20 Under 40

20 Under 40 - 2018

Meet the 2018 Winners

SpineLine debuted its 20 Under 40 campaign in 2018 to showcase NASS’ bright, young physicians under the age of 40. The SpineLine Committee selects the most deserving individuals based on accomplishments to date, community service and philosophy of care. Here are the winners, including brief articles on each that previously appeared in issues of SpineLine.

Jared Ament, MD

"Founded Innovative Spine Technology Company"

Ament Just 37, Jared Ament, MD already boasts an impressive resume, including the development of a corporation that fundamentally assesses technology and innovation in spine to ensure patients are offered the most responsible options available.

Neuronomics is an ultra-specialized group of surgeons, statisticians and health care economists assisting companies, medical centers, third-party payers and physicians with detailed cost-effective and health care economic analyses.

“The group has a successful history of facilitating widespread product reimbursement efforts in the USA and internationally,” Dr. Ament says. “As a personalized, concierge service, Neuronomics offers a comprehensive consulting service, providing 1:1 feedback and guidance about product delivery, marketability, profitability and health care system sustainability.”

Dr. Ament, a neurosurgeon in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, has also participated in Bolivian Boot Camps to help standardize training and provide care in places of need. He received an invitation to the boot camp by his former mentor, Dr. Richard Moser, the former chair of neurosurgery at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester.

“In short, it was modeled after the US-based boot camp that all entering US neurosurgery residents have to complete,” Dr. Ament says. “It was designed to provide standardized and meaningful education early on in training. It was the first such event in South America and was a great success.”

When he isn’t immersed in his company, helping patients or trips overseas, Ament enjoys martial arts, hiking, rock climbing, camping, skiing, scuba diving and traveling. He also plays the saxophone for good measure.

As for advice for aspiring young physicians, Dr. Ament says, “Never give up... perseverance is critical to your success, no matter the obstacles in your way. Remember that it is an absolute privilege to do what we do, and our patients deserve our best, each and every time.”

Brett Braly, MD

"From Patient to Physician – Braly Gives Back"

It’s not often a wrestling injury leads to a career, but that is exactly what happened to Brett Braly, MD. The injury sustained led to Dr. Braly having a noninstrumented L5-S1 fusion, resulting in prolonged immobilization and starting high school in a back brace. Twenty-two years postfusion, he credits his surgical success as the impetus for his career path. He gravitated toward minimally invasive surgery because the reward over risk is undeniably appealing and, in Dr. Braly’s mind, the obvious choice.

“The idea that we can minimize surgical trauma without abdicating outcome predictability or success has been revolutionary in my practice. I’m excited to see six-week postop patients as far as I was at six months!”

A commitment to minimizing patient anxiety is a hallmark of Dr. Braly’s practice in Oklahoma. Inspired by his Emory University mentor, John Heller, MD, and his grandfather, a primary care physician, Dr. Braly believes in spending time with patients. He admired Dr. Heller’s style of patient care— becoming a source of peace for patients through relationship building.

Braly Dr. Braly also cites his grandfather who often said, “Every patient will tell you exactly what’s wrong if you’ll listen long enough.”

Faith is important in all facets of Dr. Braly’s life. He and his wife are heavily involved in their local church and raising children to give back is among their greatest joys in life. He often prays with his surgical patients.

“Prayer combined with taking the time to educate on options and prognoses allows patients to undergo anesthesia and spinal surgery with peace of mind.”

Two decades after undergoing his own fusion, Dr. Braly constantly pushes himself to excel in orthopedics. He takes great pleasure in teaching, often providing talks on and instruction in new techniques. In the process, he is continually eager to learn something that will apply to his practice. Collaboration with other surgeons has improved his patient care, diagnostic and surgical skills.

“I believe people are better because of what we have to offer, and that we are helping each other improve our patients’ lives.”

David Bumpass, MD

"Finds Rewarding Career in Pediatric Spine Care"

Bumpass An orthopedic surgeon at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, David Bumpass, MD took an interest in pediatric care during his internship in 2008 at Washington University in St. Louis. While working on spinal deformity with two of his mentors, Drs. Keith Bridwell and Larry Lenke, he was exposed to the ins and outs of healing children.

“The life-changing results that I saw in children with severe deformities was very impactful, and I hoped to be able to deliver the same type of care in my own career,” he says. “I have found this to be immensely rewarding.”

Dr. Bumpass also serves as director of research for the orthopedic surgery department at U of A. His clinical practice focuses on complex spinal deformity surgery, and he splits time between the pediatric hospital and the university hospital.

In addition to his work at the university, Dr. Bumpass collaborates with local emergency medical services in the Little Rock, Arkansas area to improve their emergency spine trauma care in the field. It has helped built a rapport with the local EMS crews, educating first responders on how doctors treat spinal injuries after patients are initially brought to the hospital.

