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A mission to get patients back on their feet

Dr Gowreeson Thevendran is at the leading edge of the fast-growing field of orthopaedic foot and ankle surgery

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'Everyone has something to offer, and together, as a group we can build the future that we want for our patients, making the best of things, and of our individual abilities.' - Dr Gowreeson Thevendran.

A PASSION for sport and a desire to get patients back on their feet was what inspired Dr Gowreeson Thevendran to specialise in orthopaedic foot and ankle surgery. "The choice of orthopaedic surgery came somewhat naturally to me, given my knack for hands-on practice. It became apparent to me, early on in my training, that surgeons were truly blessed to be able to engage their head, heart and hands with every surgery they performed," he said.

He also favoured orthopaedic surgery as the patients almost always recovered significantly, and were visibly elated with the improvement in their quality of life. "The surgeries were fun yet challenging, constantly evolving and emotionally very rewarding."

Foot and ankle surgery is the newest and fastest-growing orthopaedic sub-specialty of the last decade. The recognition of new conditions has paved the way for newer surgical techniques and more effective non-surgical treatments. A surge of new research data has also enabled foot and ankle surgeons to ride a wave of innovation to make a difference in the lives of their patients.

The common problems that Dr Gowreeson's patients encounter in the lower leg region are deformity and sports injuries, including bunions, ankle arthritis and flatfoot deformity. Sport injuries, on the other hand, typically include ankle and knee ligament tears and Achilles tendonitis.

Prevention trumps cure

Dr Gowreeson believes that the vast majority of knee, foot and ankle problems can be prevented with good footwear and proper muscle conditioning exercises.

Being an active sportsman who plays futsal and touch rugby, he has suffered a number of sporting injuries himself - including a torn ACL, dislocated shoulder and a fractured wrist. These experiences have helped him better understand his patients.

"The orthopaedic knowledge does help me prevent injuries and rehabilitate effectively but, ultimately, I apply the same rules to myself as I do to my sports patients." That rule is simply that prevention always trumps cure. "Ensure you have the right gear, the proper introduction and training to any sport. Once injured, don't ignore it or self-medicate. Seeking a professional opinion early can make all the difference," he advised.

In his current practice, Dr Gowreeson works closely with a multidisciplinary team consisting of a team of physio and sports therapists, a podiatrist and an osteopath. "A like-minded and a goal-orientated multidisciplinary team can achieve amazing things that simply cannot be achieved by individuals working on their own. Everyone has something to offer, and together, as a group we can build the future that we want for our patients, making the best of things, and of our individual abilities."

The ethos of his practice is to deliver the best evidence-based clinical care with trust and compassion.

Reaping the benefits of teaching

Dr Gowreeson fervently believes in the value of teaching to improve his craft.

"Socrates famously said 'What is learnt is better than what is taught'. This is all the more relatable to surgery, a craft that is passed on uniquely through a mentor-mentee relationship. Unsurprisingly, teaching is therefore an innate trait for many surgeons," he said.

"Teaching benefits the teacher as it reinforces one's understanding of the condition, while helping inspire the next generation of surgical progeny that is vital to the existence of our profession."

During his tenure at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Dr Gowreeson was the Orthopaedic Lead for the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine and the Associate Programme Director for the NHG Orthopaedic Residency Programme. Since moving to the private sector, he has engaged more actively with international orthopaedic societies to enable teaching and research within the global orthopaedic community, while also sharing his expertise in global humanitarian efforts.

He is the current Scientific Programme Chair, Foot & Ankle Specialty Chair and Singapore's national delegate for SICOT (Societe Internationale de Chirurgie Orthopedique et de Traumatologie). Dr Gowreeson also sits on the Foot & Ankle Specialty committee for the Asia Pacific Orthopaedic Association, and devotes considerable time to biomaterials research into absorbable implant technology in orthopaedic surgery.

In this area, he has pioneered the use of Magnezix bio-absorbable screws in Singapore and the Asia Pacific region, and is a principal investigator in a multicentre trial evaluating these implants.

An exciting future for orthopaedic surgery

The future of orthopaedic surgery will focus on simpler, safer, quicker and more economical procedures, revealed Dr Gowreeson. This will leverage heavily on assistive technology in surgery.

"Today, technology has made surgery more accurate and possibly a little safer, but not quicker or cheaper. Augmented reality devices and robotic assistance will likely transform the way we deliver surgical treatment, even in my working lifetime," he said.

He noted that Singapore is ideally positioned to helm this transformation given its research prowess and reputation for excellent healthcare standards. He believes that in the future, orthopaedic surgeons will be able to effectively treat conditions currently reputed to have a poor recovery; all with assistive technology and orthobiologics.

A spirit of giving back

As part of his efforts to give back to society, Dr Gowreeson volunteers with Raleigh International, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Out of Africa. "This is something I am constantly eager to do more of. During my training days, Raleigh International and Doctors Without Borders were rewarding humanitarian avenues to contribute medically. As I mature and do more clinical work, I have swung towards doing more non-medical voluntary work," he said.

"I am lucky to have a wife who is just as passionate in pursuing this call and our current organisation of interest is Cycling Without Age - a voluntary group that picks up the elderly and disabled in a trishaw so they can experience the outdoors and the wind in their hair."

Balancing work and family

Amid his busy schedule, Dr Gowreeson strives to strike a healthy work-life balance with his wife, Lekha, and his two boys, Lukesh and Nolan. Lekha works in the energy efficiency space and is passionate about the environment, sustainability and promoting climate-change awareness.

"We often talk about work-life balance but I have come to realise it's more about work-wife balance. Get that right and the rest will fall into place. The greatest achievement we can have in life is our family. One will never feel truly satisfied by work until one is satisfied by life," he said. "Mahatma Gandhi said it best: Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony."

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