UW News

July 27, 2011

Best foot forward: Dr. Michael Brage

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Babe Dahlgren, the Yankees first-baseman after Lou Gehrig. Maniya Barredo, who danced in place of injured Mikhail Baryshnikov. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the next female Supreme Court justice after Sandra Day OConnor. How do you fill big shoes, or follow giant steps?

Maybe its easier if feet are your business. In May, Dr. Michael Brage (pronounced brah-gee) steered his career back to UW Medicine. He will practice at Harborview Medical Center, where 20 years ago he was a fresh-faced fellow eager to impress his mentor, renowned foot and ankle surgeon Dr. Sigvard “Ted” Hansen. This spring, the mentor beckoned his protégé back to UW Medicine – to the Sigvard T. Hansen Jr. Foot and Ankle Institute – and put a succession plan in motion.

After studying under Dr. Sigvard Hansen in 1991, Dr. Michael Brage went on to build a national reputation in foot and ankle reconstruction.

After studying under Dr. Sigvard Hansen in 1991, Dr. Michael Brage went on to build a national reputation in foot and ankle reconstruction.Clare McLean

“Ted said, ‘We need an experienced surgeon who can handle the things Im doing,” recounted Dr. Jens Chapman, professor and UWs chairman of orthopedics and sports medicine. He called Brage “a known quantity, a guy whos setting new standards.”

Post-fellowship jobs first took Brage to the Midwest. He practiced and taught at Northwestern and directed the University of Chicagos Foot and Ankle Services. In Southern California since 2004, he joined a private practice and taught at UC-Irvine and UC-San Diego while continuing academic research.

“Ive treated a lot of degenerative joint disease, degenerative tendinopathies and diabetes mellitus,” Brage said. Private practice has meant treating more sprains and minor fractures, he added, but he knows that Harborviews tertiary-care status will draw the complicated deformities, arthritic conditions, fractures and surgical failures that make use of his advanced skills. Hes probably best known, he said, for complex reconstructions of localized arthritic conditions of the ankle, using allograft (donor) tissue.

“We can take the ankle cartilage, typically accompanied with a bony block, to replace the damaged and diseased parts of the ankle – like a transplant. Its an area of medicine thats still developing.”

Chapman anticipates Brage will not only treat complex cases but also expand the institutes patient population of college athletes, a group whose desire and expectation for speedy recovery from injury can be difficult to manage.

“I would expect to see acute bony fractures and overuse injuries – chronic tendinitis or stress fractures that never quite heal,” Brage said. “I would expect to treat people who have sprained their ankle so many times that the lateral ankle ligaments dont work anymore.” Hes treated athletic injuries that range from minor to profound in marathon runners, professional dancers, volleyball players and motocross riders.

He remembers an extreme-sport competitor who shattered an ankle when he leapt onto his motorcycle and landed squarely on the foot pegs. “Technology has advanced considerably; athletic shoes nowadays are nothing like they were 10, 15 years ago. But people are going to exceed the limits of their technology, especially with the increasing appeal of extreme sports.”

Brage confided that, two decades ago, he had hoped to stay on at Harborview after his fellowship, but a spot wasnt available. A self-described “big-city kid” whose feet havent touched Orange Countys beaches in about two years, he is keen to explore Seattle anew. And Brage doesnt sound at all worried about how the shoes fit this time around. He is ready, he said, to hit the ground running.