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Good to the Bone

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Ochsner’s chairman of orthopaedics looks out for his department and its patients

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Dr. Fredric H. Warren, an orthopaedic surgeon at Ochsner Health System, broke a lot of bones when he was a kid, and he suspects that’s why he first became interested in his field.

“I played sports and had fractures many times. I saw orthopaedic surgeons as being my main doctors because they were always taking care of my problems,” he says. “I never had any really bad injuries, but I wore plenty of casts.” Although Warren was fitted with those heavy, itchy plaster of Paris casts as a kid, the modern, more comfortable fiberglass ones are what he tends to use on his patients nowadays.

Simple sprains and fractures are just a small part of orthopaedics, of course. The discipline encompasses the entire musculoskeletal system—from joint replacements to spinal abnormalities, from traumatic injuries to sports medicine to bone and metastatic tumors. Warren is also chairman of Ochsner’s orthopaedic surgery department, which contains more than a dozen surgeons with an array of specialties.

“I’m the person that looks after the administration of the program in general,” he says. “I look out for the well being of the department and where we fit into the grand scheme of things in the institution.”

And in the grand scheme of things, the department fits in pretty well. “I think we’re regarded as one of the movers and shakers of Ochsner,” Warren continues. “Orthopaedics is a busy field of medicine and surgery. As a result, we have a higher profile.” One of Warren’s main areas of expertise is pediatric orthopaedics. That may involve scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, which shows up with some frequency among young children and adolescents. It also involves treating traumatic injuries that happen to children, developmental deformities, birth defects and infections in young bones or joints. Many of the conditions Warren treats also appear in adult populations, but in pediatric orthopaedics, he needs to take into account how to treat bodies that are still growing and developing. He also needs to be adept at the nonscientific aspects of healing young patients.

“It’s important to me to be able to relate to the child. But I also have to relate to the parent, who has a lot of anxiety obviously,” he says. “If you relate to one at the expense of the other, you’re not doing a complete job. And a parent can pick up immediately if the doctor is making their child comfortable.

“It’s also important to talk directly to the child. It’s easy to overlook that because they’re not as conversant as adults, but if you listen to them, they can teach you a lot about what’s going on.”

For the orthopaedic health of both adults and children, Warren recommends just about any physical activity. But as people get older, he advises against overdoing it. According to the doctor, it’s a fact that people in their 40’s simply can’t practice a sport with the same vigor as they did when they were in their 20’s. People who push themselves too hard are more likely to get injured.

With sports-related or other types of orthopaedic injuries, Warren also counsels his patients to realize that recovery can take a while. “People can be a little impatient, and they want to have a quick fix on things. You see that trait a lot in athletes,” he says.

“Sometimes a quick fix works, but you don’t always need surgery. A little time can level things off and heal problems.”

Even when surgeries are decided upon as the best course of action, they can require a lengthy rehabilitation period. After a typical appendectomy, for instance, it takes about two weeks to get back to normal. Orthopaedic surgeries can take six to twelve months to fully heal.

While Warren has been ensconced at Ochsner long enough to ascend to the position of department head, his life and career took many twists and turns, at least geographically, before he arrived in New Orleans. Warren’s father was in the Navy, and as a self-described “service brat,” he spent his childhood moving to wherever his father was stationed.

The family eventually settled in Arkansas, where Warren finished up high school and earned his undergraduate and medical degrees. His residency training was at Duke University in North Carolina and then he completed a fellowship in pediatrics at Harvard. He had become a military man like his father to pay for his schooling and likewise worked wherever he was sent.

“When it came time for me to complete my obligation, I started looking around for jobs,” says Warren. “I was fortunate enough to be recruited here. I ended up in New Orleans out of pure luck.

Both my wife and I fell in love with the city.”