March 21, 2023

Meet Scott Luhmann, MD

Pediatric and Adolescent Orthopedic Spine Specialist

Dr. Luhmann specializes in pediatric and adolescent orthopedic surgery, with special expertise in reconstructive spine surgery of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine; primary and revisions of complex pediatric spinal deformities and spinal reconstructive surgery; pathology of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine; congenital, neuromuscular and early-onset scoliosis; and nonsurgical and surgical treatment of the growing spine.

Where are you from? 

I grew up in Minnetonka, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis on Lake Minnetonka, the 10th largest lake in Minnesota that has more than 100 miles of lakeshore. Much of my free time was spent on the lake: boating, water skiing, fishing, skating, playing pond hockey and snowmobiling. Off the lake, I skied, played tennis and hockey, and watched Twins, Vikings and North Stars games. 

What made you choose pediatric orthopedics as a specialty?

I was drawn to orthopedics as a result of my valuable early work experiences. As a young teenager, I began working in my grandfather’s large-scale woodworking and cabinetry business. Workers there constructed handmade, customized fixtures and furnishings for corporate retailers (eg Foot Locker), restaurants, and sporting venues (eg Target Field). By working in all areas of this shop, I gained firsthand experiences creating and fixing with my hands, along with a profound appreciation of teamwork, diligence and pride in one's work. The subsequent rewards I experienced building and fixing in woodworking, led to both my career in Orthopaedics and hobby of restoring old homes.

Orthopedics is truly a natural fit and I cannot imagine being as happy, challenged and impactful in any other area. The first fellowship I completed was in pediatric orthopedics. During residency, I worked with extraordinary role models who fostered and greatly impacted my dedication to care for children - Perry Schoenecker, Paul Manske, Larry Lenke. I continue to rely on lessons from each as I strive to help each family and child attain as meaningful and productive lives as possible. Pediatric orthopedics uniquely encompasses a wide range of patient development (newborns to teenagers), anatomy (neck to fingers to toes) and growth that present complex and dynamic clinical decisions that I enjoy. To cultivate my interest and ability to optimally care for children with complex spinal deformities, I completed a second fellowship, spine, a few years into my practice and subsequently have focused my work in this area. 

What brought you to Washington University Orthopedics?

I have been a member of the Department of Orthopedics at Washington University for 31 years! I moved to Saint Louis and started as a resident in 1991, completed two fellowships and have been faculty and an attending physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Shriners Hospital since then.

What aspect of your practice do you find most interesting or rewarding?

The growing spine (under approximately 10 years old) is my academic and clinical niche interest. However, it is profoundly rewarding to correct all pediatric spinal deformities. Fixing the spine improves body alignment which subsequently diminishes pain and improves pulmonary function, mobility, mental health and overall quality of life for impacted children. Many of my patients have severe curves and numerous comorbidities. It is rewarding and I am grateful to work with a multidisciplinary team of highly dedicated and talented staff that optimally and efficiently care for these complex surgical issues.

Was there a past patient who made a lasting impact on you?

So many of my patients and parents have touched and impacted me. However, there is a current patient that always brightens my day. I have treated this seven year-old with severe congenital scoliosis since she was six months old - so far eight surgeries and dozens of clinic visits- and there are more to come since she will require reconstruction until she is skeletally mature. She is remarkably effervescent and gracious and brings me cards, photos of her dancing, and stories of her active lifestyle each time I see her. She exemplifies the reward of pediatric orthopedics: longitudinally caring for patients with evolving growth and development but with the reward of helping each best have a mobile and productive life. 

Anything new on the horizon for pediatric orthopedic care?

There continues to be a dramatic increase in knowledge about the etiology, diagnosis, imaging, and treatment of pediatric spine problems, especially early onset scoliosis. I am collaborating with others throughout the country to research and refine treatments which preserve growth and spinal motion. These techniques have revolutionized surgical management of scoliosis and are now considered to be optimal care for these children.

Medical imaging with three-dimensional models and AR (augmented reality) are transforming how I now plan many surgeries. Preoperative CT scans can now be reformatted to create a three-dimensional, life-size printed model of a patient’s spine. These models radically improve the understanding of the spine deformity and secondarily the outcome of surgery. The next frontier is to use these images in AR while wearing a Hololens headset in surgery. I am in the early stages of incorporating this technology in the OR: the headset overlays the preoperative CT images onto the patients during surgery, which allows detailed visualization of important anatomic structures. I am confident this technology will not only improve outcomes but also help us optimally teach complex anatomy and concepts to students, residents and others.

What is the best advice you ever received? 

“Often doing what is right is the hard thing to do.” Larry Lenke, MD

“Treat each patient as if they were your own children.” Jan Luhmann, MD

What is your favorite thing to do outside of work?

Anything in the mountains: powder skiing, hiking, fly-fishing, kayaking, outdoor concerts, all while relaxing with family and friends.

If you weren't a physician, what would you like to be doing?

Backcountry powder ski guide.

Anything else you would like to share?

My family is my lifeblood. My wife is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and we met during our intern year in the ED at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We’ve been married for almost 28 years. She is a former patient of both Dr. Relton McCarroll, Sr. and Dr. Lee Ford and always credits their impact on her career in medicine. We have two children in college and a lovable Great Pyrenees/shepherd mix rescue dog.

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