BELLEAIR — Dr. Jason Bottoms loved Superman. He reveled in the character's uncomplicated certainty and quiet confidence, not to mention his ability to set fires with his eyes and push earthbound meteors off course.
He never tired of watching the Superman movies of the 1970s and 1980s, even though he had already seen them dozens of times. The same went for Smallville, a now-defunct television series about the boyhood of Clark Kent. He watched reruns of the show as he dressed for work as a podiatrist in Clearwater and Tampa.
One key difference between Superman and Dr. Bottoms: the superhero was born that way. The podiatrist was a lifelong overachiever.
Diagnosed with diabetes as a child, he channeled a quirky optimism to his benefit in football and schoolwork.
The podiatrist had served as president of the Hillsborough component of the Florida Podiatric Medical Association.
He was also engaged to be married — until an unexpected medical event cut a bright future short.
Dr. Bottoms died of unknown causes March 23 at Morton Plant Hospital. He was 33.
"He was just a brilliant surgeon, a bright young doctor on the verge of a partnership track with us," said Dr. Wes Sykes of the Ankle and Foot Center of Tampa Bay.
Among his specialties were ankle replacements, which can increase pain-free weight bearing and range of motion for patients whose ankles have been injured or have deteriorated through arthritis. While total ankle replacements have been around for more than 30 years, recent breakthroughs have greatly increased their popularity.
Dr. Bottoms favored the Wright Inbone system, in which a rod drilled into the shin bone connects to a prosthesis. Ankle replacements more than doubled in the United States last year, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.
"He was our most progressive surgeon," Sykes said. "He took on anything, basically."
Born in Naples, Dr. Bottoms moved to St. Petersburg with his family at age 3. He was diagnosed with diabetes at 6. At 10, he announced that he would grow up to be a doctor.
"At Lakewood (High School), he was a skinny kid who joined the football team," said Constance Tindell, his mother. "The next thing I knew he was the most improved player, most valuable player and then all-county."
The offensive lineman went to Widener University in Chester, Pa., on an academic scholarship but continued to play football, at one point bulking up to 300 pounds. At Barry University's School of Podiatric Medicine, Dr. Bottoms hit the gym and shed the weight.
He started entering bodybuilding contests.
"I think Superman appealed to him because he was one of those guys who was above it all," said Dr. Julio Ortiz, a south Florida podiatrist who was his roommate then. "He's the ultimate goody-two-shoes, he never does anything wrong."
He was engaged to Jessica Bruns, a physician's assistant he had met at Morton Plant.
Dr. Bottoms entered Morton Plant on March 22, complaining of chest pains, his family said. He was later discharged. On March 23, he was taken back to the hospital, where he died.
Bruns said that a previously undetected infection around the heart might have contributed to Dr. Bottoms' death. The Pinellas-Pasco County Medical Examiner's Office has conducted an autopsy and is awaiting multiple test results.
The family of Dr. Bottoms is trying to cope.
"It's like a nightmare you keep hoping you'll wake up from," his mother said.
Bruns, 32, had expected to marry Dr. Bottoms within a year and start a family. With his powerful physique and clean-cut looks, he reminded her of a certain superhero.
One incident from his practice still makes her smile. While treating a patient, Dr. Bottoms was faced with a surprising question from the woman's 6-year-old son.
"Are you Superman?"
Dr. Bottoms told the boy no.
"He couldn't tell you if he was," the boy's mother said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.