AUTHOR: KATHRYN MUELLER

Seattle Children’s is excited to welcome Dr. Burt Yaszay as the new chief of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Seattle Children’s. Yaszay comes to Seattle Children’s with a bright vision for the future, as well as a deep respect for the roots in which Seattle Children’s was founded.

We sat down with Yaszay to learn more about his extensive expertise and vision for the program.

Yaszay earned his medical degree at Stanford University School of Medicine and did his residency in general and orthopedic surgery at the University of Washington and a fellowship at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. Yaszay most recently spent 14 years at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, which is nationally recognized as one of the best programs in the country.

He is excited to bring his expertise to Seattle Children’s and foster an environment of innovation and collaboration.

Bringing his background to a tradition of excellence

When Seattle Children’s was founded in 1907, the hospital, formally Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, opened its doors to pediatric patients. Aptly named, orthopedics was among the first specialty services provided by the hospital. Caring for children regardless of a patient’s race, religion or gender, the institution became the first pediatric facility in the Northwest. It was a beacon of hope and healing for the community.

That history is one of the many things that drew Yaszay to Seattle Children’s.

“To be able to say I’m leading the group by which this hospital was originally founded, it tugs at you,” Yaszay said. “It’s like coming back to the institution that taught you. There is a lot to live up to being in this position, from the history of Seattle Children’s to the exceptional, world-class care that has been provided since. I’m excited to bring back that history. At the end of the day, the hospital was built on the back of orthopedics. As a spine surgeon, I’m excited about that being a part of and reviving that rich history.”

Today, Seattle Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Program continues to be consistently ranked among the top pediatric orthopedic programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Many specialties within the program are destination sites for children nationally and internationally, including the skeletal health program and spine program.

“There isn’t a diagnosis we’re not comfortable treating, but on the same token, we still have to be responsible for basic orthopedic care at the same time,” Yaszay said. “We’re not losing sight of both pictures. We’ve created an incredible workforce that can triage and treat the most complex orthopedic cases, as well as children who require more routine orthopedic needs. We really do span orthopedic pathologies, from the simplest to the most complex.”

Three pillars to guide the way

Looking ahead, Yaszay says there are three pillars he’s excited to enhance — clinical care, research and education. The goal is to provide exceptional care to every patient the team serves, advance research opportunities and collaborations across institutions and provide mentorship so that the Orthopedics and Sports Medicine team can continue to excel and grow in their areas of expertise and beyond. In focusing on these three areas, Yaszay also hopes to draw new talent to Seattle Children’s to better serve families across the region.

“That kind of triad is really how I want to develop the program here. I want to set up a vision that allows us to move the needle within those three pillars,” Yaszay said. “The strong institutional support for growing the orthopedics program and serving more children in more places is why I came.”

A unique background

Yaszay has a unique background that gives him a personal perspective into what patients and families are going through when they are diagnosed with an orthopedic condition. Diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma when he was 15, Yaszay underwent multiple orthopedic procedures, as well as chemotherapy and radiation. It’s not a history he’s actively shared, but it’s not something he hides either.

He spent a lot of time in the hospital, missing much of his junior year of high school. At the time, he was an accomplished water polo player. He vividly remembers not contemplating life or death but instead worried more about whether he’d be able to play the sport he loved.

“When my patients come in with a broken bone and they are concerned about whether they can play their sport again or not, I remember how I felt,” Yaszay said. “It all goes back to quality of life. In those moments, I wasn’t necessarily thinking about whether or not I would be there years from now, I was thinking about what I was going to be doing years from then. From an orthopedic standpoint, quantity plays a role, but it really is all about the quality. Everyone can fix a broken bone, but what we really want to do is improve the quality of life for every child we see.

“When families are sitting opposite of me, we’re presenting them with options, and I am realizing that my conversations and interactions are going to facilitate those tough decisions,” Yaszay said. “When you advise someone for surgery, you’re advising them on what you think is the best for the child. But when you’re sitting in that seat, having to make the decision to have someone operate on your child, it’s hard. When the decision is life or death, those decisions are sometimes easier to make. When those decisions are quality of life related, especially spine surgery, they become very difficult. When families are sitting there — they are trying to balance quality of life: the pain and suffering of surgery, or the risks of the surgery themselves. I try to frame the conversations by letting them know I understand these are complex decisions.”

A future of mentorship

Like many other providers within Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Yaszay holds many leadership positions outside of Seattle Children’s and is involved in international cohorts to better understand the unique needs of complex orthopedics patients. He is eager to bring mentorship to the team.

“I had great mentors,” Yaszay said. “One of the things that is exciting for me is to help young surgeons excel. They have the skill set. They need mentorship and guidance to reach their goals. That’s what I’m excited about. I’m excited by the idea of helping young, hungry surgeons. I want to use my past 15 years, where I’ve been a mentee, to pay it forward. I’ve absorbed all I can from the people who have mentored me, and I really want to share that knowledge.”

Yaszay says that Seattle Children’s is filled with individuals with passion — to be great surgeons, great educators and great researchers.

The importance of research

Another area in which Yaszay wants to focus is in research opportunities, not only within Seattle Children’s, but with institutions and cohorts across the country and world.

“I’m part of the Harms Study Group, Pediatric Spinal Study Group and Fox Study Group. Being a part of these groups allows for collaboration. It provides the opportunity to share ideas and ultimately enhance care. It ensures our patients are getting the highest quality of care possible. When you’re actively doing research, it not only means you are actively pursuing knowledge, but it also means — especially in multistudy collaborations — you are putting yourself in a small group where the most new and novel ideas are being shared. I’m not going to be the one who always comes up with the next brilliant idea, but I can tell my patients I’m always going to be sitting next to that person.”

On the horizon are new and exciting discoveries, and Yaszay is confident Seattle Children’s will be at the forefront.

“I want to create an environment where we are collaborative and open,” Yaszay said. “Even if I meet with a family and I have to tell them I’ve never seen this before, I know who has, and together, we can figure it out.”

From: Seattle Children’s On the Pulse blog, January 10, 2022.