20 Under 40

20 Under 40 - 2019

Meet the 2020 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.

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

Barrett Woods, MD

"Country’s Racial Unrest Hits Home"

Woods The summer of 2020 was an unsettling time in America as thousands of people flooded the streets and protested the police brutality killing of Minnesota’s George Floyd. From his home in New Jersey, orthopedic surgeon Barrett Woods looked on with great interest and a unique perspective. An African-American male, he has been in similar positions before.

"I was once pulled over during residency in Pittsburgh and my pager was found. My brother and I were held for an hour outside, face down as they assumed we had drugs in the car. I am hopeful that from the events this year a new appreciation and respect for the challenges African-Americans in the country face will evolve. That appreciation will go a long way in mending our country and bringing us all together."

A Pittsburgh native, Woods practices at Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in New Jersey. Woods says he always wanted to be a doctor and it was during medical school at the University of Pittsburgh when an interest in orthopedic surgery was sparked. He tore his ACL playing pickup basketball and was operated on by Dr. Freddie Fu. Then he began doing research on intervertebral disc degeneration with Dr. James Kang.

"I remember going to the OR to watch him perform a cervical corpectomy," Woods said of Kang. "I was standing at the head of the bed and he had me pull on the Mayfield and he popped in the fibular allograft he had fashioned to fit the corpectomy defect. That was the ‘aha’ moment and I knew I wanted to be a spine surgeon."

Brian Coleman, DC

"Engineers a Career in Spine Research, Care"

Coleman As an undergraduate, Brian Coleman studied biomedical engineering, which has helped shape his approach to providing chiropractic care at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His previous work in 3D-motion capture and coding prepared him for finding ways to use technological advances to support health care and clinical decision-making. His engineering background has informed the way he thinks about delivering clinical care.

He notes "Pain is often multidimensional and complex, so taking a very structured and detailed approach to evaluation and management can help with uncovering potential contributing factors to an individual’s pain and properly address them in a care plan."

Coleman specialized in the intersection of technology and health care delivery and became one of the first chiropractors to complete the VA Advanced Fellowship in Medical Informatics. This program allowed him to work with experts at the VA and Yale University in the areas of informatics, nonpharmacological pain management and health policy. His current research interest is nonpharmacological pain management in spine conditions. His research goals are "to study the integration of high-quality and high-value nonpharmacological pain care in other health care systems offering these guidelinerecommended services as primary interventions for pain."

In his free time, Coleman enjoys fishing, hiking, home improvement, and spending time with his wife, Kellie. He also is an avid soccer fan and longtime supporter of Liverpool, and hopes to visit Anfield to see his favorite team in person.

Daniel Kang, MD

"Reflects on Two Overseas Deployments"

The first military deployment was Kuwait in 2015. The second was Egypt in 2019.

Daniel Kang is an orthopedic surgeon at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, WA., but his Army duties also include assisting troops overseas when needed. "During both deployments I gained a deeper understanding of our military medical evacuation system and medical support planning, as well as valuable experience in planning and providing surgical capabilities in resource restricted, austere environments," Kang said. "Overseas deployments are an inherent part of being a military orthopedic surgeon, and we are expected to be a critical part of the surgical/resuscitative team given our knowledge and expertise."

Kang Kang decided to become a physician during college at the US Military Academy. He had the opportunity to perform an Academic Individual Advanced Development at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC. The most formative experience allowed Kang to observe total knee replacement surgeries during his rotation.

"This was probably an early primer that ultimately set the foundation for choosing a career in orthopedic surgery," Kang said. "Later experiences during medical school helped me choose a career as an orthopedic spine surgeon."

Kang, who serves as Madigan’s Orthopaedic Surgery Residency Program Director, has authored 65 peerreviewed papers, 22 book chapters, 254 podium and 212 poster abstracts. He also serves as a deputy editor for The Spine Journal.

"The experience has been extremely professionally rewarding to work with the TSJ Editorial Board, and striving to maintain scholarly excellence and advancing scientific knowledge of spinal conditions."