“I have been able to learn more about questions and challenges the paramedics face in the field when managing spine trauma,” he says. “Our hospital system has worked hard to streamline and improve protocols for spinal trauma management once patients hit the door, identifying delays and improving multi-team care. This has been the case at both our pediatric and our adult hospital.”

In 2014, Dr. Bumpass was awarded a NASS Young Investigator Translational Research Grant for “The Role of Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells and T-Lymphocytes in Human Vertebral Metastasis: A Prospective Pilot Study.”

“That has enabled me to complete some exciting research in the role of the immune system in facilitating spinal metastasis,” he says.

Berdale Colorado, DO

"Born to Family of Pastors, Colorado Felt Call to Medicine"

Colorado Born in the Philippines and raised for five years in England, Berdale Colorado, DO, moved to the United States at seven. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all Methodist pastors, but Dr. Colorado felt the call to a different form of service.

“As a child, I was fascinated with science and how it could be applied to improve the health of others,” he says. “I have wanted to be a doctor since elementary school.”

“My clinical and research interests are in the use of ultrasound to complement electrodiagnostic testing, and also in the use of regenerative medicine treatments in various spine and musculoskeletal disorders,” he says.

Former NASS President Dr. Heidi Prather, who also works at Washington University, has been an influential mentor. “She helped instill in me a strong desire to positively impact patients, not only through patient care, but also through research, teaching and leadership,” he says. “Dr. Prather’s continual guidance and support have been pivotal in my early career.”

In addition to his university responsibilities, Dr. Colorado has been a volunteer physician for the last four years for the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, the largest annual wheelchair sporting event in the world. More than 600 veterans across the US participate in the weeklong multi-sport event and many have spinal cord injuries.

“The veterans are an inspiration,” he says. “The strength and determination they display and the camaraderie among all of the athletes is incredible. It is truly an honor to be involved in such a worthwhile event for our veterans.”

Outside of work-related activities, Dr. Colorado enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids. He plays several musical instruments, including piano, guitar, trumpet, organ and drums, and also enjoys playing basketball and tennis.

Chad Craig, MD, MBA

"Poor Surgical Outcomes on Family Members Leads Craig to Medicine"

Working at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, Chad Craig, MD focuses on incorporating key medicine primary care improvement measures into the care of his spine patients. Additionally, his research looks at improving patient outcomes and perioperative care.

Craig Perhaps it is no surprise that Dr. Craig’s career swung toward patient outcomes, given what he witnessed with family members earlier in life.

“I had two family members that underwent routine surgeries for all intents and purposes, but each of them developed serious complications related to their surgeries that arguably were preventable,” he says. “I became interested in learning more about risk stratification, the evidence surrounding perioperative medicine, both what is known and unknown, and measures that can be implemented to prevent various complications.”

With outcomes, there is a real opportunity to impact patients at an individual level, Dr. Craig added. “Although the medical complications I work to prevent often occur in only a small percentage of patients overall, if you as a patient are part of that small percentage, it is meaningful to focus on preventing such complications,” he says. “Also in large-volume centers such as the one I work in, a small percentage can equate to a large number of patients.”

Dr. Craig grew up in State College Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University. Everyone in his family attended PSU, and he says it was a great place to grow up with camping, hiking, running and university activities for kids throughout the year. From there, he attended Boston University School of Medicine, and internship and residency at UCLA Medical Center before returning to the east coast.

A NASS member since 2015, Dr. Craig serves on the Evidence-Based Guideline Development Committee as well as the SpineLine editorial board and TSJ reviewer board.

“I definitely have an internal drive to stay active, both mentally and physically,” he says. “I’m a naturally curious person, which helps keep me busy. There is an empathy and human connection to my work, which I think drives many doctors to continue what they do.”

Areena D’Souza, MBBS, MS

"First Fellowship Trained Female Spine Surgeon from India"

DSouza As an aspiring orthopedic spine surgeon, Areena D’Souza, MBBS, MS, did a fellowship from 2013-15 at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre in New Delhi, India. At the time, she had no idea she was breaking new ground in her home country.

Upon completion of the fellowship, Dr. D’Souza’s mentors informed her that she was the first female fellowship trained spine surgeon from India.

“It is an honor and I feel proud to be representing the female surgeons from India in what I do,” she says. “As for recognition, I never sought for any during or after my training in India. I always prefer to let my work speak for me. Spine surgeons from India and different parts of the world know and acknowledge me as a good surgeon, and to me this holds very high value.”

Following fellowship, Dr. D’Souza was offered a prestigious Asia-Pacific spine fellowship at Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, England. She now is an associate spinal consultant at the same Centre, a post she will hold for a year.

“I have no doubts that my training centres at Delhi and Nottingham are par excellence, and they have truly given me the best foundation I could have desired for in spinal surgery,” she says.

