MUSKEGON, MI From an outsider's perspective, Muskegon urologist Dr. Joseph Salisz is just like any other doctor.
He knows all the medical jargon, has several degrees and is part of a successful practice in Muskegon. But what makes Dr.Salisz unique is not what he does for a living -- it's his experiences on the other side of the operating table.
Dr. Salisz knows what it's like to be a patient. He knows how hard it is. He has without a doubt, walked in those shoes.
A couple years ago Salisz's partner at West Shore Urology, Dr. Kevin Stone, discovered that his colleague of 11 years had prostate cancer. Since then, Salisz has undergone surgery, returned to practice and invented a revolutionary odor-cloaking ostomy pouch bag.
Not exactly your everyday neighborhood urologist.
"It's very ironic that I take care of people with prostate cancer and then I'm diagnosed with it." Dr. Salisz said," "I had bad cancer and typically that requires radiation therapy. Being a surgeon myself, I knew that wasn't going to fix the problem."
It was then that Salisz reached out to the only person he could find that would perform a specific type of surgery on him, Dr. David Wood at the University of Michigan. Salisz required surgery that required the removal of what he called "lots of bad stuff," including his bladder.
Following the surgery people began to ask Salisz if he was going to retire. But for a veteran doctor like himself, that was not going to be an option.
"It's kind of weird to get a stamp or a label on you that says you have a time ticker," he said. "I'm really a firm believer in God. I believe that he has a plan for me. I believe that no one can tell me how much time I have left so I just put one foot in front of the other and keep going."
That mentality eventually led to Dr. Salisz's remarkable invention.
It began when he and his two sons, Mark and Eric, decided to embark on something that Salisz had wanted to do his entire life, go on a bear hunt. In preparation for the trip, they approached his friend Greg Sesselmann about buying some hunting clothes from Sesselmann's company called Scent Lok.
Scent Lok, which was started by Sesselmann in 1992, provides hunters with odor-control clothing designed to disguise human smell from animals.
Like most with illnesses such as his, Salisz has undergone an urostomy. An urostomy is a procedure in which an artificial opening for the urinary system is made for people where drainage of urine through the bladder is not possible.
Salisz asked Sesselmann if the company could create a scent-covering sack for his ostomy bag and an idea was born.
What started as an idea turned into a revolutionary odor-cloaking ostomy pouch bag, which Salisz and his partners, known as Med 5, called the StomaCloak
"People who have ostomies are hit with all kind of difficulties in life," Salisz said. "From discomfort to not being able to work out to wet feelings, warm feeling in the summertime -- not to mention the stuff that's propelled outside your body doesn't have a great odor."
Using Sesselmann's technology, employees and manufacturing advice, Salisz and his partners have sold more than 100 StomaCloak bag covers, including some to people in Australia and Canada. Still, challenges remain.
Salisz said the company has yet to make its first dollar and they're barely breaking even at this point. He added that the challenge is getting more people to realize how beneficial the product actually is.
Pat Camp is the president of StomaCloak. Her relationship with Salisz began when he became her husband's doctor several years ago. Camp, who is a former nurse with 30-plus years of experience, spearheads the company's day-to-day operations, doing everything from taking orders to making follow up calls.
"Pat Camp is our bulldog," Salisz said. "She's the tenacious person. Without her we wouldn't go anywhere."
For Dr. Salisz, being diagnosed with prostate cancer hasn't slowed him down a bit. If anything, it's enhanced his relationship with some of the people he cares for most, his patients.
"I'm more empathetic than I used to be," he said. "It's harder for me to talk people into surgery. Surgeons come out of medical school with the mentality that they're going to cut you and it's going to be a good thing all the time. It's hard to take that kind of a forceful attitude when I know what it feels like. That being said I know it can work too."
On Tuesday night, the Muskegon County Medical Society honored Salisz with a special Community Service Award at their meeting at the Arboreal Inn in Spring Lake. Among 30 of his peers in the medical field, he graciously accepted the honor, but still, spent more time talking about others, including his colleagues Dr. Stone and Dr. Brian Stork, his four children, his wife Sheila, Camp and Sesselmann.
"Dr. Salisz is the most amazing person," Camp said. "He is so upbeat about everything that you know he's going to get through things, he gets you through things too. His patients love him, they will say that's Dr. Joe, he's one of us."