Wabash Alum Pioneering Hip Replacement

by Susan Cantrell

August 20, 2004

Even if you think you’ve seen it all, it’s unlikely you have ever seen what Frank Kolisek, Wabash ’82, looks at every day of his working life. In fact, most other doctors do not see it either.

Kolisek is an orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in joint replacement of the hip and knee. While that in itself is not unusual these days, his surgical method certainly is.

Dr. Kolisek is a pioneer in the field of infra-red navigation technology and minimally invasive surgery. For the past two years he has been working to perfect the instrumentation and techniques of hip and knee replacement surgery using this technology. He has been operating on people since his orthopaedic surgery residency at the University of Florida from 1986 to 1991. He then completed a fellowship in arthritic reconstructive surgery at Emory University and Peachtree Orthopaedic Clinic in Atlanta in 1991 before joining with Rose-Hulman graduate, Dr. Jack Farr in private practice in 1992. Presently he is a partner in OrthoIndy, the largest orthopaedic group in Indiana.

Dr. Kolisek is also the medical director of St. Francis Hospital’s Center for Joint Replacement Surgery and a consultant for Stryker Orthopaedics, the manufacturer of the infra-red surgical instruments and hip and knee implants. In these stages of development, the Stryker Company has located one of its expensive navigation equipment units at St. Francis Hospital on the south side of Indianapolis, where Kolisek and his surgical team can evaluate its efficiency and suggest improvements and refinements. The relationship is mutually beneficial for the hospital, the manufacturer, doctor, and the patients.

Kolisek makes frequent visits to cadaver labs around the country, refining the surgical techniques necessary for the joint replacement procedures and noting any modifications needed for the instrumentation, all, he says, “So I can help develop better instruments and better surgical techniques so all patients can benefit. As a joint replacement surgeon, I want to help my patients return to normal of function in the shortest time they can. I also want to make sure the prostheses are implanted in the best position to function for many years.”

The company (Stryker) is committed to developing this technology in order to help orthopaedic surgeons do the best job possible. We hope to free patients from the agony of arthritic hip and knee joints and give them the best odds for being pain-free afterwards. I want to help people maintain their independence and quality of life, including returning younger patients to a higher level of function."

When Frank Kolisek first came to Wabash College from Benton, a small town in southern Illinois in the late ‘70s, what he came for was the excellent preparation for medical school that Wabash was (and is) known for. From boyhood, being a doctor was the only career he considered. He was so captivated by the idea that he used to observe the operations done by his hometown surgeon, James Durham, M.D. It was Dr. Durham who put him on the path toward Wabash.

The teenager was very skeptical about the idea of a college with no girls, but once he found out about the percentage of medical school acceptances and saw the campus, Wabash was where he wanted to launch his medical career. Once here, he majored in chemistry, but was able to leave Goodrich Hall just long enough to pledge Phi Delta Theta, play varsity football and baseball, join the American Chemical Society, make his grades, and study for and do well enough on his MCAT to gain admission to medical school at the University of Illinois. He has never regretted a moment of it because Wabash fulfilled its promise to prepare him well for med school.

No profession is advancing and changing faster now than orthopaedic surgery. That is what drives Dr. Frank Kolisek, to do so much to move his field of orthopaedic surgery along. “We know what’s coming in the not-too-distant future,” he says. “Joint replacement surgery is going to be computer driven. Before we know it we’ll be using the ‘smart’ navigation instruments and technology all the time. The ‘minimally invasive’ part of minimally invasive surgery will hopefully allow patients to return to normal function much faster and accuracy will be improved using the navigation equipment. Minimal disruption of soft tissues and muscles will take us a long way in reducing post-operative pain and recovery time for patients. It could also mean that the joint replacement will last longer as the navigation technology will allow us to place the components more accurately with more consistency."

Almost all of Dr. Kolisek’s ideas are centered on his patients. This is no exception: “You know, lots of people seem to think patients go off to a hospital for a hip or knee replacement from some doctor who doesn’t know them because he or she only met them once and will only see them again in a follow-up appointment. That is usually not the case. I’ve taken care of some of my patients over several years before their arthritis gets to the point that it’s affecting their quality of life and they decide on surgery. I then see them again after the replacement surgery until they are fully recovered and then every two years thereafter so as to monitor them and their prosthesis.

"What’s rewarding for me is the ability to positively affect a person’s life so they can function better and with less pain thereby being able to do those things that are important to them that they may have given up prior to surgery. A big part of the operations I do is complicated hand-eye coordination, a gift, for which I am very grateful. The other part is informed understanding of the human body I’m working on, as well as the fact it is not simply a hip or knee joint, but a human being, above all else. I am always grateful to Wabash College for giving me such thorough grounding in the sciences and respect for humanity.”


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