Lloydine Jacobs, MD

"Set Career in Motion from an Early Age"

Jacobs There are overachievers and then there is Lloydine Jacobs. Graduating high school at 15 and finishing medical school at 22 sounds like television character Doogie Howser come to life but these are facts with Jacobs.

"My parents have always been a driving force in my education and motivation to succeed," said Jacobs, an orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey.

"They have continuously pushed me to excel beyond my expectations which has always instilled my drive to succeed and be ahead of the curve."

Jacobs grew up in the Bronx. Her father, Lloydstone Jacobs Sr, was Antigua and Barbuda’s first Minister of Education and went on to become their first ambassador to the United Nations. Jacobs attended Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx. She then went to the Sophie Davis School for Biomedical Education and enrolled in the seven-year BS/MD program.

Jacobs was inspired to become a surgeon at a young age when she witnessed doctors save her older brother, who was shot in the head by a gang member’s stray bullet. Doctors initially thought he would not survive, but a procedure that allowed his brain more room to swell ultimately saved his life. He went on to become a doctor, including a stint as Chief Medical Officer of a large prison system in Georgia.

"Even at my young age of 5 years old, I knew that I wanted to become a surgeon after this experience," Jacobs said. "I wanted to save lives in the same way the medical team that saved my brother’s life were able to do."

Jacobs has overcome barriers of her own, including being advised against choosing orthopedics simply because of her gender and race. But if you haven’t noticed yet, nothing is going to stop this rising star in medicine.

Emily Putney, MD

"Life-Long Interest in Sports Propelled Her Career"

Emily Putney’s first patients looked very different than most spine physicians. Growing up on a quarter horse ranch, Putney was passionate about taking care of horses that suffered musculoskeletal injuries. Even at this early age, she knew she wanted to pursue a career as a surgeon.

Putney’s mother instilled in her daughter a love for organized sports. A multisport athlete throughout her primary and secondary school years, she played lacrosse for St. Lawrence University before becoming a referee for women’s lacrosse at the high school and college levels.

Putney Now an orthopedic physician with a thriving private practice in Florida, Putney’s love of sports remains. "My hobbies have shifted to the ocean and river waterways. I always want to be with my son, daughter and husband whenever I’m not working, so we incorporate that around boating, kayaking, beach-going and fishing."

On occasion, Putney’s love for sports and love for spine care intersect. During her residency, she provided medical care for high school football players in her area, and for the past four years, she has been a team doctor for the New York Mets during their spring training in Port St. Lucie.

Putney is also an avid researcher whose work is timely with COVID-19. She notes "I am actively researching the role of lateral access to the lumbar spine in the outpatient setting… this is coming at a particularly meaningful time with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many patients are concerned about the hospital setting, and outpatient centers offer a safe venue."

Antonio Webb, MD

"Overcame Incredible Odds to Become a Surgeon"

Webb The story of Antonio Webb sounds like something out of a movie. He grew up in Shreveport, LA, surrounded by drugs, gangs and violence. His mother was in and out of jail, and later paralyzed from the waist down after being shot.

Despite these obstacles, Webb joined the Air Force at 17 and spent eight years in the military, including a deployment to Iraq in 2005 as a medic. Later, Webb doggedly pursued admission into medical school, even after being rejected twice. He was eventually accepted to the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies Program (GEMS), and his course for professional success was set.

Today, Webb is newly practicing in San Antonio, TX. He also has a savvy social media presence with more than 185,000 followers and 21 million views on his You-Tube page.

"I receive messages and emails from students all over the world who hear my story and who write to tell me how much my story has inspired them," Webb said. "I plan to use this (YouTube) channel to continue inspiring students to go into the medical field as well as a platform to educate patients on various conditions and surgeries in spine surgery."

Webb says he was inspired by his father, who raised four kids on his own and overcame struggles as a young person to later become a minister.

"He would donate his plasma so we could have food on our tables," Webb said of his father. "Growing up, my dad would take my siblings and I into the poor neighborhoods of Shreveport to minister and hand out food to the homeless. This act of altruism sparked an initial interest in helping others and giving back."

