Little Rock otolaryngologist Graves Hearnsberger, 49, loves what he does — sinus, thyroid and other surgeries as well as his regular ear, nose and throat practice — because he can make people well. Doctors who treat life-threatening diseases have a vital job, but they don't always offer a cure. “In my field, for the vast majority of things, I'm able to solve the problem,” he said. “It's very rewarding.”
One of his biggest rewards comes from endoscopic sinus surgery, in which he began to specialize when he first went into practice, with Dr. Michael Reese of Rogers. Reese, Hearnsberger said, was “on the front end of the endoscope sinus surgery trend. … I learned a lot from him.” Before endoscopy, surgeons used a flashlight; with endoscopy, they had a device that sent a camera into the cavities. “I loved it,” Hearnsberger said, “because it worked.”
Hearnsberger and his wife left Rogers for Little Rock when they found out twins were on the way; Dr. James Suen, the noted head and neck cancer surgeon at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, asked his former student to teach one day a week at the university. “Over time, I got the reputation of being a sinus surgeon,” Hearnsberger said.
Hearnsberger's patients are every age; he puts tubes in ears and tests for deafness. His surgical practice also includes doing the “approach” to the pituitary gland, located in the center of the head and reached through the nose, for neurosurgeons. His favorite surgery, he said, is one he does to patch cerebral spinal fluid leaks, a problem that arises in heavy patients whose fluid pressure becomes so great it leaks through the brain dura into the sinuses.
Graves Hearnsberger knew even as a teen-ager “I was going to be a surgeon of some kind,” and he worked as a surgery scrub tech during the summer at then-St. Vincent Infirmary. It was his father, Henry Hearnsberger, who got him interested in medicine, when he took his young son on house calls in Stephens, Ark. (Henry Hearnsberger later decided to specialize in psychiatry and moved the family to Little Rock.) He presumes his selection as the best otolaryngologist reflects “the way I saw my father take care of his patients and the values he gave me. You want to take care of people the way you wish you'd be taken care of.”
Hearnsberger added that recognition was due to all of his colleagues at the Arkansas Otolaryngology Center.