It is a perfect fall Sunday afternoon in Northeast Ohio. The sun glints off jewel-toned leaves and sends a spectrum of color flooding into the well-appointed office of Helen M. Torok, M.D.
She has just finished a training session with one of her M.D. associates, her husband, Leonard Torok, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, and a representative from a laser company. The representative says her goodbyes after Dr. Torok loads her up with a bottle of wine for the holidays, a basket of products from her spa and two muffins "for the road."
"I just called her a few days ago, and she dropped everything to come here and train us on a Sunday," Dr. Torok relates. "It's the least I could do."
Rising from "dirt poor" beginnings as a 10-year-old German immigrant, when enough food, clothes and other necessities were sometimes nonexistent, Dr. Torok has built Trillium Creek, a 24,000-square-foot, $10 million state-of-the-art campus on 35 acres in Medina, Ohio, a community with a population of less than 30,000.
There are plans within the next year and a half to install a "cosmetic enhancement center" focusing on Botox (Allergan), fillers and lasers in the current spa area, and to build a new, 6,000-square-foot dermaspa. There are also plans for an enlarged surgery center and for adding a plastic surgeon. The campus already has a conference center, clinical research center, spa and holistic medicine facility.
Many times in Dr. Torok's life she has swum against the current. Her plans to become a cloistered nun were quashed by her very strict stepfather, who burned her application. The next day, he yanked her out of Catholic school, placed her in public school and told her she would become a doctor.
With no money to finance her college education, she worked hard and won a full academic scholarship to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland; as medical school loomed and with no financial assistance in sight, she worked three jobs to put herself through the first accelerated three-year program at The Ohio State University, where she had two weeks off, total; when she decided to build a state-of-the-art practice in Medina, many of her colleagues asked why she wanted to practice in "cow country."
She has had her share of personal family tragedies, as well.
For some, adversity can erode self-confidence and ambition. For Dr. Torok, adversity galvanized her to push harder, no matter what. Once she found her "passion," dermatology, she never looked back.
While she gives equal credit for her success to her husband, Leonard, who also has a holistic practice and helps with laser procedures at Trillium Creek, and to her younger daughter, Heather, an M.B.A., who is CEO of Trillium Creek, Dr. Torok is the 5-foot-4-inch spark plug who created the vision and the mission of Trillium Creek. Her goal is simple: Do what's best for her patients by offering the latest technology, medical expertise and education, all in one state-of-the-art facility.
"My vision was to be able to offer the people in Medina the highest level of care and technology without them leaving the community," she says. "I'm not saying I don't refer patients. I'll be the first one to tell you if I don't know what to do, I'm going to find someone who does."