Dr. Weed Teaches with Both Hands, All Heart
Former Pilot Survives Military Injury, Dedicates 40 Years to Teaching
By Teri Speece
If you attended dental school at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio within the last 40 years, there’s a good chance that Roger Weed, D.D.S., FACD, demonstrated dental techniques in one of your courses. At one point in his military career, though, Dr. Weed faced the possibility that he wouldn’t be able to use one of his hands.
During the Vietnam War, Dr. Weed, now an associate professor of comprehensive dentistry, was shot through the left arm while flying a medical evacuation mission for one of the about 1,000 injured soldiers he flew to safety as a Dustoff pilot in the Army.
“We were going into an area where we always got shot at—a very hostile area close to North Vietnam,” said Dr. Weed, who estimated that about 30 rounds went into the back of the helicopter. “When I looked at the sleeve of my fatigues, there were bullet holes in it. I couldn’t move my left arm.” The radial nerve that controls the triceps was severed.
“Army medicine put it back together,” Dr. Weed said. “In 1967, microsurgery was rare, but a neurosurgeon at Brooke Army Medical Center did the microsurgical reattachment.”
It took three surgeries, a year of intensive therapy and his own perseverance for him to return to the field. “To get back on flight status I had to make my left arm work. So I did,” he said.
By 1968, he was again overseas, this time in Korea, where the spy ship U.S.S. Pueblo had been captured by the North Koreans. Now a captain, he assisted with returning the officers and crew to the U.S. Dr. Weed left active duty in 1969 to attend dental school but went on to serve in the Army Reserves for 34 more years, training military dentists to survive in a combat environment. He retired as a Dental Corps Colonel in 2003.
The determination Dr. Weed demonstrated as a pilot carried over to his dental career. While in dental school, he wanted to be able to practice dentistry with both hands—so he trained himself to fully use his left hand. “I practiced doing dental techniques, writing, throwing things, you name it,” he recalled. Now, he is one of the few faculty members on staff who can demonstrate positions to left-handed and right-handed dental students.
Since joining the School of Dentistry in 1977, Weed has been awarded Teacher of the Year six times by his students. “My favorite thing about teaching is when I see the lights come on with the students when they learn something,” he said.
Dr. Weed’s military experiences strongly shape his approach to dentistry. “Just as a pilot must have a mission, an objective and route to get there, a dentist must also be well organized and have plans for how things are supposed to be done,” Dr. Weed said. “My flight training has probably been as beneficial as anything.”