IN THE CASE OF DR. DANIELLE PONZIO, FATHER KNEW BEST
We all find our calling at some point in our lives. For some it comes later in life. For others, it may come through an event that had an impact on his or her station in life.
For Dr. Danielle Ponzio, her calling to become a doctor came from her father and the work he did as an orthopedic surgeon. It was work she said had her fascinated from an early age.
Dr. Ponzio grew up in South Jersey, attended Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken Township where she was a standout student-athlete in rowing and soccer.
As a senior, Dr. Ponzio was member of the Crusaders soccer team that won the 2003 South Parochial B title (defeating Holy Spirit 2-1).
She also was a lightweight rower at Princeton, where she was a molecular biology major.
Interest in sports came natural to her. But Dr. Ponzio’s interest in medicine was nurtured by her dad, Dr. Robert J. Ponzio, who still has a practice in Washington Township.
As a youngster, Danielle started to become active with her father’s work from the age of eight. Dr. Ponzio said she would bug her dad, asking him about what it was like being a doctor.
“I had two sisters who were younger, I was the oldest and I was the one who was always interested in what he was doing,” Dr. Ponzio said in recent interview at her office in Haddonfield. “I wanted to know about everything he was doing. I was always asking if I could come with him when he was leaving to go to the hospital. Eventually he would say yes and I’d jump in the car with him and go. So I think that’s where it started.”
Dr. Ponzio talked about one of the most memorable experiences she had with her father when she was ten years old. The two were on their way to an Eagles game. when Robert was called to come to the hospital for an urgent matter with a patient.
“He had to perform surgery on the way, so we stopped,” Dr. Ponzio recalled. “I went into the OR (operating room) with him and I was there for the whole thing. Times were a little different then, there weren’t many regulations on that sort of thing. I watched the surgery. He let me come over…he had a little blood that had gotten on his face and he let me wipe the blood off his face and then he said ‘don’t touch anything else!’ from that day I knew I liked it.”
Dr. Ponzio said her father was around a lot when she was playing soccer or rowing with the crew team at Bishop Eustace. For many orthopedic surgeons, it was at this time in their lives when they got interested in sports medicine. Dr. Ponzio was already on her way.
“Growing up playing sports, all my soccer games, whenever there was an injury, my dad was always there and was able to help and make a difference,” Dr. Ponzio said. “I did have an injury in high school, I tore my MCL, it didn’t need surgery or anything, but interest in orthopedics preceded that.”
Obviously Dr. Ponzio’s father saw his daughter’s interest in medicine and in helping people. Dr. Ponzio said she remembers him taking her to see a boy, one of his patients, who was stuck in the hospital on Christmas. She said the boy was 12 years old, about her age at the time, she said.
“My dad said, ‘C’mon, we’re going to visit this kid in the hospital,” Dr. Ponzio said. “We went and he had a femur fracture. He was all bandaged up, he’s injured but is really happy to have a visitor that day. It impressed things upon me that you’re really doing something important for people.”
Dr, Ponzio went on to complete her undergraduate education at Princeton University. She received her medical degree from Jefferson Medical College and went on to complete residency in Orthopaedic Surgery at the Rothman Institute at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Most recently, she completed a fellowship in Adult Reconstruction at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York. Dr. Ponzio has authored numerous journal publications and textbook chapters and actively conducts research in the field of Orthopaedic Surgery. As an avid athlete, she enjoys cycling, running, skiing, and yoga, Instilled as a child, Dr. Ponzio is committed to getting her patients back to active lifestyles.
Dr. Ponzio said when she went to medical school she kept an open mind with regards to what field she would follow. But in the end it was her basic love of sports that continued to push her towards orthopedics.
“I was always interested in the way body mechanics worked,” Dr. Ponzio said. “And how you can fix it and get people back to doing activities they really enjoy.”
Knee and hip replacement research and advancement continue to be on the rise.
