What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty?
DR: When I was in medical school, I decided to become an orthopedic surgeon because I enjoyed working with my hands and surgery seemed to be a fun and interesting specialty. But then in my fourth year, I did a rotation in cardiology, which I enjoyed so much that I decided to become a cardiologist instead. I trained in Internal Medicine and was about to do a cardiology fellowship when I realized I really missed orthopedic surgery. So I changed my mind yet again and went back into training to become an orthopedic surgeon. One benefit of all this extra training is that I am double boarded in Internal Medicine and Orthopedic Surgery, and my medicine background helps me in taking care of my surgical patients.
What aspect of your practice is most interesting?
DR: The most challenging cases are those patients who have had multiple operations or those who have very bad deformities of the cervical spine. Often these people have had deformities for many years, or have had multiple operations and have been told that there is nothing more that can be done for them. They often travel long distances to get to St. Louis and are very grateful when we are able to fix their problem.
Do patients from around the world come for a consultation?
DR: We have treated patients from Europe, South America, the Middle East, Far East, and India. I’ve also traveled to other countries to see patients, as well as to do operations. We also see patients from many different parts of the US.
What developments in your field are you most excited about?
DR: There are two things. One is a substance called BMP which stands for Bone Morphogenetic Protein. BMP is a substance which the body naturally makes to heal bone. Commercial laboratories have purified and have mass produced BMP so now we can use it to markedly improve bone healing rates. In the past, we would have used a portion of bone from a patient’s pelvis to heal the spine. Now we can use BMP, so they do not need a second operation to harvest bone. This results in a lot less pain and disability, and allows patients to return to normal faster. This advance has been around for about five years, and has really revolutionized the way we do some complex operations.
The second thing I’m excited about is the artificial cervical disc replacement. This will allow us to treat some patients with a motion-preserving procedure, instead of a fusion of the neck.
Which particular award or achievement is most gratifying to you?
DR: Professional awards and achievements are nice, but undoubtedly, the thing I am most proud of is my family. None of my successes would be worth much without them. My wife, Mary, and I have three children, who have been the greatest source of joy for both of us.
During the first several years of my career, I worked most of my waking hours, but over the last several years I’ve learned how to manage my time better, and am now spending more and more time with my wife and children. All three kids are loving and truly enjoy being together.
Where are you from originally?
DR: I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved to the United States when I was seven. My family lived in Detroit for one year, and then I grew up in Akron, Ohio. I have two older sisters. One lives in Michigan and the other in Ohio.