Heidi Hullinger, MD

"Complexity Drives Her to Excel"

Hullinger In high school Heidi Hullinger fell off a trampoline and suffered a complex shoulder dislocation. The interactions with orthopedic surgeons and the surgery to repair it piqued her interest in orthopedics. When she became a resident, she fell in love with spinal surgery. Since joining her practice, she thrives on taking on complex cases.

A well-rounded surgeon, Hullinger has academic privileges in addition to her private practice. She is also heavily involved in medical policy, including serving on NASS’ Payor-Policy Review and Coverage Committees. Of the current policy landscape, she notes the difficulties of increasing administrative tasks, particularly during the pandemic. Furloughs of administrative staff that dealt with prior authorization and other reimbursement issues can result in delays in patient care, leading to worse outcomes. She says, "this then takes up valuable time that providers should be spending on direct patient care."

Hullinger practices in the epicenter of the early US COVID crisis, and found the downtime did not agree with her. So, she found a way to help. "I saw there was no ‘proning’ team on weekends, flipping patients to aid their lung function. I organized weekend proning for the next six weeks. It was truly rewarding to be a part of a team trying to do what we could to help people recover."

When she’s not working, Hullinger is an avid runner who competes for the New York City Athletic Club and can often be seen running her toddler around to playgrounds around the city. She and her family also enjoy exploring New York City’s greenmarkets and going on hiking trips in remote locations.

Elizabeth Lord, MD

"Service and the Responsibility Guide Her"

As the daughter of civil servants specializing in East and North Africa, Elizabeth Lord had the importance of service instilled in her at an early age. In college, as a member of the Harvard sailing team, she learned the importance of team work and responsibility. "Similarly to the operating room, on a boat everyone has a specific job, each complimenting the others; no one person can sail these boats or do these operations alone. Teamwork is necessary for success."

After college, she went into consulting, but soon realized that a career without service would not provide the fulfillment she was after. Upon completing medical school at Columbia, she interned at Washington University and then spent a year conducting research in the lab of former NASS President Jeffrey Wang followed by orthopedic surgery residency at UCLA. After she completed her fellowship at NYU, she was hired as the first female spine surgeon faculty member at UCLA.

Lord Lord focuses her practice on complex surgeries, deformity and oncology. "It is particularly rewarding to help people who are in extremis. Being at UCLA affords me the opportunity to see the most complex of the complex, to push the envelope of what is possible in spine surgery."

She works closely with multidisciplinary teams to provide well-rounded care for each of her patients, including pet-therapy and acupuncture consults. As a researcher, Lord has over 30 publications and has presented nationally and internationally. She studies the biology of spine fusion and augmentation of this process. She is currently focused on the impact of exogenous cannabinoids in spine healing and bone biology. She also looks for ways to reduce cost and improve outcomes for patients with ASD and sacral cancers. She is also active on the NASS Evidence-Based Medicine and Payor Policy Review Committees.

When she’s not working, she enjoys travel and trying interesting food. She tries to meditate daily, exercises via pilates and spinning, and loves the arts – particularly, opera, ballet and art museums.

Tina Raman, MD

"Years of Training at The Julliard School Paved Way"

RamanTrained in classical piano starting at age 6, Tina Raman began studying at the prestigious Juilliard School at 12. "I learned that practice and repetition is the key to technical mastery. Performing in international competitions also taught me that confidence, improvisation and being responsible to the moment are important."

During college at MIT, Raman spent time in Dr. Ronald Crystal’s laboratory at Weill Cornell doing basic science and large dataset genomics research. It was then that she decided to pursue medicine, and surgery specifically. "In retrospect, the decision was not a difficult one though I imagine it arose from some serendipity, being at the right place at the right time, and the experience of collaborating with hard-driving, forward-thinking physician scientists and gaining their insight," Raman said.

Now an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Center, Raman led a study on demonstrating the safety profile and efficacy of high dose tranexamic acid (TXA) dosing in adult spinal deformity patients that was nominated for the Russell A. Hibbs Award at the Scoliosis Research Society. She also has received a NASS Value Abstract Award and was part of a team that won a Best Paper Award at previous NASS Annual Meetings.

