CHICAGO — Dr. Gregory Primus hasn't run a route for the Bears in almost two decades, but they're still a part of his Sunday routine.
The orthopedic surgeon started his Sunday with an early morning surgery on a dislocated elbow, then headed to Soldier Field to watch his former team, the Bears, get blown out by the Arizona Cardinals, then went back to the hospital to perform a surgery on a fractured hip.
"A long day," said Primus, who lives in Kenwood with his wife, Tonya, and their two children: Gregory, 8, and Gabrielle, 7.
But it's also a rather normal one for Primus, 44, who became the first African-American trained in orthopedic surgery at the University of Chicago.
The former Bears receiver, who played for Chicago in 1994-95, is founder of Tinley Park-based Chicago Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopedic Surgery. He also has a satellite office in Bronzeville and is searching for a spot on 31st Street between Martin Luther King and Lake Shore drives to build a sports medicine facility similar to the 13,000-square-foot complex in Tinley Park.
"This is a lifetime dream of Gregory's," said Primus' mother, Doloris. "He spoke of becoming a medical doctor at a very early age. It was no surprise to us when he made it to the NFL and became a doctor."
Justin Breen says Primus has lived out two lifelong dreams:
Primus said his earliest childhood memories center on entering the medical profession. In pictures as a toddler, he's holding stethoscopes.
At Colorado State, he majored in pre-medicine while breaking school records for receiving yards in a game (256).
"While traveling to away football games, Gregory was known to carry his text books to stay on schedule with his studies. He was the ultimate academic athlete," Doloris Primus said.
His former Bears teammate, Dwayne Joseph, said Primus "always found a way to overcome adversity."
A key to his success as a football player, and eventually a doctor, Joseph said, was Primus' ability to "calm himself at all times."
"When were in Platteville, Wis., for training camp and sitting in buckets of ice water, he would always say, 'I'm going to be a doctor,'" said Joseph, now the director of pro personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles. "He always said 'That's my calling.'"
After his two-year career with the Bears ended in 1995, Primus applied to several medical schools around the country and was accepted at the U. of C. He's lived in Chicago since.
"They kicked me off the team in 1995, but they couldn't kick me out of the city," Primus said, laughing.
He graduated from U. of C. medical school in 2001 and entered its residency program afterward. For every black applicant into an orthopedic surgery residency program, there were 13.5 white applicants.
In 2006, he became its first black graduate of the residency program.
"I just remember being shocked that this ivory tower sitting in the middle of the South Side of Chicago — one of the most densely black neighborhoods in the country — had never trained a black orthopedic surgeon," Primus said. "It was a really great experience for me."
Dr. Daniel Mass, a professor of orthopedic surgery at U. of C. and one of Primus' mentors, said Primus "was a pleasure to teach and took great care of patients in the calmest voice."
"That he was black was not the reason to support him," Mass said. "I would trust Dr. Primus with my family."
The same applies to Joseph, who sent his father-in-law, Tinsley Brandon, to Primus for a thumb surgery.
Joseph described his father-in-law as someone who didn't trust doctors and who had immense pain and no movement in his thumb. Primus' surgery fixed both issues.
"He always brags on Greg to this day," Joseph said.
Joseph also credited Primus for giving back to his community. Primus and his team of physicians are the official team doctors for Chicago State University and Whitney Young high school's athletic programs, in addition to some suburban schools.
"We take care of kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. I may take care of one kid who has everything, and his teammate is literally hungry; he doesn't have anything to eat," Primus said.
"The students should see someone who looks like them and who is an orthopedic surgeon and played in the NFL," he added. "And they should see that they can do whatever they want to do."
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