Surgeon steps into shoes of former mentor
Doctor helping with study for joint replacements in lumbar spine
An X-ray of his broken ankle following an injury during basketball practice his junior year in high school led to his inspiration to study orthopedics.
But his friendship with the late Dr. Clint Devin led to his focus on spine care as an orthopedic surgeon.
Fellowship-trained spine surgeon Dr. J. Alex Sielatycki will take over as the spine surgeon at Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute next month, following the death of his friend and mentor Devin. Devin died Dec. 10 in a small plane crash atop Emerald Mountain.
“I consider it quite an honor that I am going to step in and carry his legacy forward. He was a great influence, friend and mentor,” said Sielatycki, 36, who first met Devin during an away rotation to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, while Sielatycki was a med student at Penn State College of Medicine.
Later, as a medical resident in Nashville, Sielatycki trained with Devin for five years. He is one of many medical residents who recall Devin as a phenomenal, engaging teacher.
“He poured a lot of time and effort into developing those students and really honing those skills. He took a personal and professional interest and cared about our development as surgeons and people,” Sielatycki said. “I am a spine surgeon today because of the influence and support of Dr. Devin.”
Family, friends and colleagues have established a Clint Devin Memorial Scholarship that will be offered to current or formerly active members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club who are pursuing degrees or accreditations in the field of medicine. Tax-deductible donations can be made through Yampa Valley Bank in Steamboat Springs, c/o Clint Devin Memorial Scholarship.
The two doctors continued to work together on research and advancing the science of spine surgery, specifically working on joint replacements, Sielatycki said. They last trained together several weeks before the plane accident, when they performed a lumbar total joint replacement in a cadaver lab.
That procedure is part of the advanced spine surgery work the two had planned to facilitate together when Sielatycki was to join Devin at SOSI in late summer. The pair of doctors were lead authors last year on a published study on the outcomes of total joint replacements in the lumbar spine.
Now, the transition for Sielatycki and his family to northwest Colorado has come earlier in order to assist patients who lost the local world-class physician. Sielatycki comes to SOSI from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he practiced at the Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery.
“Dr. Sielatycki is a welcome addition to our surgical team,” SOSI partner Dr. Patrick Johnston said. “Not only is he a gifted spine surgeon, he is committed to being an ambassador for SOSI as we grow.”
The young surgeon has a strong interest and expertise in spine motion preservation through the use of disk replacements throughout the spine so that patients can have alternatives to spinal fusion procedures.
Spinal disk fusion procedures may lead to more rapid degeneration adjacent to the fusion, some loss of flexibility and the need for possible future surgeries, Sielatycki said. So, the surgeon currently is involved in a multicenter clinical study working to advance the use of disk replacement in the lumbar spine.
“In the spine, we are still doing a lot of fusions, and that has been behind due to the complex anatomy of the spine,” Sielatycki said. “A lot of standards of surgical care were fusion in the neck and low back, which is still done predominately for degenerative back conditions. Now, we have joint replacement options instead of fusions to keep the joints moving.”
Currently, disk replacements are common in the upper or cervical spine, which the surgeon said he has performed extensively in the neck for the past three years. However, joint replacements are not yet common in the lower spine due to the difficulty in working around nerves, Sielatycki said.
The surgeon will start seeing local patients March 14, but his family, including wife, Karen, and three children younger than age 4, is getting ready to move into a rental townhome in Steamboat. After growing up near Salt Lake City, Utah, and earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry and economics from Utah State University, Sielatycki said he is looking forward to returning to the Mountain West.
Typical work for the surgeon involves disk hernia repair, pinched nerve repair, and cervical and lumber stenosis procedures. He will serve patients in Steamboat and Craig, with some limited offerings in Meeker and southern Wyoming.
“The loss of Dr. Devin left a hole in our hearts, our community and our practice,” Johnston said. “We want to continue on with Dr. Devin’s vision of creating a top-tier spine center to care for patients in the mountain region.”
Sielatycki said as the spine care needs in Northwest Colorado expand in future years, he hopes to invite in a partner who likely also was influenced or mentored by Devin.
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