Although she is achieving great things in medicine, Dr. D’Souza says she probably would have pursued a career in dancing if alternative careers were more accepted in India. Thankfully, she is able to be active in the arts and is a backup singer in a band called Sultans of Spine, comprised of physicians throughout Europe. She also enjoys basketball and cricket.

“At the end of the day, one thing that helps me sleep with a smile is that my parents believe I have achieved more than they dreamt of for me,” she says. “Their pride is my sense of glory. And I would like to think my patients are happy with me, too.”

Sandeep Nand Gidvani, MD

"Involved in Community, Schools, NASS"

Gidvani Sandeep Nand Gidvani, MD stays busy. A NASS member since 2010, he volunteers for the CME Committee, International Education Committee, Resident & Fellow Committee. He also chairs a committee whose mission he’s passionate about, the Website and Digital Platform Committee.

“My involvement with this project was spurred from my passion to deliver high quality education to all health care professionals involved in spine care. Our goal is remodeling the website by improving navigation and to structure available content so there is a true educational experience available to the user. Furthermore, we want to improve both the delivery and utility of practice management content. The committee aims to improve the mobile use of the website so there is a seamless transition in its use on a cell phone, tablet or wearable device.”

Dr. Gidvani stays busy outside of NASS as well. He works with the San Jose State University volleyball and softball teams, helping trainers manage and conservatively treat persistent back pain. He also gives community lectures on spine care and talks in senior care centers, and offers the following advice for those who would like to educate their communities:

“I became involved in community talks simply by making my interest in Spine Education to both the patient and medical professional populations well known amongst hospital staff. Key contacts included the Orthopedic Unit Nurse Supervisor and Hospital Specialty Public Relations person. I think if you have a true passion to educate both those who you work with and those who you work for it will be quickly apparent and the invitations to speak will quickly multiply.”

Beyond working to educate athletes and his community, Dr. Gidvani works to advance the field of spine care amongst his peers by participating in monthly spine surgery rounds to foster collaboration among the practitioners involved in the care of their spine patients.

Given Dr. Gidvani’s commitment to spine care and his community, he looks to be busy for years to come.

Christina Goldstein, MD

"Has Passion for Mentoring"

As a female orthopedic surgeon who has broken several barriers, Dr. Christina Goldstein feels indebted to mentors who helped her along the way.

She was the first female fellow at the University of Calgary and the second at the University of Toronto. Currently, Dr. Goldstein is the first tenure-track orthopedic surgeon at the University of Missouri.

Goldstein “While mentoring young women who want to become orthopedic surgeons is extremely important to me, I am actually passionate about mentoring anyone, of any gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, who wants to become any kind of surgeon,” she says. “The main reason for this is that throughout my career all of my mentors have been men. This drove home to me that it is not necessary for a mentor and mentee to look the same, be the same gender, or have perfect shared-life experiences for the relationship to be successful.”

A native of Canada, Dr. Goldstein and her family moved around a lot when she was young to accommodate her father’s banking career. She has a twin sister, Sarah, who is a psychiatric nurse in Canada. “She is not only my twin sister, she is my No. 1 fan, my therapist, my sounding board, my shoulder to cry on and my biggest role model,” Dr. Goldstein says.

In high school, Dr. Goldstein initially thought she wanted to be an OBGYN because she loved babies and enjoyed the thought of delivering them. But after tearing her ACL at age 16 and undergoing two surgeries to continue playing volleyball, a new thought entered the realm: orthopedic surgery.

Now a successful surgeon, Dr. Goldstein enjoys traveling the world with her husband. Although many of the trips are work-related, they have been to Buenos Aires, Dubai, Singapore, Milan and Prague together. “Places I never dreamed of visiting as a child,” she says.

She also is working toward a masters of public health from Johns Hopkins University.

Gregory Gullung, MD

"Second Generation Physician Chooses Spine over Sports Medicine"

Gullung Dr. Gregory Gullung had a frontrow seat as a child for what a physician’s life looks like. His father, Dr. William Gullung III, is a dermatologist in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. And so, young Gregory saw from an early age what it was like to be a doctor and how important and rewarding a life helping patients could be.

The younger Gullung followed in his father’s path to Louisiana State University for medical school, and he was leaning toward working in sports medicine at that point. But later during residency at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, Dr. Gullung became intrigued with the diagnosis and treatment of spinal disorders.

“The problems that initially seemed like an enigma to myself and many fellow residents had profound impact on the patients themselves and the treatments often made a big difference in their lives,” Dr. Gullung says. “So, the more I read and learned the more interested I became, and after my second spine rotation I decided that was what I was going to do. And I made the decision to perform an extra year of training by completing a spine fellowship.”

An orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Gullung works at Alabama Orthopedic, Spine and Sports in Birmingham, where he specializes in minimally invasive spine treatments. “I really enjoy the diagnosis of problems, figuring out what a patient has that is bothering them and what is the best way to treat them,” he says. “Sometimes based on their goals, experiences, and beliefs two people may have the exact same diagno sis, but have very different feelings about what is going on and require different treatment patterns based on this. Once you work through it together and find a solution, it is great to see the relief and realization they have that there is a solution.”

