Spina bifida challenges suit spine surgeon with engineering background

Spina bifida patients often have severe deformity, and Rolando M. Puno, M.D., has been operating on spina bifida patients for almost 30 years.

Rolando M. Puno, M.D., spine specialist with the Norton Children’s Spina Bifida Clinic and Norton Leatherman Spine, likes solving difficult challenges.

Patients from around the world have come to Dr. Puno for surgery and treatment of their complex spinal conditions.

“It’s kind of my nature, I guess,” Dr. Puno said. “If I see an issue, I think, ‘How do I solve this?’ It’s like the patient with severe deformity: How do I fix this?”

He specializes in the reconstruction of complex spinal deformity for both pediatric and adult patients, as well as in degenerative conditions of the spine.

Spina bifida patients often have severe deformity, and Dr. Puno has been operating on spina bifida patients for almost 30 years. Other surgeons often send their most complicated cases to Dr. Puno.

In one of his more challenging cases, Dr. Puno operated on a 3-week-old patient with an open spine. In other complicated cases, he has performed surgery alongside a plastic surgeon and neurosurgeon.

The son of an engineer, Dr. Puno entered college at age 15 expecting to become a mechanical engineer. After shadowing his uncle, a general surgeon, his plans changed, but Dr. Puno never forgot his engineering education.

In 1984, during his fellowship training, he came up with an idea for a new type of screw for use in back surgery on patients with spina bifida. Four years later, he received Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical trials of the world’s first polyaxial pedicle screw, which is currently the industry standard for most spinal fixation implants used around the world.

His surgical innovation didn’t stop there. Dr. Puno has been awarded 90 U.S. and international patents for his innovative designs.

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Dr. Puno also has published articles on spine surgery in numerous prestigious medical journals and is the author of a number of book chapters on the subject. He also is invited to give lectures and demonstrate spine surgery all over the world.

Dr. Puno has been a staff physician with Norton Leatherman Spine since 1991. He serves as a clinical assistant professor with the University of Louisville School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and as the medical director at its biomechanics laboratory.

To honor Dr. Puno, the surgical suite at Norton Children’s Hospital is dedicated in his name, recognizing his excellence in orthopedic and spine care and lifetime of service to the children of Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Born in the Philippines, Dr. Puno received his medical degree at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Medical Center in Manila. He completed medical training in orthopedics twice, first at the University of the Philippines and then at the University of Louisville.

Dr. Puno then did a fellowship in spine surgery at the Twin Cities Scoliosis Center and in orthopedic trauma and total joint surgery at the Hennepin County Medical Center, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Throughout his career, Dr. Puno has focused on finding answers to help patients.

“I like patient care,” Dr. Puno said. “It helps my innovative mind come up with solutions.”