"As a surgeon, obtaining a successful outcome is predicated on two key variables: performing the correct surgery for that patient, and performing it well. To that end, my main focus is on maintaining the appropriate indications for surgery for a given patient, and taking into account the entire background of the patient including comorbidities, social history and their goals in recovery."

Nicolas Dea, MD

"Patient Relationships Drive Him to Become Well-Rounded Physician"

Dea Medicine wasn’t the obvious career path for Nicolas Dea. In high school, his areas of preferred study were mathematics and physics. It wasn’t until college when he pursued a health science degree that medicine appeared on his radar. Once in med school, however, his path to neurosurgery became clear. "Neurosurgery was the perfect balance of technically challenging and rewarding surgeries, and interesting anatomy and physiology. It is also a specialty that allows you to develop amazing relationships with patients."

Once in his fellowship, an interest in complex surgeries coupled with a desire for strong patient relationships led him to focus on spinal oncology in both his practice and his extensive research.

Oncology isn’t his only area of expertise, however. Dea also attended the London School of Economics to earn a Master’s in Health Economics. "Ultimately, this degree allows me to do research and cost-effectiveness analyses of different interventions in spine surgery. It also gives me tools to develop disease-specific health related quality of life instruments, to better assess QOL in patients with spinal cancer, for example."

Dea has been an author on more than 50 peerreviewed publications and book chapters, reviews for several spine journals, and is a Principle Investigator of the Canadian Spine Outcome and Research Network (CSORN).

When not working, Dea enjoys spending time with his two-year old and taking advantage of the Vancouver area’s outdoor scene by running, hiking and skiing in winters.

Owoicho Adogwa, MD

"Soccer Star Gives Back on a Global and Local Scale"

Adogwa As a teenager, Owoicho Adogwa’s grandmother was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma. The dedication and commitment of the medical staff who treated her sparked a fascination with medicine.

At 18, Adogwa arrived in the US on a soccer scholarship to Duke University. Playing striker, he led the ACC in goals scored his junior year. This feat is more impressive considering he did not play organized soccer until his family emigrated to Trinidad from Nigeria. His coach and lifelong mentor, Alvin Corneal, supported Adogwa and worked with him daily. After four years, he received nine college scholarship offers.

Now a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Texas Southwestern, Adogwa launched a foundation called Young Globally United Neurosurgeons in 2015. The group aims to perform 10,000 free brain and spine surgeries in developing countries over the next two decades. "The idea came out of my personal experience with health care systems in developing countries, where I witnessed first-hand the challenges of delivering care through poorly funded health systems in Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago."

He also gives back locally. Starting during his time at Duke, he began working with local middle and high schools, serving as a mentor to underprivileged students and giving presentations to provide motivation. He particularly enjoys mentoring minority students to help cultivate an interest in math and science.

Soccer still plays a role in Adogwa’s life – he continues to play and coach, and is a supporter of Manchester City. He also enjoys traveling, cooking, studying foreign languages and spending time with his family.

Andrew Trontis, MD

"Only 31 Years Old, He Has Bright Future in Spine Surgery"

Trontis An orthopedic spine surgery fellow at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, CA, 31-year-old Andrew Trontis’ surgical career is just beginning but he is off to a strong start. Trontis became the first resident board member of the Maryland Orthopedic Association in 2017.

"I feel that every medical or surgical trainee owes a debt to the system that helped train them," Trontis said. "To many surgeons this means having an academic career and giving back through research contributions, but I was interested in finding other ways to stay involved with the larger orthopedic and spine communities while pursuing a career that may be outside of academia. My relationships with NASS and my local professional organizations have allowed me to start doing just that."

Trontis is heavily involved with NASS as a reviewer for The Spine Journal and a member of NASS’ Member Feedback and Research Funding Committees.