When he’s not in the office, Dr. Gullung enjoys spending time with his wife and three children going on bike rides, hiking, traveling, visiting museums and attending sporting events.

Ram Haddas, PhD, MSc, MEng

"A Leader in Biomechanics & His Community"

Haddas You would think the person who built the first spine-related human movement biomechanics lab within a hospital setting in the United States would have little to no time for anything else. However, Ram Haddas, PhD, MSc, Meng, disproves that thought. The 35-year-old takes time to teach Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense and fighting system, and basketball to underprivileged children in the Dallas Fort Worth area. In addition to that, he gives educational lectures to spine and hip disordered patients.

Dr. Haddas established the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at the Texas Back Institute in 2016. The lab looks to improve care for people suffering from spinal disorders through research, promoting education, and publishing their findings. Despite the lab’s young age, their work has resulted in more than a dozen published papers and more than 100 papers and posters presented at spine meetings, both internationally and domestically.

“Our major accomplishment, thus far, has been to provide opportunities for spine care providers to evaluate global balance as a dynamic and not static function. My laboratory data provide a quantitative analysis of patients’ function and neuromuscular activity. From the lab, a paradigm shift regarding clinical decision making for these patients is gaining traction. These data have not been reported in such a manner prior to these novel investigations. I now recommend that spine care providers use functional analysis (balance/gait/sit-to-stand/lifting) as part of their clinical evaluation to provide an objective measure of function as well as to better understand the effects of the respective disorder of interest. Treatment options can appropriately be selected in order to maximally benefit their patients’ gait, function, and, ultimately, quality of life.”

Despite being the Director of Research, Dr. Haddas has made an impact on patients within his community, who describe him as having a “warm and caring personality that relaxes you, and is a person who will explain, in whatever depth you want, about what he is doing, the why, and the benefits being gained.”

Clifford Houseman, DO

"Helped Build Hospital’s Neurosurgery Division from Scratch"

Houseman When Clifford Houseman, DO began working at St. John Macomb Hospital in the Detroit area, it was not handling any neurosurgery cases. Dr. Houseman, now the chief of neurosurgery at the hospital, started a program that went from zero neurosurgery cases to 200-250 a year in the just four years.

Dr. Houseman is also one of five physicians at Michigan Spine & Brain Surgeons, where he performs more than 500 surgeries per year.

“You have to try to find a balance for family, for your patients, and for you,” he says. “This is by far the hardest advice for me to follow. I have cycles of working more than I should, then slowing down, then working hard again. Unfortunately, when you first start you do have to be more available than you may want to be.”

With a wife and two young children at home, Dr. Houseman says having a supportive spouse and trying to set expectations about the work schedule is crucial. There is no way around the fact that physicians work long, and sometimes, inconvenient hours. But that doesn’t mean it has to come at the expense of family time.

If he were giving advice to fellow young physicians, Dr. Houseman would remind them to enjoy the journey even if it feels stressful and difficult.

“You worked really hard to get to this point,” he says. “There aren’t many people who get to do what we do. We all have our own unique strengths and weaknesses. Embrace them, be confident. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, try to have fun. It can sometimes feel like a giant wave crashing down on you, and you don’t know if you will ever reach the surface again. Remember why you went into medicine. Remember why you went into ortho-spine or neurosurgery. Remember why you love it. Never forget that.”

Dr. Houseman and his wife are very involved in philanthropic missions, including donating to the Detroit Zoo, charities that support victims or domestic violence and child abuse, and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights organization.

Samuel Joseph, MD

"Owns Private Practice, Is NFL Team Spine Surgeon"

As Samuel Joseph, MD parked his car and approached Raymond James Stadium for his first game in 2017 as the official spine surgeon of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was not quite sure where to enter the stadium. That’s when Dr. Joseph ran into the Bucs star quarterback Jameis Winston, who helped the new team physician into the locker room shared by players and team physicians.

“When we parted ways, he made sure to let me know that he hoped he wouldn’t get to know me too well during the season,” Dr. Joseph joked.

Joseph Dr. Joseph grew up in Islip, New York as a sports-loving kid and he played high school football. He calls himself a big guy and says people are often surprised he is a spine surgeon and not a professional athlete.

A first generation American, Dr. Joseph’s parents immigrated from Egypt. Dr. Joseph’s father was a pharmacist, and he says he first began thinking about becoming an orthopedic surgeon while in high school. After putting in his first pedicle screw during residency at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York, he says he changed his focus from sports medicine to spine.

Now he has a successful private practice, Joseph Spine, with three locations in the Tampa area.

“The most rewarding thing for me first and foremost is to be able to know that I can help patients who typically are in a state of severe and life-altering pain when presenting to me,” he says. “Additionally, it provides me with an outlet to challenge myself on all levels.”

