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Issue Date: March 2010

Best Doctors 2010: Frame Work

Dr. John Sontich
Matt Tullis

Susan Reader can always tell when something is wrong with Dr. John Sontich.

Last summer, when he came in to remove a cast from her leg, his forehead was scrunched up. That was the sign.

Reader’s leg had been shattered when the motorcycle she was riding was struck by a pickup truck driven by a drunk driver. The 2008 crash killed her boyfriend.

“Susie,” Sontich said. “Your leg is still broken.”

Reader, who lives in Youngstown, had already been through 11 surgeries and couldn’t bear the thought of one more. She started to cry, but Sontich stayed beside her. He always did. He patted her on the back and assured her everything would be all right.

“We’ll take care of it,” he said. And he did.

Today, nearly 22 months from the day of the crash, she is independent. Reader, 37, can walk — albeit with a cane. She can drive. She can get groceries. She can do all those little things that, for nearly two years, she had to rely on others for.

“I would give Dr. Sontich everything I have if I had to,” Reader says. “I’ve been through a lot, and he has really been there for me.”

Doctors in Myrtle Beach, where the accident happened, wanted to amputate Reader’s leg. She steadfastly refused.

After she was stabilized and transported by medical jet to MetroHealth Medical Center, Sontich, one of the nation’s leading surgeons when it comes to repairing severely broken bones, was called in. Sontich is also an expert in using the Ilizarov frame, a series of stainless steel rings that are fixed to the bone with heavy-gauge wire. The device is used to grow new bone by stretching the rings farther apart over a long period.

He also uses a Taylor Spatial Frame, which is the next generation of the Ilizarov and uses a computer program to guide new bone growth.

Reader had two Taylor Spatial Frames, one on top of the other with rods installed into her feet and just below her knee. Black and silver rings and rods surrounded her entire lower leg like scaffolding.

The frames were on her leg for 367 days. Ultimately, they grew more than 4 inches of new bone.

“This was a leg that would have required an above-knee amputation,” Sontich says. “She was the worst of the worst.”

He didn’t hide that from Reader, either, and she appreciated it — to an extent. During her recovery, Sontich showed Reader pictures of her leg taken immediately after the crash. “I told him never to do that again,” she says.

But Sontich is proud of his patient. “This was really a severe, limb-threatening injury,” he says. “She had a very large hole in the leg, one of the biggest defects you can’t make up for. But now she is doing very well. ”

Monday, March 01, 2010 12:26:44 PM by Bill Reader
I'm Susie Reader's father,I've been with her from the first day in Myrtle Beach until now.The medical staff in Myrtle Beach was good,but no one can compare to Dr. Sontich.He is a miracle worker. I saw a picture of Susie's leg when she had just arrived via ambulance at the hospital in Myrtle Beach. I couldn't tell it was her leg. If it wasn't for Dr. Sontich,she wouldn't have her leg.
Our whole family is so greatful for what he has done for her.Thank you Dr. Sontich!!!
Monday, March 01, 2010 3:09:59 PM by Colette Berriault
Susie most definitely a fighter.... and with the help of an obviously great doctor, wonderful family, and friends. she can walk to tell the tale....

I am proud to know her even though so slightly.
Tuesday, March 02, 2010 3:51:21 PM by Deborah Orostin
I am Susie's sister. I went to Myrtle Beach after the accident to be with her in the hospital. To see the condition of her leg then, and hearing her prognosis was devastating. I witnessed her very long and trying recovery, with surgery after surgery. Susie's abilities now are truly amazing in comparison. Thank you, Dr. Sontich, for bringing back functional normality into her life!
Tuesday, March 02, 2010 4:00:15 PM by Morgan
WOW what a thing to go through. Susie I was with you all the way an i still am. I am Susie's daughter Morgan. I appreciate how Sontich helped her all the way through just like me. He really cared alot and made her very happy when she had to see him. I should have said "we" appreciate Sontich. I just want to say Thank you Dr.Sontich I know my mom is in good hands!!!!
Wednesday, March 03, 2010 8:49:40 PM by Susan Reader
Excellent article. Everything I said in this article is true!! What a wonderful physician and person. I am lucky to know him and I could never thank him and his staff enough for all their great care! I would also like to thank Dr. Bram Kaufman for all of his help too. Both physicians are a awesome team!!!
Tuesday, March 09, 2010 9:56:23 AM by Susan Ouellette
This is fantastic! I am so proud of Susie's progress. She is such a great person and if anyone could pull through all these struggles, Susie can. She is a very hard worker and great friend. Thank god she was able to get to Cleveland when she did. Thank you Dr. Sontich, your skills got Susie up and walking again and to that we give thanks!
Susan Ouellette
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 9:53:09 AM by Susan Ouellette
I am so glad to see Susie standing and able to walk. I will NEVER forget getting the call about her accident. I have tried to support her through this. She is such a great person and was determined to save her leg. Such an inspiration! Thank you Dr. Sontich for all your work. I am sure this was a huge challenge but look at the outcome.
Saturday, April 17, 2010 11:29:34 AM by Charlie and Karen Armbruster of Cleveland
After a month in the Cleveland Clinic's Fairview Hospital, the surgeons there said that my husband's leg needed to be amputated. Shortly thereafter, I found Dr. Sontich. It's going to be a long process for my husband to regain the use of his leg and foot. However, HE STILL HAS THEM! The term "Miracle Worker" is truly applicable and applies to Dr. Sontich. He has our sincere gratitude. HIS MOTHER MUST BE SO PROUD! Gold Stars to You, Dr. Sontich. We say a prayer for you on a daily basis.
Saturday, July 31, 2010 9:05:53 AM by Joanne Urban
Dr. Sontich was wonderful when I fell during a fire drill while teaching at a West side school. After physical therapy and a cast, I have been fine for 16 years! he is a wonderful doctor and a great person!
Tuesday, September 28, 2010 8:52:05 PM by Carla
This is no surprise....I knew I would be reading about him one day. An excellent surgeon and a gentleman. Congratulations Dr. Sontich! It was refreshing to read all about your accomplishments:)
Saturday, January 01, 2011 6:28:14 AM by iris
We all know what Dr. Sontich can do and we all can not thank him enough. He repaired my Husbands right foot and left leg after a 45 foot fall from a tree, in 2000. It was almost 2 years recover time but we knew we were in the hands of the best. There was never a day that I even thought for one minute that all would turn out just fine. And remembers the forehead scrunched in Dr,Sontich, knows this to be true and remembers it well.One knew before he spoke how well the foot or leg was doing.Over the time came to know Georgeann and Doctor Sontich as two of the finest. Congratulatons again.
Tim and Iris Hague
Thursday, May 08, 2014 6:57:06 PM by Robert Pierce
Dr Sontich saved my right leg from a very bad motorcycle accident. If it wasnt for him and his expertise, I would have probably lost it. I am in the military and was able to return to duty after the surgeries. I would trust and recommend him to all my family, friends and anyone else. Awesome doctor!!! Thank you so much Dr. Sontich!!

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