Dr. Ponzio is an Orthopaedic Surgeon with specialized training in hip and knee joint replacement and complex revision joint replacement.
Dr. Ponzio provides guidance through options of non-surgical and surgical care for musculoskeletal conditions affecting the hip or knee. These include degenerative arthritis, inflammatory arthritis, post-traumatic arthritis, avascular necrosis, hip dysplasia, infection, and fracture.
Dr. Ponzio also evaluates patients who are having difficulty after a prior hip or knee replacement. She strives to provide each individual patient with highly personalized care.
Dr. Ponzio talked about those improvements in orthopedics.
“I think that the quality of joint replacements/implants have become more advanced over time,” said Dr.Ponzio, who coached crew at Bishop Eustace between 2007-11. “To the point where a knee replacement would last maybe 10 years, now the materials they are made of are really going to increase the longevity of joint replacement much beyond what the research has showed us over the past several years. There are a lot of unique advances like using robotics, things like that. I’ve done a lot of that in my training. I was in a hospital for special surgery in New York City last year as a fellow doing just knee and hip replacements, learning new technology.”
Dr. Ponzio said she pays attention to the orthopedic surgeons who are from her father’s time to make sure she has an understanding at least on some of the older and possibly outdated methods that were used in years past. These methods produced results, it’s just that there are improved treatment methods out there now.
In fact Dr. Ponzio said she recently worked on a patient who, because of a specific situation, needed to be treated using an old-school method.
“Because I trained at a hospital for special surgery, there are a lot of old-timer guys who have been in practice for many years, and years and years,” Dr. Ponzio said. “They will teach you everything they know. In fact, I learned how to cement Total Hips for example. There are scenarios where cementing in a hip is of value…nobody really does it anymore so people have gotten away from it for various reasons like using the OR and things like that. But I do go back to those sorts of things in the right patient.
“You have to learn the old methods and the new,” Dr. Ponzio continued. “You need to learn the different approaches to the way you can use with hip replacements now and the anterior approaches become popular. I think it’s a good approach in the right patient. I do hips from both the front and also the ones in the back. I kind of tailor it tot the patient and what I think will be better for them.”
The medical community is under a microscope with regards to the use of narcotics and the opioid crisis. Dr. Ponzio says the orthopedic medical community is proactive on changing ways pain in their patients.
“We have gotten really good with controlling pain right after surgery,” Dr. Ponzio said.”We do that by using a bunch of different methods that work on the body in different ways. The cumulative effect is control the pain. We’ll do a nerve block that puts medicine right around the nerve that we are working around during surgery…that helps. We’ll use a spinal anesthesia that acts at the level of the spine. We do use some pain medicine that works at the level of the brain. (We use) some different pain medicines that aren’t as strong as narcotics, IV Tylenol has been a good one. Sometimes you do need to use some narcotics, but when you add all these things together, the end result is better and most of our patients don’t need long-term narcotics. We really work to limit that and bring them down quickly.”
Where is orthopedics going? Will there come a time where a gifted athlete who sustains a career-ending injury, have a chance to have that career saved with a joint replacement? Dr. Ponzio says not right now but there is hope.
“That’s a topic that I’m really interested in,” Dr. Ponzio said. “I’m doing a lot of research on patients that are active and have joint replacements and what is the trajectory of their outcome. I think that overall that there are a lot encouraging things and exciting things where people can get back to really active lifestyles. They can ski and run and do the things they want to do. There are certain activities that are better for joint replacements than others, a little less impact activity, lower impact activity is probably better.
“But there is still a risk that if you are super-active on your joint replacement you may wear it out sooner and you might need additional surgery down the line,” she continued But we are getting better and better with the materials we are using and can give something that is durable to withstand those types of activities as we do research that shows it.”
With young people like Dr. Danielle Ponzio mapping the future of orthopedics, it is safe to say we are all in good hands. *
Some bio information taken from rothmaninstitute.com
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii