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Dr. Alford and Sam | Plastic surgeon and his service dog have become a popular duo at Houston Methodist

Dr. Eugene Alford was paralyzed when a tree fell on him at his ranch 15 years ago. Now, he's still operating, but with a four-legged friend by his side.

HOUSTON — On Aug. 1, Dr. Eugene Alford celebrated 30 years as a facial plastic surgeon. But these days, he’s known in the halls of Houston Methodist as being Sam the service dog’s human.

Alford was paralyzed when a tree fell on him at his ranch 15 years ago. He knew he wanted to get back to the operating room, he just needed extra tools.

“My brain wasn’t injured. My hands still worked. A lot of improvisation went into finding a standing wheelchair I could use to operate,” he said.

A few years ago, his wife suggested he get a service dog to help with day-to-day needs.

Sam does that, and so much more.

He goes with Alford everywhere, except the transplant ICU and the operating room. He can fetch items and alert Alford, who is diabetic, when his blood sugar is low.

His greatest skill, however, is connecting with people.

“If I go down the hall without him, no one says 'hello, Dr. Alford.' They say 'where’s Sam?'” the doctor said.

The two have been together for five years. Now, Alford can’t imagine his life looking any different.

“Used to be, people would tell me 'you’re so inspirational.' I don’t want to be that. I like the word resilient,” Alford said. “If something bad happens, don’t give up. People are not born resilient. Resilient is the ability to adapt to tragedy, recover and move on. It took me a long time to figure out that word applies to me.”