Since 2015, Dr. Joseph has been involved with the Butterfly Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on teaching spinal deformity surgery in developing countries. He has traveled with a team to the Dominican Republic and personally performs 10-12 major deformity surgeries during the week there.

“It has been the most rewarding and life changing thing for me career wise,” he says. “It is incredible to be able to impact these people, not only by doing the surgeries, but by ensuring others will be able to receive better care after we are gone by teaching the surgeons there.”

John Koerner, MD

"Helping Develop Curriculum for New Med School"

Koerner An orthopedic surgeon in his home state of New Jersey, Dr. John Koerner spends most of his day seeing patients at New Jersey Spinal Medicine & Surgery. But there’s other significant work on his plate, too.

Dr. Koerner has been part of developing orthopedic curriculum for the new Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University. “The most significant challenge was trying to determine the essential aspects of orthopedics that all medical students should learn in the limited time available,” he says.

During residency in 2012, Dr. Koerner was part of a group that won The Spine Journal Outstanding Paper Award in Basic Science for a paper titled “The Effects of Local Insulin Application to Lumbar Spinal Fusions in a Rat Model."

“It was definitely a nice surprise to win the Outstanding Paper Award,” he says. “At the time I was still in residency and this project was part of research performed by some of my mentors, Dr. Sheldon Lin, Dr. Michael Vives and Dr. Joseph Benevenia. They had been working on this line of research for many years before I became involved, so it was great that they also received recognition.”

A business major in college, Dr. Koerner went on interviews for corporate jobs during his senior year before realizing it did not suit him. By then it was too late to switch majors, so he spent a year taking the required classes and the MCAT, and was accepted into medical school the following year.

Dr. Koerner is involved with several journals, including a deputy editor at Clinical Spine Surgery and a reviewer for TSJ and European Spine Journal. Outside of work, Dr. Koerner spends his time chasing around his two small children and playing golf when he has the chance.

Tobias Mattei, MD

"Family Tragedy Leads Mattei into Medicine"

Mattei Different circumstances lead different people on their life paths. Dr. Tobias Mattei certainly has a unique story for what vaulted him into the field of medicine.

Before he was born, Dr. Mattei’s mother was shot eight times in her abdomen during a robbery of a restaurant she worked at in Brazil. His grandmother was also shot in the attack and later required spine surgery. Mattei’s family was told at the time that his mother would likely not survive, but after multiple surgeries and an extended ICU stay, survive she did.

“My mother’s memories of the physicians who did not give up on her despite her critical condition really impacted me since my early childhood, and I think that was a decisive factor which influenced my professional choice,” he says.

Now in his mid-30s, Dr. Mattei is Chief of Spine Surgery at St. Louis University. According to him “This position came as a kind invitation from Prof. Saleem Abdulrauf, whose leadership style I have learned to deeply admire and who also ended up becoming a close personal friend”.

Previously, he worked at Eastern Maine Medical Center in an underserved part of that state after having completed fellowships at the University of Illinois at Peoria and The Ohio State University.

When he’s not in the office, Dr. Mattei enjoys spending time with his wife and two young children. Dr. Mattei acknowledges "There is a maxim that says: Behind every successful man, there is a great woman. I am certainly no exception to that.” According to Dr. Mattei, fatherhood has deeply affected the way he views medical education “Having children is an amazing experience which reminds us that education is more like a coaching task which is primarily accomplished by exemplary deeds and not by words.”

He used to run marathons with his father who, by the way, was the only one of 12 siblings to leave their subsistence farm in Brazil and get a formal education several decades ago.

Emmanuel Menga, MD

"Medicine a Lifelong Passion"

Sometimes where we come from defines who we become. For Dr. Emmanuel Menga, growing up in Cameroon and being surrounded by poor quality medical care was inspiration to become a physician. He moved to the United States to pursue his education and was influenced by leaders in orthopedic surgery to become an orthopedic spine surgeon.

Menga Dr. Menga began returning to Cameroon to provide care during his fourth year of medical school. With the support of Johns Hopkins during his residency, and his orthopedic department as a fully trained surgeon, he goes back and provides free surgeries to patients in need. He also brings much needed supplies with him. When Dr. Menga can’t physically be in Cameroon, he still volunteers his time by providing online and phone consultations with physicians in Cameroon’s underserved communities. This mission work keeps him grounded, and reminds him why he became a doctor.

“My experience has made me more appreciative of my orthopedic and spine skills… making a difference has always been my dream and my number one reason for going into medicine. My experience with mission trips and work only reinforces my commitment to this dream.”

Dr. Menga is also engaged with medical students, and resident/fellow education. He attributes his successes to the mentorship he received in his training, and is giving back to the next generation of spine care professionals.