Coronavirus has obviously affected everyone, physicians included. Trontis spoke about how it has manifested for him personally. "As a trainee, COVID-19 had a major impact on my clinical education. Surgical volumes dropped 90% at my institution during the last few months of my residency when I needed to be soaking up the most knowledge I could from my residency mentors and attendings. Now, starting my fellowship at Cedars-Sinai, I realize that this will be my last year of formal surgical education and training, and I will need to go out of my way to get as much experience as possible with still reduced surgical volumes while in LA, while staying safe myself."

When he’s not working, Trontis enjoys outdoor activities such as cycling, hiking, backpacking and camping.

David Cheng, MD

"Finds Purpose in Prioritizing Patient Education"

Cheng In college, David Cheng sustained a basketball injury that eventually required back surgery. "Immediately after I was injured, I saw a spine specialist who offered me medications for temporary pain relief but no clear understanding of my condition or a definitive treatment plan. This experience made me feel frustrated and unheard, and it has fundamentally shaped the way that I practice medicine today."

Cheng deeply values his role in empowering patients through education. In addition, he takes great pride in training the next generation of spine physicians. Prior to moving back home to Los Angeles this year, he oversaw the PM&R residency education in pain and spine medicine at Rush University. During his seven-year tenure at Rush, Cheng was awarded Teacher of the Year three times. He is thrilled to continue teaching at USC Keck School of Medicine as Musculoskeletal System Chair and to work with Dr. John Liu and Dr. Jeffrey Wang at the USC Spine Center.

Cheng’s passion for education and research extends beyond the hospital. He holds leadership roles in numerous organizations, including NASS’ Evidence-Based Guideline Development Committee. Outside of NASS, he is actively involved in SIS and AAPM&R. As a pain medicine specialist, Cheng is dedicated to improving opioid prescribing education and policy. In 2016, Cheng served as the Course Director for AAPM&R’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies for Opioid Prescribing. He has since joined AAPM&R’s Pain Management and Opioid Task Force and co-authored its Position Statement on Opioid Prescribing.

In his free time, Cheng enjoys experimenting with Instant Pot and cooking for his family and friends.

Venita Simpson, MD

"Knocks Down Barriers to Become Neurosurgeon"

Simpson Despite carrying a 4.0 GPA in high school, Venita Simpson’s guidance counselor in suburban Chicago told her medicine was not a reasonable career path. Simpson was denied a premedicine scholarship that instead went to a less-qualified student whose parents were doctors.

It was not until Simpson was in a post bachelor program at Georgetown called GEMS (Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies) that she first encountered a physician of color. Despite the societal odds she faced, Simpson never veered off path. Later, she became the first African-American woman to complete a neurosurgery residency at Baylor University.

"Being on the interview trail for neurosurgery was quite intimidating since I was constantly surrounded by people who did not look like me," Simpson said. "This included attendings, residents and other applicants. Working in this disproportioned environment oftentimes causes minorities to struggle with imposter syndrome. Baylor was one of the first places in neurosurgery that I felt really cared about my personal and professional development."

Now an active-duty Navy neurosurgeon stationed in Portsmouth, VA, Simpson says she aspired to become a physician since the age of 7 when she had surgery for an abdominal surgery repair.

"I was in love with everything in the hospital and driving the nurses crazy pushing all the buttons and asking a ton of questions. I remember my surgeon was very kind and patient. He explained my surgery to me in a way that a second grader could understand. I thought he was a superhero with his white cape. I knew at that moment I wanted the same cape!"

Bassel Diebo, MD

"Forges Path for Syrians in US Medicine"

After immigrating to the US in 2012 at the age of 27, Bassel Diebo became the first Syrian physician to match into orthopedic surgery in the United States since 1970. When he arrived in Indiana, Diebo met his mentor Dr. Elian Shepherd, who in 1970 was the first Syrian to match in orthopedics in America.

"From working with Dr. Shepherd, I not only developed a great interest in the complexity and challenges of spine surgery, but an appreciation for the delicate relationship between spine surgery and engineering that it involves as well," Diebo said. "However, most importantly, I learned how spine surgery can greatly improve the health and quality of life of individuals with congenital and iatrogenic spinal deformities, which perhaps was the most significant factor in my decision to pursue a career in spine surgery."

