fairly serious, almost requiring surgery. He went through some intense physical therapy from the WellSpan sports medicine team – aided in particular by physical therapist Jessica Kuntz and exercise physiologist Zach Miller – and within six weeks felt ready to try out.
“They are the best,” Dr. Obeng-Gyimah says. “I wasn’t sure I would make it but they made my dream come true.”
The WellSpan physician traveled to California in February for tryouts, winning one of 18 spots on the open team (there also is a master’s team), playing offense as a striker. After the tryouts, the U.S. team met with kids in an at-risk youth program and talked to them about soccer, healthy habits, and careers in the medical field.
“It’s great to share a sport you love and be part of a bigger program,” he says.
One of three cardiologists on the U.S. team – and the first WellSpan physician ever – Dr. Obeng-Gyimah also was the only player from Pennsylvania, joining physicians from New York, California, Georgia, Ohio and other states. In the leadup to the tournament, he actually suffered a second injury on his right quadriceps, returning to physical therapy and recuperating, again with the help of the WellSpan sports medicine team.
In Vienna, the U.S. Medical Soccer Team played six games, winning two (against Mexico and Canada). They lost to several tough opponents, including a team from Ireland that won the open tournament.
Dr. Obeng-Gyimah enjoyed visiting Austria with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 8, as well as playing against and meeting physician soccer players from all over the world. The experience of playing the Ukrainian medical team was particularly moving. The physicians on that team were very united and expressed their appreciation for what the U.S. has done to aid them in their war with Russia. He also enjoyed mixing it up with the Brazilian team – the physician who injured Dr. Obeng-Gyimah’s thumb in a scramble for the ball later traded jerseys with him in a show of good sportsmanship.
The Medical World Football Championship is played every July. In 2024, it will be held in Australia, something that the Obeng-Gyimah family already is eagerly anticipating.
“I am turning 40 so I ain’t no spring chicken but I want to try out again,” he says. “I have started going back to the gym and getting ready.”