(From left) Dr. Jacobs, Ms. Schroeder, and Ms. Robbins met with Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk during the AAOS-sponsored Research Capitol Hill Days.


Published 6/1/2014
Erin Lynn Ransford

Orthopaedic Patients Visit Capitol Hill

Request Congressional support for orthopaedic research funding

Erin Lynn Ransford

Orthopaedic surgeons, patients, and researchers visited Capitol Hill on April 3, 2014, to raise awareness of the impact of musculoskeletal diseases and disorders and to underscore the need for more federal research funding.

Advocacy teams from 20 states urged Congress to appropriate $535.6 million in fiscal year (FY) 2015 for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This would be equivalent to the amount appropriated in the FY 2012 budget. For the past 2 years, NIAMS and NIH have seen their budgets cut under the Budget Control Act, commonly known as sequestration.

“The funding that is currently available for research into new and better treatments, preventive measures, and diagnostic testing does not match the burden of disease,” said Frederick M. Azar, MD, president of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). “These innovations will require an investment in both basic science and clinical research performed at the NIH.”

In challenging economic times, it is imperative to preserve research funding. Nearly one in three Americans has a musculoskeletal condition that requires medical attention. The Research Capitol Hill Days event put a face to these statistics by focusing on patient stories to encourage members of Congress to keep musculoskeletal research a high priority on the U.S. political and fiscal agenda. Orthopaedic patients representing a diverse range of ages and conditions offered legislators a personal viewpoint about how research advancements, new treatments, and surgical techniques have benefited their health and overall quality of life.

From accident to active life
Pamela Schroeder was one of these patients. Thirty-four years ago, Ms. Schroeder was in an automobile accident that claimed the lives of two people and severely injured four. Her lower body was crushed and nearly every bone was broken, including both legs and her spine; only her neck and arms were unbroken.

Shortly after the accident, Ms. Schroeder had surgery to repair her crushed ankle and lower spine. Two separate spinal surgeries fused nine of her vertebrae, sparing her from paralysis. Three bone grafts were required. She spent a year in a body cast, followed by months of intensive physical therapy. Eventually, she was able to walk again.

Over the years, Ms. Schroeder has had more than 30 orthopaedic surgeries, including two ankle replacements and two knee replacements. She is grateful for the orthopaedic care she received that enabled her to raise a family and have a successful career as a flight attendant.

Ms. Schroeder’s story particularly touched Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk, who sustained an ischemic stroke in 2012 that nearly took his life. After several surgeries to relieve swelling in his brain, Sen. Kirk underwent a year of intensive rehabilitation and recovery before triumphantly returning to work last year. Both he and Ms. Schroeder credit their physicians and therapists with their lives, and believe that a debilitating injury should not preclude an active and productive life.

Ms. Schroeder was invited back to Sen. Kirk’s office to capture her story on video, which is currently being featured on the senator’s website. In his blog, Sen. Kirk states, “Stories like Pam’s inspire me to continue advocating for strong NIH research investments and access to rehabilitation for the benefit of all Americans.”

Keeping patients on their feet
Joshua J. Jacobs, MD,
immediate past president of the AAOS, was another of the orthopaedic surgeon researchers who participated in the 2014 Research Capitol Hill Days. Dr. Jacobs was accompanied by orthopaedic patient Dena Robbins, who has had multiple surgeries at Rush University Medical Center (RUMC) to correct congenital deformities in her foot and to treat degenerative osteoarthritis.

In 2009, Ms. Robbins underwent a bunionectomy, removal of excess bone from four toes, and correction of a bunionette deformity, in addition to a metatarsophalangeal release to correct joint contractures. The following year, she returned to RUMC for a total knee arthroplasty on her right knee. In 2011, her left knee was replaced.

In 2012, Ms. Robbins sought relief from the bone-on-bone arthritis in her shoulder. Unable to raise her left arm without extreme pain, she had a reverse shoulder replacement.

“My life is so much better now,” she said. “I can walk better, and with far less pain in my left foot. I can go up and down the stairs without feeling discomfort.” Since her shoulder replacement, Ms. Robbins is able to raise her left arm without pain and is able to do her own hair, go to exercise classes, and work out.

Ms. Robbins is exceptionally grateful for the care she received. She plans to stay healthy and continue to live a long, pain-free life, spending plenty of quality time with her eight grandchildren.

“After my four surgeries, I realized just how important research truly is,” she stated.

Musculoskeletal diseases are the most common health condition in the United States and the second leading cause of disability worldwide. Musculoskeletal diseases and disorders cost the U.S. economy $950 billion annually and represent nearly 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Despite the costly nature of musculoskeletal conditions, funding for orthopaedic research has grown slowly.

Musculoskeletal research represents less than 2 percent of the NIH budget, while the burden of musculoskeletal conditions is expected to escalate in the next 10 to 20 years due to the aging population and sedentary lifestyles.

The impact of research
“Millions of Americans have disabling musculoskeletal disorders, but because of innovative treatments developed through medical research, patients are able to return to their everyday activities,” Ms. Schroeder commented. “Research Capitol Hill Days enables people like me and Dena to tell our stories and get the word out about the importance of research funding, so that the technology available to restore mobility to patients with musculoskeletal disorders can continue to improve.”

Dr. Azar agrees. “NIAMS research is critical to developing new treatments that get patients back to work and reduce spending on healthcare and federal aid programs,” he said. “NIH needs a predictable and sustainable research budget to adequately address the epidemic of musculoskeletal disease.”

For more information, visit www.aaos.org/researchdays

Erin Lynn Ransford is manager, research development, in the AAOS office of government relations. She can be reached at ransford@aaos.org

Participate in the 2015 Research Capitol Hill Days
If you are interested in participating in the 2015 Research Capitol Hill Days, March 4–5, 2015, contact Erin L. Ransford, manager of research development, AAOS office of government relations, at
ransford@aaos.org or 847-384-4319 for more information.

Additional Information:
Sen. Kirk’s blog

Congressional Leave-Behind Materials: 2014 Research Capitol Hill Days