Diebo Diebo is now a resident at SUNY-Brooklyn. He has nearly 150 published articles to his name and says working with fellow NASS members Frank Schwab, MD, and Virginie Lafage, PhD, as well as Carl Paulino, MD, underscored the importance of research. "After spending five years in Dr. Schwab’s spine lab under the mentorship of Dr. Lafage, I have come to share their belief that research informs good clinical practice. Accordingly, as a practitioner, I not only aim to be a constant consumer of research in the field to stay abreast of the latest innovations in techniques and intervention, but to be an active and contributing member of the academic community."

Today, Quirno is an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Health. He speaks five languages, treats a multitude of spinal conditions and is an assistant professor in the department of orthopedic surgery.

Diebo has submitted research to NASS for the last six years and is involved with numerous papers being presented during NASS 2020.

Danielle Sarno, MD

"Improves Spine Care Through the Power of the Team"

Sarno As a gymnast with lumbar spondylolysis at age 11, Dr. Danielle Sarno had a glimpse into the world of spine care early in life. After months of bracing and physical therapy, she returned to the sport, became a Level 10 gymnast, and competed for four years on Cornell University’s Division I gymnastics team.

As the daughter of a physiatrist, she was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the specialty. After her pain medicine fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Sarno became an instructor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and joined the Department of Neurosurgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as the first physiatrist in their spine service. She is now the Director of Interventional Pain Management for the Neurosurgery Department and notes, "I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with spine surgeons and provide a comprehensive patient care experience. We often discuss imaging findings and treatment plans for mutual patients and have developed a trusting relationship."

As a teaching faculty member for the pain medicine fellowship at BWH and Co-Director of the Harvard Interventional Pain Simulation Center, Sarno has been collaborating with pain medicine colleagues to develop and study an interventional pain simulation-based education curriculum. "We’ve been teaching fellows how to perform fluoroscopic-guided spine interventions utilizing a specialized spine model, with simulation sessions including individual feedback, didactics, skills stations, and recently, virtual reality video feedback. We aim to provide a realistic and safe environment for trainees to practice procedures, create a platform to teach radiation safety, study training outcomes, and ultimately improve patient safety."

Ropper is also quick to mention luck regarding the success of his young career, but of course, a ton of hard work has buoyed his standing. He received Baylor’s neurosurgery department “Rising Star Award” after his first year at the institution, and has since parlayed it into a new Spine Surgery Fellowship for young physicians at the hospital.

Outside of work, Sarno enjoys quality time with her husband and three children, music, nature, and handstands.

David Kaye, MD

"Grandfather’s Love for Medicine Guided His Career Path"

Kaye Martin Kaye spent most of his professional career selling fabrics in New York City’s garment district. He also idolized the medical profession, having survived metastatic cancer that required spinal reconstruction.

That love for medicine made an impact on his grandson, David Kaye, an orthopedic surgeon at the Rothman Institute and an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia and New Jersey. "He imparted that respect and passion for medicine to his grandchildren, of whom I was the first to enter the profession."

Kaye, who is a member of NASS’ Political Engagement Committee and a reviewer for The Spine Journal, is lead investigator in a multicenter study evaluating the efficacy and outcomes of titanium vs PEEK interbodies for anterior lumbar interbody fusion. "We recently starting enrolling patients in the first multicenter, level I, RCT comparing single level anterior lumbar interbody fusion with a porous 3D printed titanium cage filled with cortical fibers vs a traditional PEEK cage filled with rh-BMP-2. Although ALIF has been well established as an effective tool to achieve fusion, restore alignment, and provide indirect decompression, we still do not know the optimal interbody type."

Kaye sees opportunity for change as a result of COVID-19. "As we emerge from the more rigid hospital-based restrictions, identifying areas for improved efficiencies, and transitioning more care to ASCs will be increasingly important."

