Dr. Dan Resnick is president of the world’s largest neurosurgical organization and a member of the NFL’s head and spinal cord injury committee.
Resnick, a professor of neurological surgery at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, grew up just outside of Philadelphia, went to college at Princeton University, medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and completed his residency at the University of Pittsburgh. He came to Madison to practice at UW Hospital and Clinics and has been here ever since.
Resnick, 48, specializes in disorders of the spine. His expertise is in minimally incisional surgery, spinal tumors and degenerative disorders of the spine.
In October, he became president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the largest neurosurgical organization in the world with more than 8,400 members including most every neurosurgeon in North America. Resnick had previously served in numerous roles in the organization, including vice president.
He is married to Rachel Groman has five children.
Q: What percent of the surgeries that you do are for spinal cord injuries?
A: Fortunately, we don’t see all that many. I probably do maybe 10 spinal cord injury cases per year — probably only about 5 percent are spinal cord injury, which is good. We don’t want to see all that many. You also have to remember that there are six spine surgeons here. Our catchment area is probably a total of about 3 or 4 million people, so just based upon the numbers, you would expect maybe 80 to 100 per year, so they are pretty much split equally among us.
Q: What are the main ways spinal cord injuries happen? Because you always hear and fear diving into water that is too shallow.
A: Well, we’ve seen diving into water that is too shallow. I’ve had people fall off the cliffs at Devil’s Lake, but most commonly it’s motor vehicle accidents, at least at our center. Some urban centers will have a higher percentage of assaults and gunshot wounds and such, but in our population it’s mostly motor vehicle accidents.
Q: Are there breakthroughs on the horizon for those who are paralyzed from spinal cord injury?
A: We are currently involved in some stem cell transplant studies for multiple sclerosis and we have participated in other drug studies for spinal cord injury, but there is really no medical game-changer per se. Some of the more exciting things going on on campus here are the brain-machine interface work that’s being done in our department and at the Waisman Center, where you can control machinery basically using your mind. And people are learning how to use that interface to help people move paralyzed limbs. ... If you go on YouTube there’s a “monkey with robot arm.” Check it out. (Laughs).
Q: You were named to the Best Doctors in America list in 2014, 2013 and 2011. What happened in 2012?
A: I don’t necessarily keep track. I’ve been on that list a bunch of times and sometimes not. I have no idea what happens.
Q: You are the father of five kids. What is the one trait of yours that you’d like to pass on to your children?
A: I guess perseverance.
Q: As president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, does that make you a brain surgeon’s brain surgeon?
A: (Laughs) I guess you could say that. What does it make me? What that represents is really just a commitment to service and a commitment to trying to make things better for the next generation. I guess I am a brain surgeon in the service of brain surgeons.
Q: Do you think the (NFL concussion and spinal injury) policy is adequate right now?
A: Honestly, the NFL policy is so far ahead of high school sports policies. I mean, I think it’s more important that the high schools use these things than the NFL. The NFL is dealing with pro athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to take these risks, where in high school you have many, many more kids who are more vulnerable to injury doing it with less supervision ... The most important thing to do is get (the policies) to the level of the high school — not only football, but hockey and basketball and even soccer in terms of the concussion management and spinal precautions.
Q: Lastly, as a spine surgeon, are you always telling your kids to sit up straight?
A: (Laughs). No, but I do make them wear their helmets.