Heart of a Lawyer
Jon Spiers brings surgical precision to health care law
Published in 2022 Texas Rising Stars magazine on March 22, 2022
The first time he removed a patient’s damaged heart in a transplant operation, Jon Spiers felt both a rush of adrenaline and the gravity of the situation. “It will put you in your place if you’re not humble,” says the Houston health care attorney and former cardiac surgeon. “The cavity is not that big in itself, but you’re looking at a hole six feet deep if you don’t fill it.”
As an avid bookworm who grew up in a small farm town in Georgia, Spiers read about a revolutionary heart surgery and vowed that’s what he was going to do. He was also inspired by a local doctor. “He did so much for us,” Spiers says, “and I was always attracted to the opportunity to help other folks and to make a difference in their lives.”
In 1994, after practicing general surgery in Tennessee for six years, he rolled into Houston, thrilled, as a heart-surgery fellow. Over the years and surgeries, Spiers learned to stay calm under fire, and his spiritual convictions deepened. “People that don’t believe in miracles, I argue with them,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to have seen a whole lot of them.”
He was also an early adopter of several surgical techniques. In 1996, Spiers became one of the nation’s first surgeons to perform “keyhole” cardiac surgery—which eliminates the need to divide the patient’s breastbone, instead relying on a small incision that greatly reduces later pain and recovery time. “Instead of them taking weeks and weeks to get back to normal, we were sending people back to their jobs—a desk job, not steer-wrestling—in a week,” he says.
Little by little, surgeons like Spiers began using it for more difficult procedures, such as multiple bypasses and valve replacements. “It’s one of those things you start doing and you realize, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. Why didn’t we think of it before?’”
Spiers further undertook treating peripheral vascular disease with an endovascular technique that allowed surgeons to place artificial blood vessels in the legs of patients who suffered from blockages or whose arteries had been destroyed by trauma. To one man who was missing an entire blood vessel and risked losing his leg, Spiers explained, “I have an operation that I could do— that I’ve always done—but I have an idea of a way we can do this that’s a little different.”
The patient gave him the green light and the alternative surgery worked. “The first time I did it, it’s one of those times you think either, ‘I’m absolutely out of my mind,’ or ‘This is necessity is the mother of invention,’” Spiers says. “That’s one of the things I did that I’m most proud of: give somebody the use of their leg, and let them go on and live their life. He was walking within days.”
Unfortunately, Spiers himself underwent surgery in 2007, and the routine removal of an artery in his forearm caused high-pressure bleeding that damaged the nerve to his left hand, rendering him unable to operate. “I couldn’t tie my shoes for about a year and a half. It’s kind of hard to be a one-armed heart surgeon,” he says.
So, he set out to find a new way to help others, and in 2012 he founded a boutique law firm. Now, Spiers counsels practitioners, patients and inventors of medical devices; and frequently assembles legal teams with expertise in intellectual property, business contracts and government regulations to help entrepreneurs take their ideas to market.
“I am kind of like the ramrod of the cattle drive,” he says. “My job is to translate legal into medical and medical into legal because folks don’t always speak the same language. Attorneys have their language. Doctors have their language. Nurses have their language. Helping to bridge all that—and to achieve good results—I think that’s probably my biggest strength.”
Lessons From the OR
- Never give up
- Remain cool under fire
- Keep the goal in mind