Peter Derman, MD

"College Athletics Laid Foundation for His Medical Career"

Derman A former co-captain and three-time NCAA Division I All-American on Stanford University’s men’s gymnastics team, Peter Derman says there are many parallels between executing a gymnastics routine and performing spine surgery. "They both require intense focus to coordinate gross and fine motor activity in a seamless manner, allowing for the performance of extraordinary feats despite high stakes," Derman said. "I draw upon the lessons I learned in the sport to help me in the operating room. Techniques such as ‘pre-game’ visualization ensure that I’m primed for success."

A Dallas native, Derman has returned home after traveling around the country for 15 years for school and training. He is currently an orthopedic surgeon at Texas Back Institute in suburban Dallas. As a young surgeon with big plans for the future, Derman says he would like to be a medical society leader at some point.

"Part of my fascination with spine surgery is the direct positive impact I can have on patients’ lives," he said. "Yet there is only a finite number of patients I can physically see over the course of my career. I view research, teaching and society involvement as a means by which I can further the field and expand my positive impact. There is much room for improvement in spine surgery, and I am excited about the future. I hope that my interest in innovation, minimally invasive procedures, evidence-based decision making and collaboration across institutions will position me to be a leader in the field."

Derman has interesting thoughts on the future of spine care, too, and how we might look back on the current state of the field.

"I hope that we will look back 10 years from now and think that the surgery we were doing in 2020 was archaic," Derman said. "In the future, I think that far fewer fusions will be performed as disc replacement and other motion-preserving technologies will continue to improve."

Deeptee Jain, MD

"Followed Father’s Path, Guidance Into Medicine"

Jain For nearly 30 years, Rajeev Jain was an endocrinologist in Milwaukee, WI, and a family man who led discussions at the dinner table about math problems and political debates that were written about on the New York Times editorial pages.

When his daughter, Deeptee, was a young child, he accidentally gave her his professional stethoscope instead of a $1 disposable version. Years later, on Deeptee’s first day of medical school, her father gifted her a fancy, electronic stethoscope to wish her luck on her new adventure. "He gave me all the tools I needed to become a doctor. I suppose he didn’t know I would become an orthopedic surgeon and never really use that stethoscope, but nonetheless, it is my most prized possession today. He passed down his constant quest for knowledge to me, and I will carry that for the rest of my life."

Jain practices at Washington University in St. Louis, where she is knocking down barriers as a woman of color practicing surgery. "I don’t think of myself as a woman spine surgeon. I am just a spine surgeon. My gender does not play a role in my surgical abilities nor my commitment to my patients. Nonetheless, I do believe that women and minorities face formidable barriers to entry in spine care, and specifically in spine surgery, as demonstrated by the fact that spine surgery is a field that is less than 1% female."

Jain enjoys the opportunity to teach residents and fellows at Washington. As the mother of a new baby, she has even less free time than normal these days, but it is a fulfilling, if busy, life.

Khoi Than, MD

"Inspired by Work Ethic of Immigrant Parents"

If there’s one thing Tri and Kim Than modeled for their four children, it was the value of hard work. As immigrants to America from Vietnam, Khoi Than’s parents each worked several jobs.

Than The message was clear: you have to work for everything you get, especially in a new country.

"When my parents went back to college, I witnessed firsthand how challenging it is to go to school full time, work and raise a family at the same time. Fortunately, their perseverance prevailed. They finished their studies, were able to secure good jobs, and provided a very nice life for my sisters and me. More importantly, they instilled in me specific values such as hard work before play, family first and the importance of education."

After moving around a bit as a child, the Thans settled in Portland, Oregon, where Khoi went to middle school and high school. Despite briefly entertaining the idea of running for public office, Than focused in on medicine. He was unsure of which specialty path to follow until a clinical rotation in neurosurgery.

"I really enjoyed taking care of patients presenting with neurologic diseases and working with my hands," said Than, a neurosurgeon at Duke University. "I entered residency fairly committed to becoming a brain surgeon, but quickly became enamored with the spine. I find the decision making involved in treating patients with spinal disorders—and the variety of techniques that can be employed to help these patients—intellectually stimulating."