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Orthopeadic surgeon receives scoliosis award (1/12/98)

Scoliosis treatment and Dr. Albert E. Sanders -- the two are inseparable. An orthopaedic surgeon with a private practice in the Nix Building and a clinical professor of orthopaedics at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Dr. Sanders has dedicated his practice primarily to treating scoliosis (spinal curvature) and other spine deformities.

As a result, the international Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) recently awarded him the William P. Blount, MD, Award. The prestigious annual prize is given for exemplary dedication to community service in the cause of scoliosis treatment and prevention.

"The Blount service award singles out behavior that merits our attention because of its high ethical and professional caliber," commented Dr. James O. Sanders, son of the honoree and himself a scoliosis surgeon, at the recent awards presentation in St. Louis. "The award is to honor as role models those who act generously, out of their sense of service to larger social and professional goals."

The SRS is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge in the field of scoliosis and recognition of unique talents in the area.

Dr. Sanders has been caring for spine patients for more than 30 years, frequently traveling to South Texas to treat children with the deformity. He has worked in clinics in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo where many patients are treated at reduced fees or free of charge. Four times per year he visits the Easter Seals Clinic in McAllen, again offering free care.

In San Antonio he was instrumental in developing an endowment, the Los Amigos Fund, which pays for basic hospital costs while surgeons and anesthesiologists treat children with scoliosis from low-income families free of charge.

Dr. Sanders' volunteer efforts also extend to Vietnam, with the program Orthopaedics Overseas, and to Mexico. "In the early 1980s, Dr. Kaye Wilkins (orthopaedic surgeon and clinical professor of orthopaedics at the Health Science Center) told me I should learn how to treat kids with neuromuscular scoliosis (spinal curvature caused by a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy)," Dr. Sanders said. "At the time in Mexico, Dr. Eduardo Luque was working with these children and developed a spine instrumentation system which bears his name."

Dr. Sanders traveled south to study with him. "We hit it off and have been working with each other ever since," Dr. Sanders said.

Among his larger social and professional goals is Dr. Sanders' commitment to screening programs for scoliosis in Texas schools. "I'm a big supporter of school screening programs," Dr. Sanders said. "Before we had school screening, I did a comparison of my private patients and those I saw in a clinic setting. The private patients' curves, which had generally been caught early by a pediatrician or family practitioner, were minor in comparison to those of the clinic children. By the time a child reached the clinic, he or she usually had developed an extensive deformity and pulmonary (breathing) problems."

During his career, Dr. Sanders has treated innumerable scoliosis patients. As a result, he's performed about 1,600 scoliosis surgeries -- generally he does one or more per week.

Part of his commitment to the treatment and prevention of scoliosis is demonstrated at 6 a.m. each Friday at Mi Tierra restaurant. There he and orthopaedic residents of the Health Science Center and Fort Sam Houston gather for tacos, coffee and discussions of spine deformities. Every Monday afternoon he works with residents at Santa Rosa Hospital's clinic where children with scoliosis are evaluated.

Dr. Sanders, a graduate of The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, has served as president of the Bexar County Medical Society and the Texas Orthopaedic Association, as chief of the medical staffs at Santa Rosa and Nix Medical Centers, and as a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) board of councilors. Dr. Sanders' community involvement also includes Boy Scouts of America, as scoutmaster and chairman of the Tomahawk district, the San Antonio Area Metropolitan Ministry's (SAMM) Shelter, and his church. For his outstanding volunteer efforts, he received the JC Penney Golden Rule Award.

Commented his son, Dr. James Sanders, "His unspoken rule, which makes him so effective, is that everyone is important. Though it often drives his family crazy, he always looks for ways to help anyone he can."

The SRS award is given in honor of the ideals and philosophy of Walter P. Blount, MD, who worked extensively with children with scoliosis and developed the Milwaukee Brace. Dr. Sanders was accepted as a fellow in the organization in 1982.

Contact: Joanne Shaw (210) 567-2570