HAWAII AT WORK
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Craig Ono is a surgeon and assistant chief of staff at Shriners Hospital for Children. Above, Ono observed last week how Rylan Sakai, 5, was walking as he goes through a procedure that will straighten his legs.
Helping kids and country
Craig Ono brings his surgical skills to bear for both the U.S. Army and Shriners Hospital
Title: Surgeon, assistant chief of staff, Shriners Hospital for Children
Job: Operates on children with severe orthopedic or other medical problems
Craig Ono is a surgeon who likes being part of a team, as shown by his affiliation with both the U.S. Army and Shriners Hospital for Children in Honolulu, which provides orthopedic, burn and spinal-cord-injury care at no cost to children throughout the Pacific.
About working at Shriners, Ono said last week that, "It's not just the single-service physician (doing the job). It's also the therapists, the nurses; we have a group of people called care coordinators; we have a dedicated group in our operating room -- people we operate with every day, so they're a team. ... It's everybody from the maintenance staff all the way up to our top hospital administrator. Actually, I think the best thing about working here at Shriners is that we have such a great team. I don't think anybody could do it alone."
In the Army Reserve, Ono is a surgeon with the 9th Mission Support Command. In just a few weeks, Col. Ono will be going to Afghanistan for three months -- his fourth tour of duty in a combat zone since Desert Storm in the early '90s.
Ono joined the Army partly as a way to help pay for his medical training. He was encouraged by his father, Allen, a Kaimuki High and University of Hawaii graduate who became the first Japanese American in the U.S. Army to earn three stars -- the rank of lieutenant general -- and who later served as an executive vice president at American Savings Bank.
The younger Ono graduated from Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, then obtained his medical degree from Northwestern University in Illinois. He moved back to Hawaii, where he had lived off and on as a kid, in 1985.
Besides Shriners and the Army, Ono also teaches surgery at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine and the U.S. Defense Department's F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine.
Ono, 49, is married to the former Claire Watanabe, with whom he has three daughters, ages 22, 20 and 15, and lives in Wahiawa.
When did you decide you wanted to be a doctor?
Craig Ono: Oh, jeez. ... This was during my undergraduate years. I was in chemical engineering at Northwestern University but my minor was in biomedical engineering, so I had some exposure to medical science, and I just found that the physicians and what they were doing was more attractive than the chemical engineering. That basically drove my decision to try for the medical school.
Q: Where did you go to medical school?
A: At Northwestern also. I was an undergraduate there, and then went into medical school.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to be a surgeon?
A: That was during my internship. I did my internship at Tripler Army Center, and then did a rotation there on the different services. I rotated on the orthopedic service, and enjoyed it. I enjoyed the patients and who I was working with.
Q: Are you a general surgeon or a specialist?
A: I'm a specialist, I guess. I'm an orthopedic surgeon, and I specialize in pediatric orthopedics.
Q: What was your first job as a surgeon?
A: As a surgeon, I was in the military, so I was assigned as a staff physician at Tripler (Army Medical Center). That was my first doctor job after I finished my six years of training.
Q: In medical school?
A: No, after medical school. You do medical school, and then you do five years of residency training, followed by a year of fellowship training. So you do a total of six years of training before you get a regular job.
Q: Where did the military come into this?
A: The military paid for my way through medical school. I was on scholarship, so as a result of that, I had a commitment to do my training and, I guess, to pay back in the form of my time.
Q: Are you still in the Army?
A: I'm in the reserve now. I finished up active duty in 2000.
Q: I heard you'll be deploying to Afghanistan for three months starting in May.
A: Yeah, starting next month.
Q: When did you join the Army?
A: I joined when I entered medical school, back around 1980.
Q: Do you also work as a surgeon at Tripler sometimes?
A: Well, currently I'm the command surgeon for the 9th Mission Support Command.
Q: Is that with whom you're going to Afghanistan?
A: No. What happens is I get assigned to a combat support hospital on the mainland, and then I join up with the hospital in Afghanistan. They're already out there.
Q: Are you worried about your safety?
A: You're always worried about safety when you go into a combat zone, but this isn't my first time deploying.
Q: You've been there before?
A: I was in Iraq four years ago, and before that I was in Kosovo, and before that in Desert Storm.
