Some of his relatives tease the surgeon about having “redneck” tendencies. “I drive a pickup truck, go hunting and fool around with dogs,” Mirelman says with a laugh. “But I’m a redneck with an education!” Actually the Santiago, Chile native first began hunting after he married his wife, Kim, a northwest Georgia native.
Her relatives gave him a .22 rifle for their first Christmas together. “That’s when it started,” he says. Now, he travels almost every Saturday to Flat Rock, Alabama, where he and bird dog trainer Carter Hughes train with his beloved yellow Labrador, Remi. Another of his dogs, Rica, is retired and stays at his Birmingham home fulltime, “sleeping on the sofa.” He also leases land in Missouri for duck hunting. And locally, he hunts dove with friends. The avid sportsman even travels to Argentina and other exotic locales in pursuit of his hobby.
His education includes undergrad studies in biology at the Institute Nacional and an MD from the University of Chile Medical School. He followed that with a rotating internship at San Juan de Dios Hospital. After a straight surgical internship at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and a general surgical residency at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital, Mirelman did a general surgical fellowship at Cleveland [Ohio] Clinic and a colon and rectal surgery fellowship at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts. He received his board certifications from the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery in 1977 and his American Board of Surgery in 1979.
He left his native land because of his interest in surgery. “There was a regime change in Chile,” he says. “They wanted me to do general practice for five years.” But he was ready for surgical training so he came to the US. His brother, Brookwood urologist Simon Miralman, was already in Birmingham. It seemed like a logical place for the sibling to land as well. “People were friendly and it was great place to raise a family,” he says of Birmingham. As to why the brothers chose medicine, Mirelman laughs and says, “We were not very good at math. We were better at biology!”
Retirement plans include frequent visits with the couple’s three children: identical twins Andrew and Michael, 28, and Valerie, 27. Valerie works for the Tampa Bay Rays, Michael is a Spanish teacher in San Francisco, and Andrew is finishing his PhD in international health at Hopkins.
Visiting with his children and hunting with Remi are just some of the pastimes Mirelman gleefully plans for this next life phase. He looks forward to making the trek to his homeland to visit his sister and for the twice-annually reunions that his high school senior class holds. “I’ve kept up with them on the Internet,” he says. He also hopes to return for snow skiing. And he wants to brush up on his language skills. In addition to his native Spanish, Mirelman speaks German (his mother was German), French, and English.
Despite his excitement there are aspects of the job he will miss. “Every patient has a story if you talk to them,” he says. “They trust you with their lives, so to speak.” Indeed, Mirelman’s patients were often referred from other colon/rectal surgeons. “I have extra training,” he says, “and did a lot of surgeries for colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.” He estimates that he performed the ileo-anal pouch procedure around 500 times. The tricky surgery involves creating a pouch out of the small intestine, which eliminates the need for an outside bag.
He will miss patients and his colleagues, but he gladly says goodbye to the heavy responsibilities that come with the job. “You wake up at night when you have a complication. Is the patient doing well? There’s always a lot of pressure,” he says. “I think 35 years of that is enough.”
The 65-year-old is content to leave surgery and patient care to others now and is certain he won’t get bored. “Between snow skiing, golf, hunting, dogs, jogging and training, I have plenty of stuff to do,” Mirelman says. And if that’s not enough, his wife will take the guesswork out of his day. “I’m going to do some honey-dos around the house,” he says with a laugh. “I need to go back to work to get some rest!”