Dr. Kenneth Jee advocates for all kinds of activities. He’s a fly fisher and lifelong skier himself. Indeed, one thing he likes about his field, orthopedics, is that “it helps people maintain their activity level so they can stay healthy.”
By all means, keep up the pace, he says. But (you knew it was coming!), he adds, slow down. “I see a lot of accidents with people who take shortcuts and risks,” says Dr. Jee, an orthopedic surgeon with Tanner Clinic’s Orthopedic Center.
That applies to car accidents — those emergency-room detours that Dr. Jee’s sees regularly. “If everyone would just take their time and be a little more courteous on the road and not rush themselves,” he says, “they would not have as many accidents.”
But he also warns people to think twice before they balance on that chair to change the light bulb, or scramble on the roof to attach Christmas lights. These dumb, split-second decisions don’t make the headlines, but they can destroy a family’s peace as well as any national disaster.
“In general, when people take chances or shortcuts at home, like climbing up on a ladder that they set up incorrectly, they could fall,” says Dr. Jee. “If they would take their time and be a little more careful, they could avoid those.”
Skiing was the draw back to home
Just for the record, a quarter of all falls happen off ladders, and falling is the leading cause of home injury deaths, claiming nearly 6,000 lives per year, according to national insurance statistics. Dr. Jee sees plenty of injuries as a surgeon, and also as a member of the Deer Valley ski patrol for 25 years.
It was, in fact, skiing that brought the University of Utah undergraduate back for medical training to his alma mater, where his father taught anatomy as a member of the U of U School of Medicine faculty. While studying at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania, he found, “I missed the mountains.”
As a young medical student, he thought he saw his future in pharmacology research. But, before too long, he said, “I discovered I really didn’t like working in a laboratory.” He did, however, identify an affinity and knack for surgery. It was particularly in orthopedic surgery that he found, “I like the mechanics of it, the carpentry part of it.”
Today, Dr. Jee is a “true generalist,” in the words of Dr. Charles Bean, director of the Orthopedic Center. It’s a description Dr. Jee himself is happy to accept. “I decided not to do a specific specialty because I like the whole variety of orthopedics,” he says.
In a field that is generally sectioned into specialties, the advantage of a generalist, he says, is that patients who’ve seen him for one issue, such as a knee arthroscopy, can return if their shoulder is giving grief. “They don’t have to go off and see someone new,” he said.
Keeping up with technology advances
Dr. Jee prefers arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure that’s performed using a tiny camera inserted into the joint through a small incision. The surgeon is then able to view the joint area on a video monitor and then, for instance, repair torn ligaments or reconstruct an injured rotator cuff.
The result is that incisions are much smaller. For instance, a knee arthroscopy requires only two small incisions. That, in turn, speeds up recovery time because, he says, “there’s not so much involvement of the muscles.”
Over his quarter-century as an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jee has seen technologies advance to where even traditional “open” surgeries are less extensive than they used to be.
Implants such as hip joints have become sleeker and more specialized. “The implants we use now are much improved,” he says. “It used to be they were general implants that you had to fashion to fit. Now they’re much better designed.”
And he points to advanced diagnostic tools such as MRIs and imaging techniques that eliminate the vagueness that used to come with, for instance, an achy knee. “A lot of times we couldn’t figure it out, and we’d have to resort to surgery,” he says. “Now we can be more definite if someone needs the surgery.” Overall, he adds, “We now have better implants and techniques that are more secure, and we can get people recovered much more quickly.”
He adds, “That’s the greatest thing about orthopedics — getting people back to their lifestyles and work.”