“I had the opportunity to work with excellent mentors who encouraged me to always ‘dig deep’ and challenge myself to my best potential in both my personal life and career. Finding that strong balance in life remains a challenge, but I continue to follow those principles in my personal and professional life and strive to be the best I can. I try to live by example for my students, residents and fellows and offer the same advice to anyone pursuing a medical career.”

Chukwuka Okafor, MD

"Runs Anti-Bullying 5K in His Florida Community"

Born in Boston and raised in Nigeria, Chukwuka Okafor, MD is President and founder of the Spine Institute of Central Florida, a Lakeland, FL practice that boasts more than 80 employees, and has three locations in the Polk County and Tampa Bay area.

Okafor But Dr. Okafor’s interests and passions run much deeper than medicine.

Dr. Okafor started an annual Anti-Bullying 5K run in 2016 with proceeds going to central Florida anti-bullying organizations. It is open to the public and has participation from the county sheriff’s office and Lakeland, FL Mayor.

“Participants are educated on bullying statistics and the best ways to handle bullying when they experience it, or if they witness it directed to someone else,” Dr. Okafor said. “My passion for anti-bullying came from hearing from scoliosis and severe kyphosis patients who have experienced bullying from their peers.”

Despite his stellar resume and laundry list of accomplishments, Dr. Okafor does not spend time patting himself on the back. Instead, he says he simply took advantage of opportunities provided.

“This is one of the only countries on earth where anyone motivated, dedicated and willing to work hard can achieve any goal they set for themselves,” he says. “For me, I see my purpose as involving serving others, helping others achieve their goals and trying to bring out the best in others. That is what motivates me to do what I do.”

Dr. Okafor says he first realized he wanted to be a doctor when he was 9 years old and living in Nigeria. During a soccer game, his foster brother fell and sustained a bad elbow fracture with severe immediate deformity to his arm. Without X-ray equipment in the area, the foster brother was forced to endure a “barbaric and agonizing weekly re-setting procedure at the house of a local traditional bone setter where men would hold him down and cover his mouth while he screamed in pain during the forceful arm manipulation.”

Seeing that, Dr. Okafor thought to himself, “There must be a better way and it piqued my interest in medicine.”

About three decades later, Dr. Okafor is following through on his adolescent medical interest and helping others on a daily basis.

Kris Radcliff, MD

"Prolific Researcher, Educator and Dedicated Family Man"

Radcliff If you’ve been a NASS member for any amount of time, you’ve seen Kris Radcliff’s name. Dr. Radcliff has been a speaker at several Annual Meetings, faculty at myriad NASS courses, a member of the Low Back Pain Clinical Guidelines Committee, and was co-chair of NASS’ Young Spine Surgeon Forum. And his heavy involvement isn’t limited to NASS – he’s also active in ABOS, AAOS, AOA, The Association for Collaborative Spine Research, ISASS, SMISS and CSRS. How does he manage it all? Balance.

“Balance is critically important in life and in the career of a young spine surgeon. As a group, surgeons are accomplished and are sometimes uneasy declining opportunities. A mentor advised me once that ‘Every time you say yes to one opportunity, you are saying no to some other opportunity. That other opportunity is often your family.’ I make it a point to spend time with my family and to do my work efficiently when my family is not available (usually in the morning), or bring my family along when I am presenting at outof-town conferences.”

And he has many opportunities to present. Having been mentored by prolific researchers Drs. Alexander Vaccaro and Todd Albert, Dr. Radcliff became extremely active in research early on in his career. As an associate professor at an academic institution, he continues to contribute to the spine community via education and research in addition to his practice. He notes many unanswered questions remain in the field of spine care. He focuses most of his research on clinical outcomes research, capabilities of current instruments, and new outcomes measures.

“We need better predictive tools to help patients understand their anticipated outcome of surgical and nonsurgical spine care. I am optimistic that technology will enable us to collect outcomes more often and to collect nontraditional outcome measures (such as pedometer data in smartphones).”

Byron Schneider, MD

"Dozens of Published Papers, Active NASS Involvement Propelling Schneider"

Despite being in the early stages of his medical career, Byron Schneider, MD is already racking up an impressive CV. With more than 25 peer-reviewed, invited and textbook publications to his credit, along with more than 20 presentations given at national meetings, Dr. Schneider remains committed to staying active in all facets of his job.

Schneider A physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Schneider focuses on the nonoperative management of the spine as well as fluoroscopic interventional spine procedures. He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees at the University of Kentucky before doing residency and fellowship at Stanford University.

"I am passionate about spine care and have a strong desire to be a future leader in the field, which certainly feeds into some of the energy I have to maintain a busy work schedule," he says. "From the very beginning, I have been fortunate to be given opportunities to develop research skills, writing skills, and leadership skills, which I have worked hard to take advantage of."

Dr. Schneider has also been active with NASS, including being part of a group that published a 2017 Spine Journal Outstanding Paper Award runner-up, "A minimum of 5-year follow-up after lumbar transforaminal epidural steroid injections in patients with lumbar radicular pain due to intervertebral disc herniation." He is also a member of NASS’ Rehabilitation, Interventional & Medical Spine (RIMS) Committee.

