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Ellen M. Raney, MD, works with a young patient to adjust a frame for clubfoot treatment.
Courtesy of OREF

AAOS Now

Published 3/1/2010
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Amy Kile

Full circle: From patient to researcher

Patient experience leads to a career in and a commitment to orthopaedics, OREF

Having firsthand experience as an orthopaedic patient, surgeon, and clinician, Ellen M. Raney, MD, understands the importance of supporting research and education that can improve lives. That understanding prompted her to become a state campaign volunteer for the Orthopaedic Research and Education Foundation (OREF), as well as a member of the Shands Circle and an Order of Merit donor.

Early inspiration turns to aspirations
Dr. Raney, chief of staff for Shiners Hospitals for Children in Honolulu, had aspirations of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon from an early age. When she was 5 years old, she was diagnosed with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease. She decided then to become an orthopaedist. She realized her goal, but veered from her plan of specializing in sports medicine after a pediatric rotation.

“I just fell in love with working with children. They’re always so positive about everything and you can really influence their lives. You can make changes that help them be more productive and have a better quality of life,” Dr. Raney said, explaining why she shifted to pediatric orthopaedics.

Strides toward better quality of life
To improve quality of life, Dr. Raney said, research to develop new treatment options and improve outcomes is needed. Her own investigations include the following research questions:

  • Why do some scoliosis patients bleed more than others?
  • Can botulinum toxin be used to decrease pain in children who have undergone limb-lengthening procedures and help them return to function sooner?
  • How can we prevent cast sores?

The last question has particular significance for her. “Many of my patients are children who can’t yet communicate. They can’t say ‘my left heel hurts.’ When we remove the cast we find they have a large sore,” she said.

Beyond her own investigations, Dr. Raney supports research and education because they can magnify the positive effects for her practice and her patients. She points to strides made in medicine and orthopaedic surgery that came from research conducted by her predecessors.

“We need to continue to make progress in medicine, even if others are actively doing the research. We should support them. Everything we do—every time we learn a new technique, every time we find a better way to help patients—it’s because somebody has done the research,” she said.

Research changes treatment
When she was a child with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, Dr. Raney recalled, keeping weight off the affected hip was deemed the best course of treatment. As a result, she spent four years on crutches.

Today, because of research conducted by J.A. “Tony” Herring, MD, chief of staff, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas, orthopaedists know that children around 5-years-old with the disease will probably make a full recovery without any treatment. The studies showed that cells are able to open channels that allow blood to flow into the femoral head. The need for further treatment depends on whether the head becomes misshapen before the child outgrows the disease.

“The body of a young child is pliable enough,” said Dr. Raney, “that it has the ability to remodel. Most young children do fine without treatment.”

In Dr. Raney’s eyes, a childhood without years spent on crutches would have provided her with a better quality of life, and helping patients of any age live better lives has a ripple effect.

Everyone benefits
“Patients are the primary, initial beneficiaries, but if you take a more global view and think of the patients returning to work and a higher quality of life, you realize that everybody they touch will have a better life, too, and it’s all because of research and education,” Dr. Raney said.

Her belief prompts her to support research and education financially. She chose OREF when her mentor, Laura L. Tosi, MD, encouraged her, and because OREF’s process for administering research and education grants and awards—modeled after the process used by the National Institutes of Health—is designed to avoid bias.

“As a researcher, I would be happier to receive money from OREF than from a commercial entity because the research that OREF funds is free from influence,” she said.

Dr. Raney also believes that OREF has the necessary structural support to fund research and education for the benefit of the entire orthopaedic community. Through OREF she can support those specialties and organizations that are important to her.

“I think OREF’s greatest strength is that it spans so many different societies and it can pull together orthopaedic surgeons from many different areas. The more we band together, the stronger we are.”

Dr. Raney became an Alfred R. Shands Jr., MD, Circle member in 2007 when she made a deferred gift, contributing $75,000 through an insurance policy. She split the gift’s proceeds among OREF and several of its orthopaedic partners. In addition, Dr. Raney has made contributions to the Annual Campaign for 10 years and has been an Order of Merit level donor—contributing $1,000 or more annually—for four years. She proudly saves the donor lapel pins she has received over the years as a testament to her belief in backing research and education.

“We’ve gained so much and we are able to give our patients so much because of research and education that’s been done. I think it’s vitally important that we continue to support research and education so that the next generations of physicians will benefit from continued progress,” she said.

Amy Kile is the OREF publications manager. She can be reached at kile@oref.org