Staff StorySep | 10 | 2021
Lower Extremity Trauma Specialist Returns to Mass General as Associate Chief of Foot & Ankle
John Y. Kwon, MD is no stranger to Massachusetts General Hospital. Following medical school, Dr. Kwon, an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon, completed both an internship at Mass General as well as the Harvard Combined Orthopaedic Residency Program in 2004, where he gained valuable experience working for local hospitals like Mass General, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC). Most recently, Dr. Kwon was the division chief of foot and ankle at BIDMC. He recently returned to Mass General as the Associate Chief of our renowned Foot & Ankle Center and specializes in treating traumatic conditions, fractures, tendon ruptures, arthritis and deformity. Dr. Kwon is currently accepting new patients on our main campus in the Yawkey building, in Waltham and in Danvers.
In this interview, Dr. Kwon shares more about how he got to where he is today.
What brought you back to Mass General?
Mass General is where I learned to be a doctor and take care of patients. As a returning physician, I am really looking forward to working with Christopher DiGiovanni, MD, the rest of the foot and ankle faculty, and, of course, Mitchel Harris, MD, chief of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. The leadership of this department has high ideals, not just in their academic rigor but also in their focus on the needs of each and every patient. I've known that Mass General is the place for me for a very long time, and it feels great to return and join colleagues with whom I have strong friendships. Also, Mass General offers a wealth of medical resources. The Mass General Foot & Ankle Center has a research and innovation lab called FARIL that facilitates biomechanical studies, cadaveric studies and other research that is hard to do elsewhere. Mass General comprises a ton of collaborators—research fellows, administrative staff, etc.— all supporting its academic mission. So, not one single thing, but a lot of different things inspired my return to Mass General.
Where are you from?
Growing up, my dad was a gynecological oncologist so our family moved quite a bit, as we followed him wherever he was training or practicing; I grew up in Queens, NY, but we moved to places like Baltimore, Maryland and Jackson, Mississippi. I attended high school in New York’s Westchester County, so that's where I feel like I'm from - although Boston has been my home for many years now.
What led you to specialize in foot and ankle surgery?
When I was an orthopedic resident, I was interested in a lot of different conditions and surgeries, particularly those related to trauma. I learned from great mentors. Chris Chiodo, MD, foot and ankle surgeon at BWH, and Mike Wilson, MD, now retired, both turned me on to foot and ankle. I quickly found out that by sub-specializing in foot and ankle, I could do trauma surgery, tendon work, joint replacement—all the aspects of orthopaedic surgery that appealed to me as a resident.
What are some of the big milestones in your career?
Returning back to Mass General, for sure! But more generally, my main clinical and research interests are in lower extremity trauma, and I have worked on several teams to help patients with significant trauma get back on their feet again. That work always sticks out, because those injuries are the most immediately impactful in terms of patient quality-of-life.
What sort of work have you done with athletes and sporting groups?
While I typically treat casual, “weekend warrior” type athletes, I’ve been asked to assist in the care of professionals as well. Furthermore, for the past several years I’ve been a foot and ankle consultant with the Boston Ballet. It’s pretty satisfying to work with these amazing athletes and artists. Dancers can be a very tough patient population though—their feet go through a lot!
What conditions and treatments do you specialize in?
Like the other orthopedic foot and ankle surgeons at Mass General, I treat all conditions of the lower extremity. My specialty is in traumatic conditions such as fractures, tendon ruptures and post-traumatic fallout of those injuries, mainly arthritis and/or deformity. One novel, specialized technique I offer patients to treat deformity is the application of thin-wire external fixators, which means putting an external metal frame on the healing leg. This technique allows us to do things like correct deformity gradually and lengthen limbs.
What is your research focus?
As you might imagine, a lot of my research involves trauma and fractures. One study we're doing now focuses specifically on ankle fractures. With an ankle fracture, there's various spaces and parameters that we measure on the X-ray to inform diagnosis and treatment, such as the medial clear space. There have been several methods developed to measure this space, but no one has ever determined which is the most accurate way to do so, and decisions regarding ankle surgery versus casting are dependent on this measurement. We're studying cadavers to try to identify the most accurate measurement and, ultimately, improve care.
What drew you to medicine, originally?
Even at a young age, I remember being fascinated by bones and muscles. I used to flip through my father’s Atlas of Human Anatomy. Once I figured out I wanted to go into medicine, I knew I wanted to be an orthopedist. I knew I wanted to take care of patients by treating the musculoskeletal system.