"NASS is exceptionally unique in its ability to pull together international experts across disciplines," he says. "As expert health care continues to be very specialized, an unfortunate side effect of this are the silos different specialties often fall into. My involvement in NASS has allowed me to learn from a diverse spectrum of physicians and health care professionals not afforded to me by other national societies. As spine care continues to move forward toward integrated and patientcentered care, NASS is positioned to be the leader in coordinating these multidisciplinary efforts."

Andrew Schoenfeld, MD

"It Was the Spine that Brought Me to Medicine"

Growing up in New York City, Andrew Schoenfeld, MD learned about discipline and time management at an early age. As a member of a powerhouse high school basketball team that practiced nearly seven days a week, Dr. Schoenfeld took three buses for a one-way trip to school that could sometimes take up to two hours.

Schoenfeld There was no time to waste. “I think that has really translated into my career in medicine in a lot of ways,” he says now.

An orthopedic surgeon and Research Director of the Spine Surgery Division and Fellowship Director of the Surgical Research Fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Dr. Schoenfeld has a mighty impressive resume for a recent member of the 40-club. He was previously the youngest deputy editor of The Spine Journal. Presently, he is the youngest editor at the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. He also has received a National Institute of Health (NIH) award.

Schoenfeld says his interest in medicine began very early.

“I tell people, and it really is the truth, that it was the spine that brought me to medicine,” he says. “I had always been interested in human anatomy growing up and I had the opportunity to take a college anatomy class when I was a junior in high school. There was a heavy initial emphasis on the spine which to my mind encompassed a number of body systems, some really cool looking bones, the nervous structures, unique and fascinating blood supply. I was sold after that on wanting to be a spine surgeon or spine specialist of some kind.”

Back to Dr. Schoenfeld’s basketball past for a moment. It seems a likely bet that he is the only spine surgeon around who played on a high school basketball team with three future NBA players. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Schoenfeld’s school, Christ the King in Queens, was ranked among the top five high school teams in the country and featured future NBA players Lamar Odom, Erick Barkley and Craig “Speedy” Claxton.

Odom has since gained mainstream fame by marrying (and then divorcing) reality television star Khloe Kardashian. But back then, Odom was one of the top high school basketball players in America.

Odom may be famous for strange reasons now, but his former high school teammate is doing quite well.

LCDR Scott Wagner, MD

"Military Veteran is a Man of Varied Interests"

Wagner LCDR Scott Wagner, MD is a prime example of not judging a book by its cover.

In his professional photo, Dr. Wagner looks the part of intimidating military man in formal dress with the United States flag in the background. Indeed, he joined the Navy at 18 and currently works as an orthopedic surgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the Washington DC area.

However, that is just one layer of Dr. Wagner’s life. Here’s another: he has a passion for creative writing and screenwriting and has published a book of short stories and poetry. With another book in the works, he says enthusiastically, “I hope I can continue doing that for the rest of my life!”

In his first year out of fellowship, Wagner already is on the Peer Reviewed Orthopaedics Research Panel for the Department of Defense. He is also a deputy editor for Clinical Spine Surgery and is co-directing Walter Reed’s spine biomechanics lab.

Wagner grew up on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania, where his parents ran a bed and breakfast. He then attended the University of Notre Dame on a Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship, a program designed to provide the Navy with line officers, aka people who drive ships and fly planes.

“I had to get special permission from the Navy to apply for medical school, so I always had to have a contingency plan in case they said no,” Dr. Wagner says. “Luckily for me, they said yes.”

Dr. Wagner added: “I think in some ways the military helped me get on the path to be a physician, since there are not many options for newly commissioned ROTC graduates to work in laboratories. However, the military obviously has incredible resources for medical care and scientific research, and the more I became exposed to those opportunities, the more I realized that is what I wanted to do.”

Dr. Wagner has several years remaining on his military commitment, and plans to either stay in active duty or transition to a civilian practice when the time comes.

Elizabeth Yu, MD

"Connects Research and Teaching with Exemplary Patient Care"

Yu Most physicians hope their patients are satisfied by their care. Elizabeth Yu, MD knows they are. Her patients recognized her as one of the top 10% in patient satisfaction scores for her work at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. She believes in individualized care, and pursues nonsurgical solutions before considering surgical options. Dr. Yu cites the positive outcomes and responses her patients experience as the most rewarding part of her work.

“Making a positive impact on the lives of my patients is a tremendously fulfilling way of giving back.”

Dr. Yu notes that her mentors at the Mayo Clinic and Stanford University/San Francisco demonstrated empathy and compassion in their care for patients, and that example influenced the way she interacts with and cares for her patients. Now, as Director of the Orthopedic Spine Fellowship at Ohio State University, she gets to pass along that philosophy of patient care as she shapes the next generation of spine surgeons.

