Inside Scottish Rite’s Run As One Of America’s Best Orthopedic Programs

If Saydee Herndon wakes up in the middle of the night, she has to put a shoe on to go to the bathroom. Her right leg is 8.5 centimeters shorter than her left (about 3.3 inches) so Saydee needs lifts in her shoes to put her on equal ground and help her walk. She was born with many birth defects on the right side of her body.

The Paradise teenager had her first visit to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children when she was 12 weeks old. Since then, she’s had neck surgery, multiple leg and knee surgeries, and had a few hemivertebra removed to avoid development of scoliosis. Last month, she had her knee rotated inward. Too, surgeons lengthened her femur to fix that 8.5 centimeters difference. Before her procedure Saydee’s mom, Michelle, said the doctor had a specific reason for doing the surgery.

“[When] Dr. Karol agreed to do her surgery she said, ‘Because no kid should ever have to get out of bed and put a shoe on to go to the bathroom,’” said Saydee’s mom, Michelle Herndon. “That’s little, but it’s big for us.”

The hospital treats a variety of things, but its specialty is its orthopedics department. US News & World Report recently ranked its orthopedic program as the sixth best in the nation for children, an honor it shared with Children’s Health System of Texas. Scottish Rite has hovered among the top 10 since 2010, even earning the No. 1 spot in 2013.

The magazine awarded it a perfect score in eight categories, including advanced clinic services, parent and family services, and advanced technologies. While stories like Saydee’s are the product of the things that make up US News’s ranking, it is also the result of the philosophy that guides Scottish Rite: treating the whole child.

It starts with their senses. At Scottish Rite, color is splashed on every wall. There are brightly colored fish tanks and autographed sports memorabilia. The lobby smells like the fresh popcorn being popped from a red stand tucked into the corner. Scottish Rite’s environment helps its young patients get comfortable. 

“I like how its not crazy ER busy here,” Saydee said. “The other hospitals are more like ER is for emergency, and then this one is more calm.”

Dr. Daniel Sucato, chief of staff at Scottish Rite, says fostering the environment is important to patient recovery and satisfaction.

“I think it’s what defines us,” he adds. “I think you walk into this place and it looks, tastes, feels something different. … I think that’s huge. Everybody’s happy. I think the fact that it doesn’t feel like a hospital is one of the biggest compliments we can get.”

Scottish Rite’s philosophy is also tied to its history. When the Masons opened the hospital to combat a polio epidemic in 1921, Scottish Rite treated patients regardless of their ability to pay. While the hospital started accepting payment when possible two years ago, it still provides all treatment for free if a patient doesn’t have the money.

Scottish Rite praises its integrated pediatric model. Every doctor at Scottish Rite meets in a conference room three times a week from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. for preoperative meetings. The fellows present a patient’s case on the projector. After the presentation, the room collaborates to decide on the best treatment plan for that patient. The meeting continues until they have talked over every case for the coming week.

Treating the whole child is about helping patients overcome their orthopedic problem by not allowing it to hold them back in any aspect of life.

“Patients see [doctors] everyday, they see physical therapists, occupational therapist, the recreational therapist, they go to school during the school year,” Sucato says. “They go to child life everyday. So they’re interacting with other kids. So here they are getting all these various services from all these experts and by the way they start to say, ‘I’m not the only one who has this horrible prosthetic leg. I’m not the only one who has this terrible spine deformity and [these other patients] have become really good friends of mine. And I have a lot more confidence than I had before.’”

This philosophy dictates how the hospital runs.

Just look at Dwight Putnam. In his prosthetic workshop, Putnam and his team sculpt prosthetic limbs to fit each patient’s needs. He makes basic prosthetics like a new leg or hand, but Putnam also takes it a step further. If a patient’s condition forces them to give up one of their passions, like playing the violin or swimming, he creates a prosthetic designed to let them pursue it. If a patient can’t play the violin because of a hand difference, he creates a prosthetic with an extra finger so they can grip the instrument. For another patient who swam, Putnam made a prosthetic hand that has a paddle instead of fingers.

Putnam says he enjoys making these prosthetics because it “allows kids to be kids again.” He adds that it helps patients understand that “being different isn’t bad.”

Giving a patient their passion back is essential to treating the whole child. Scottish Rite offers sports camps in the summer specifically for children with orthopedic problem and a ski trip to Winter Park Resort in Colorado for paraplegics. Activities allow patients to continue doing the things they love, but also because they get to do with other kids who have problems like them.

Scottish Rite provides plenty of day-to-day activities for patients as well.

Throughout the day, Saydee goes to Recreational Therapy, which she thinks of as gym class. They play disc golf, tennis and even bongo ball. In the Child Life Center, Saydee does arts and crafts, and patients can play board games or get on the computer. During these activities other kids constantly surround Saydee. She says there are about 14 other patients in her therapy sessions and the Child Life center is constantly full of patients.

“I think its good for long term patients because your therapies and Child Life keeps you busy, Saydee said. “They always have you up and going so you never realize you’re in a hospital. Its like you’re on a school schedule without going to school.”

During that experience patients overcome their orthopedic conditions by perusing their passions while surrounded by other patients just like them.

“When kids come here, their orthopedic problem makes them be here long enough for their treatment to transform the rest of their lives,” Sucato said. “They realize this orthopedic issue, which is a big deal to them, they realize they’re just as special as everybody else.”


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