Q: Aren't you ready for a break from that?
A: Yeah, I'm ready for a break. (Laughter) I think my wife's ready for a break, too.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Craig Ono last week looked over the devices attached to the legs of Rylan Sakai, 5, who is undergoing a procedure that will straighten his legs.
How long have you been with Shriners Hospitals for Children?
A: I've been working here full time since 2000, when I left active duty, but I've been associated with Shriners ever since I was in training. As a resident at Tripler, we spent time here, and I did my fellow in pediatric orthopedics here at Shriners.
Q: Why did you join Shriners?
A: Because it's such a great place. We just take care of kids. We do primarily pediatric orthopedics, though we also do plastic surgery, especially for burn patients, and patients who have congenital types of deformities.
The mission of this place is so unique because we don't have a billing department here. We don't have somebody in the office sending bills out to patients to pay for their care. Of course, we all practice fiscally responsible medicine, because we know the pot of money isn't infinite that we have to take care of the children, but still we can provide such a broad range of services to the children, without cost.
Q: Do you do any medical work outside of Shriners?
A: Well, you know, we travel a lot. So outside of the hospital, we travel to Micronesia; we travel to American Samoa and Samoa; we go to Fiji; we go to the Republic of the Marshall Islands; we go to Guam and Saipan. ... So we have this broad outreach to the South and Western Pacific islands.
Q: What are you doing out there?
A: We're seeing clinics. We see the children who have problems -- basically pediatric orthopedic problems. If they need to have a surgical procedure done, then we arrange for them to be brought to Hawaii for the operation. So we oversee, as far as we can manage, the access to care out there. We have a physical presence out there by actually going and seeing clinics, and we use video conference and telemedicine to see the children, too.
Q: How are the children selected?
A: They have to have a problem that's within our scope of practice, which is basically that they have to have a pediatric orthopedic problem. And then they have to be less than 18 years of age. And that's about it.
Q: Is it a function of parental income at all?
A: No, not at all. There's no threshold that says you earn too much money and can't become a Shriners patient. It's just a matter of having a problem that we can take care of.
Q: What types of surgery do you perform mostly?
A: We do a lot of surgery on children with cerebral palsy. We do club-foot operations. We do reconstructive surgery for those who have deformities due to either infections or trauma. We do spine fusions for children with spinal deformities or scoliosis. We do sports medicine procedures for children who have injured their knees or shoulders. We do some surgery for children who have congenital hand deformities.
Q: How long does such an operation take on average?
A: There's a broad range. There's some procedures that take only about a half hour, but if you're talking about a major spine procedure, you're talking about to six to eight hours.
Q: Being a surgeon must require a tremendous amount of poise and focus -- and stamina.
A: Yes. (Laughter) That's what orthopedics is about, I think.
Q: Does your job require that you be emotionally detached at times?
A: I guess to maintain the focus to accomplish what you need to accomplish, you need to be emotionally detached at times. But I think our business requires us to be able to empathize with both the parents and the children. I think that's how you communicate, and communicate effectively.
Q: How do the triumphs and heartbreaks of your job balance out for you?
A: I think for the most part, it goes very well. I certainly can come into work smiling on most days. There are some challenges. We always worry, because we operate on children who can be medically fragile, and we understand there are risks involved, so it's not a happy time when a child becomes seriously ill while you're taking care of him. There are worries with that. But I tell you what: With the support that we have here, with the institution and the other physicians, and the support we get from the physicians and staff from across the street at Kapiolani (Medical Center for Women & Children), it all gets bearable. I don't think we've ever run into a problem where we couldn't manage the challenges.
Q: What kind of work hours do you put in?
A: About 12 hours a day, I think, five days a week. I have two days of clinic and two days of OR (operating room). OR days are busy. And then Friday is my catch-up day, for my administrative work.
Q: You also are an associate clinical professor of surgery at UH. Does that mean you teach classes?
A: We have a part in teaching the residents and other physicians learning orthopedic surgery. We also teach the physicians who are in training to be pediatricians. And we teach medical students. They come and rotate with us. So, yes, we do teach.
Q: Would you ever like to be just a professor someday?
A: (Laughter) Yeah. Someday.