If Dr. Kevin Bonner isn’t busy performing a life-changing arthroscopic shoulder surgery, he’s busy thinking of ways to improve the operation.
After five years and hundreds of surgeries a year, all of that mindful thinking has paid off.
“I love trying to look at deficits in the field where we don’t have a procedure that’s been perfected,” he said.
Bonner, an orthopedic surgeon at the Jordan-Young Institute in Virginia Beach, along with colleagues, Dr. David Diduch of the University of Virginia and Dr. Mark Getelman of Southern California Orthopedic Institute, developed a device that is revolutionizing shoulder surgery.
The Tight-N Tendon Docking Anchor, ranging from 5.5 millimeters to 8.5 millimeters, is made of polyetheretherketone polymer, a bioinert plastic more commonly known as PEEK.
The implant that holds a tendon and fixes a bicep was bought and co-developed by DePuy Synthes, the orthopedics company of Johnson & Johnson. It received approval by the Food and Drug Administration last year. Recently released in the U.S., Bonner said it will be available worldwide soon.
“There have been multiple ways — both arthroscopic and open — to fix somebody’s biceps tendon and tendons in their body,” he said. “And all of them had upsides and downsides, but none were what I’ll call A-plus.”
Now, the bar is elevated.
“The tendon gets fixed to the bone, and this is a way biologically to take advantage of certain things in an environment for the tendon to heal,” he said. “And it doesn’t cause any tendon damage, which is part of what makes it unique.”
Bonner has surgically implanted more than 130 since the device went on the market in December 2022.
Renee Thomas, of Virginia Beach, had surgeries by Bonner for torn bicep tendons — her left shoulder four years ago and her right shoulder in February — and the anchor device was what set them apart.
“I was expecting a very similar experience after, but this recovery has been quite different,” Thomas said. “I legitimately did not need pain pills after day three.”
Four weeks post-operation, she felt comfortable enough to remove her sling and had to remind herself not to return to normal activities yet, Thomas said.
Thomas said she was able to sleep lying down in bed rather than a recliner from day one, and her range of motion came back much quicker.
“The only real difference is this new device, and I believe 100% that has a lot to do with the difference in recoveries that I have experienced,” Thomas said.
For Bonner, that is the greatest sense of satisfaction.
“We have a lot of innovation in medicine in the Hampton Roads area in orthopedics,” Bonner said, noting patients are referred here from throughout the world.
Bonner, who grew up on a small farm on the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border, spent four years in the Navy, serving as an orthopedic surgeon for the Navy SEALs.
A self-proclaimed “ortho geek,” it was an injury to his elbow while studying at Georgetown University on an athletic scholarship for baseball that spurred his interest in orthopedics and sports medicine.
“I like returning people to their active lifestyle, their activities and what they enjoy,” he said.
A professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School who also teaches throughout the world, Bonner joined Jordan-Young in 2002 and serves as the director of its research foundation.
Constantly researching, reading, learning and writing for textbooks and other medical publications, Bonner said it’s imperative he stay on the cutting edge to maintain the highest level of care for his patients.
“I tell everyone, including my OR staff, the day I stop reading and going to courses is the day you have to tell me I need to retire,” he said.
But for now, it’s not uncommon for Bonner to wake up in the middle of the night with an idea.
Blessed with a supportive family, Bonner said he is thankful they make it easier to maintain his work-life balance.
As a scientific adviser for Embody, a soft tissue company based in Norfolk recently bought by Zimmer Biomet, Bonner helped the startup develop a primarily collagen suture.
And he has several other inventions in the works.
“You only have one chance to go through this world,” he said. “So I’m trying to contribute as much as I can.”