“This experience is very humbling for me and encourages me to work harder to make a positive contribution and difference in the world I live.”

In addition to her work with patients and spine care students, Dr. Yu is a prolific researcher who has received numerous grants for her work. She’s also been published in peer-reviewed spine journals, authored book chapters, and presented at regional and national conferences. Her main area of interest is minimally invasive spinal techniques.

Dr. Yu is a reviewer for The Spine Journal, Spine, CORR and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. She’s active as a committee volunteer in NASS, AAOS, SMISS and OSU.

Becker's Spine recognized her as a “Female Spine Surgeon Leader to Know.”

Past Award Winners:

Year Award Winner
2017 David Selby
William Mitchell, MD 
2017 Leon Wiltse K. Daniel Riew, MD
2017  Henry Farfan S. Tim Yoon, MD, PhD 
2017  NASS Spine Advocacy David A Wong, MD, MCs, FRCS 
2016 David Selby Jim Reynolds, MD
2016 Leon Wiltse Keith Bridwell, MD
2016 Henry Farfan Makarand V. Risbud, PhD
2016 NASS Spine Advocacy Charles A. Mick, MD
2015 David Selby Donna M. Lahey, RNFA
2015 Leon Wiltse Frank J. Eismont, MD
2015 Henry Farfan James C. Iatridis, PhD
2015 Past President David A. Wong, MD, MSc, FRCS
2015 NASS Spine Advocacy Dr. Jeffrey J. Wise, MD
2014 David Selby Raj D. Rao, MD
2014 Leon Wiltse Ziya Gokaslan, MD, FACS, FAANS
2014 Henry Farfan Michael H. Heggeness, MD, PhD
2013 David Selby Marjorie Eskay-Auerbach, MD, JD
2013 Leon Wiltse Lawrence G. Lenke, MD
2013 Henry Farfan Michael G. Fehlings, MD, PhD
2012 David Selby Thomas Faciszewski, MD
2012 Leon Wiltse Marcel F. Dvorak, MD
2012 Henry Farfan Helen Gruber, PhD
2011 David Selby Joel Press, MD
2011 Leon Wiltse Kiyoshi Kaneda, MD
2011 Henry Farfan Gunnar Andersson, MD, PhD
2010 David Selby Serena S. Hu, MD
2010 Leon Wiltse Alexander R. Vaccaro, MD
2010 Henry Farfan Narayan Yoganandan, PhD
2009 David Selby Stanley A. Herring, MD 
2009 Leon Wiltse Michael G. Fehlings, MD, PhD, FRCSC
2009 Henry Farfan Avinash Patwardhan, PhD
2008 David Selby David A. Wong, MD
2008 Leon Wiltse Eugene Carragee, MD
2008 Henry Farfan Kenneth M. C. Cheung, MD
2007 David Selby Edward C. Benzel, MD
2007 Leon Wiltse Arthur D. Steffee, MD
2007 Henry Farfan James D. Kang, MD
2006 David Selby Hansen Yuan, MD
2006 Leon Wiltse Henry Bohlman, MD
2006 Henry Farfan Vijay Goel, PhD
2005 David Selby Scott Halderman, MD
2005 Leon Wiltse Harry Herkowitz, MD
2005 Henry Farfan Howard An, MD
2004 David Selby Tom Mayer, MD
2004 Leon Wiltse Edward C. Benzel, MD
2004 Henry Farfan James Weinstein, MD
2003 David Selby Steven Garfin, MD
2003 Leon Wiltse Scott Boden, MD
2003 Henry Farfan Bryan Cunningham, MSc
2002 David Selby Bruce Fredrickson, MD
2002 Leon Wiltse John Kostuik, MD
2002 Henry Farfan F. Todd Wetzel, MD
2001 David Selby Richard Guyer, MD
2001 Leon Wiltse John McCulloch, MD
2001 Henry Farfan Robert Gatchel, PhD
2000 David Selby David Fardon, MD
2000 Leon Wiltse Steve Garfin, MD
2000 Henry Farfan Hamilton Hall, MD
1999 David Selby Casey Lee, MD
1999 Leon Wiltse Thomas S. Whitecloud III, MD
1999 Henry Farfan Vert Mooney, MD
1998 David Selby J. Walt Simmons, Jr., MD
1998 Leon Wiltse Hansen Yuan, MD
1998 Henry Farfan Manohar Panjabi, PhD
1997 David Selby J. Elmer Nix, MD
1997 Leon Wiltse Charles D. Ray, MD
1997 Henry Farfan Tom G. Mayer, MD
1996 David Selby John P. Kostuik, MD
1996 Leon Wiltse Thomas E. Whitesides, Jr., MD
1996 Henry Farfan William C. Hutton, DSc
1991 David Selby W. H. Kirkaldy-Willis, MD

David Selby
David Selby