After medical school I spent two years at the Pentagon as a General Medical Officer in the health clinic, then went to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for my residency. I went to Washington University in St. Louis for a fellowship in spine surgery, then I came back to Walter Reed for nine years as Chief of Pediatric and Adult Spine Surgery. I had the privilege of taking care of our nation’s heroes and their family members. I also had a unique experience in serving as the Consultant to the Surgeon General of the Army for spine, Consultant to the White House, and took care of the Special Operations personnel.
On September 11, 2001, I was at Walter Reed during the attacks and helped treat the casualties that were coming up from the Pentagon. Then we took care of the majority of the casualties coming from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many of the injuries that we saw were much more complex than what we see in civilian trauma. Many of these patients had amputations and spine fractures, spinal cord injuries and paralysis, and open wounds. Because there weren’t enough plastic surgeons to go around, we did most of our own skin grafts, which isn’t something orthopaedic surgeons learn on the outside. I also learned minimally invasive surgery there, too, because we had a lot of young people who didn’t need a big incision and had to get back into combat.
In 2010, I did a six-month tour in Mosul, Iraq, as an Army combat orthopaedic surgeon. We were located right by the airfield, so it was a prime area for attacks. When you see someone come in right off the battlefield and you don’t have the same surgical equipment you would normally have in hospitals in the United States, you have to learn to provide the same quality care with not as much. The screwdrivers, saws, plates, rods, and everything we used weren’t the same. We didn’t have MRI; we had CT scan, so you had to learn to read a CT scan as well as you could read an MRI. I also saw rare injuries there like lumbopelvic dissociation, which is basically where the pelvis and the spine get dissociated from these big blast injuries. We later published a classification system for lumbopelvic dissociations and low lumbar burst fractures. Those things were completely unique to my experience, which other people just don’t get the opportunity to do.