The Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation

The Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation

Mitchel B. Harris, MD, named incumbent, Stepping Strong Distinguished Chair in Orthopedic Surgery

Mitchel B. Harris, MD, is chief of orthopedic trauma at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), a Stepping Strong Research Scholar, and the recipient of the BWH 2015 Hippocrates Society Humanitarian Award. We talked to Dr. Harris after learning he will serve as the inaugural incumbent of the Stepping Strong Distinguished Chair in Orthopedic Surgery.

Q: Can you say a few words about your role in the Brigham’s response to the Boston Marathon bombings, and how you came to work with the Reny family?

A: I was part of a collaborative, multidisciplinary team effort at Brigham that treated the 39 injured who came through our doors that day, including Gillian Reny. Gillian had a terrible boney injury, and I worked with plastic surgeons Christian Sampson, MD, and Eric Halverson, MD, to devise her treatment plan. The team took healthy tissue from Gillian’s abdomen and microscopically connected the blood vessels to keep the tissue alive. A stabilizing rod inside her tibia was placed to hold the bone in the proper alignment, length, and rotation. Remarkably, the main blood vessels and nerves to her lower leg were intact. And that is what set the team on the direction of limb salvage rather than amputation.

Since that time, in my role as Gillian’s orthopedic surgeon, I have been monitoring Gillian’s progress and have been privileged to serve as a Stepping Strong Research Scholar. Given the long duration of Gillian’s recovery I have also had the opportunity to get to know Gillian and the Reny family on a personal basis. Gillian is the same age as my own children, so her case has touched close to home.

Q:  Can you describe your work as a Stepping Strong Research Scholar?

A: The Stepping Strong Research Scholars aim to advance all areas of trauma-related research and care. My team explores using stem cells to better understand the effects of age, hormone deficiency, and vitamin D deficiency on bone-forming cells. We are also investigating ways to salvage limbs that hold promise to restore normal function with less pain.

Q:  Congratulations on your appointments as director of the new Stepping Strong Trauma Center. Given your history treating Gillian and other trauma survivors, what does it mean to you to direct the center?

A: I’m extremely flattered. The center presents a great opportunity for the Brigham to expand on research that’s already actively pursuing these areas while exploring innovative, new areas of trauma care that have not yet been tackled. I am also excited to bring together the most brilliant minds in many fields so, together, we can rethink how we address problems that have impeded trauma patients from the best possible recovery.

Q:  What’s your vision for the center?

A: The Stepping Strong Trauma Center will function as a think tank, with laboratories, conference rooms, research bays, and suites—all encouraging enhanced collaborations that reach across medical disciplines and departments.

Our vision for the center is to have it function as a think tank, encouraging enhanced collaborations that reach across medical disciplines and departments. We also aim to foster an environment in which medical collaborators are stepping in line with one another instead of working in a silo mentality, with a goal of transforming clinical care through basic and translational science.

As we mature, the group will have the opportunity to advance the way we care for trauma patients like Gillian and wounded warriors, as well as treat cancer patients in need of reconstructive limb surgery and patients with infections.