Get to Know the Orthopaedic Trauma Team
January 02, 2016
Three new traumatologists share similar pathway to the specialty
Orthopaedic traumatologists John Sontich, MD, Kevin Malone, MD, and Robert Wetzel, MD, share much more in common than their excellent capabilities as physicians. They each have a story of being mentored early on by an orthopaedist, a passion to master new skills and abilities and a view of their peers as collaborators, not competitors. That has given each of them a lifetime appreciation of their field.
“There’s exceptional camaraderie in being orthopaedic trauma surgeons,” says John Sontich, MD, Division Chief, Orthopaedic Trauma and Post-Traumatic Reconstruction, UH Case Medical Center; and Associate Professor of Orthopaedics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. A Dartmouth college football player, Dr. Sontich experienced orthopaedics first as a patient and went to medical school at the University of Cincinnati planning to specialize in sports and low-energy trauma injuries.
Once in medical school, though, Dr. Sontich found himself more interested in high-energy injuries – “the really bad ones,” he says – that require specialty training in limb salvage and stabilization. Then, during his residency at the Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Sontich was exposed to the Ilizarov technique for limb salvage, which spurred his interest in using the technique during his trauma fellowship at MetroHealth. In 1996, he went to Russia to learn the technique at the Ilizarov Institute itself, bringing the concepts home to the United States. For two decades at MetroHealth, Dr. Sontich used the technique for traumatic reconstruction on thousands of patients that otherwise may have required amputations, taught the technique to others, and has developed a modified version of the Ilizarov technique that incorporates computer assistance.
Part of the reason for the exceptional camaraderie among orthopaedic trauma surgeons is because of the team effort to treat trauma patients: each team member is focused on a particular aspect of care. “If the injury is to the arm,” says Kevin Malone, MD, Division Chief, Hand Surgery, UH Case Medical Center and Associate Professor of Orthopaedics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, “I take care of it.” With eight years of experience at MetroHealth’s Level 1 trauma center, Dr. Malone has treated most every type of injury to the upper extremities. His fellowship training was in hand and microvascular surgery at the University of Washington’s Harborview Medical Center, after an orthopaedic surgery residency at Michigan’s William Beaumont Hospital. While Dr. Malone grew up talking about the medical practice at the dinner table with his father, a malpractice defense attorney, it was his four pre-med roommates that got him interested in medical school, which he attended at the University of Cincinnati. There, an old friend from high school a few years ahead of him invited Dr. Malone to do an orthopaedic rotation with him. “Once I got into the operating room and got to work on orthopaedic injuries, I was hooked,” he says.
A Cleveland native, Dr. Malone is delighted to be able to further advance his career here at home. “I like that I’m taking care of the town that I grew up in,” he says, “and being a lifelong Browns fan, that’s exciting for me, too!”
For Robert Wetzel, MD, Orthopaedic Traumatologist, UH Case Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, becoming an orthopaedic surgeon has been a lifelong pursuit. The son of an internist, Dr. Wetzel decided on a medical career early on, settling on orthopaedics by the time he was barely a teenager. “As many orthopaedists do,” says Dr. Wetzel, “I had a childhood injury that was referred to an orthopaedist, and he became a mentor to me.” Dr. Wetzel attended Northeast Ohio Medical University for his medical degree and completed his orthopaedic surgery residency at Northwestern University in Chicago. From there, Dr. Wetzel went on to a very busy fellowship in orthopaedic traumatology at Indiana University Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. “I learned a lot there about how to take care of the sickest kind of people,” says Dr. Wetzel: “For the short time that trauma patients are under my care, I treat them as I have been treated, as if I had been caring for them for years.”
Contact UH Orthopedic Services at 216-844-7200.