From Medicine in a War-Torn Desert to Frontlines of New Technology


OrthSouth's Judith Lee-Sigler, MD, using the latest in treatments

Dr. Judith Lee-Sigler, a physiatrist with Tabor Orthopedics, now OrthoSouth, went from medical school at Temple University in Philadelphia to a tent-city hospital in Saudi Arabia as an emergency room physician with the U.S. Air Force.

She served during both Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and though she describes most of her service there as routine emergency room care, there were a few times of high drama.

"Right after the campaign started, some Scud missiles were getting through," she recalled. "One morning I was sitting there eating my Raisin Bran and you could hear the bomb go off. There were alarms going off and everybody was running for cover. When I came back there was part of a Scud missile in my bowl, so no more Raisin Bran for me."

In a calmer setting at OrthoSouth, Lee-Sigler specializes in the spine and regenerative medicine, trying to make patients with orthopedic conditions feel better without the use of corticosteroids or surgery, although, she adds, these remain very important tools in treatment.

Many of her patients have various types of spinal injuries, joint problems and other types of soft-tissue injuries that involve the spine.

"Some patients I see after they've been on the recovery and have been discharged, but they're still trying to find ways to improve their function," she said. "Other patients have very recent onset of pain. A lot of the injuries are related to falls, lifting accidents, sports injuries, repetitive motion injuries for construction workers and things like that.

"I started out working with spinal cord patients and my interest kind of went from there - conditions of the spine, neck, all the way down. Since about 2012, I've taken an interest in regenerative medicine. We've used bone marrow for a number of conditions for many years, and now we're using bone marrow to help people on a more general level, people with orthopedic conditions."

She also uses platelet-rich plasma (PSP), amnion-derived fluid, and other regenerative medicine products to decrease inflammation, improve healing, provide pain relief and allow for quicker recovery for her patients.

Lee-Sigler was medical director of the Carle Spine Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The center included spine-only orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons and physiatrists.

When she came to Memphis in 2005, she joined the Memphis Spine Center but when her partner retired, she joined Tabor in 2013.

"Since I started in 1994, technology has changed tremendously in terms of what I can do and the speed at which I can do it," she said. "When I started you couldn't use ultrasound to diagnose musculoskeletal conditions and you couldn't use ultrasound to see anything that I could work with. We were not even thinking about it from a musculoskeletal regenerative medicine standpoint.

"Now, the speed with which I can use electro-diagnostics has improved dramatically. The computer also has changed things drastically. I can finish charts so much faster, and process everything related to patients so much faster. They also can email me their questions, which was not possible at all previously. As we streamline what computers can do for us, there will be more opportunities for patients to get information better and faster to allow them to have more impact and take charge of their care. They read more. They ask more questions."

She hopes another advancement will be "a cleaned-up internet" so that less of the information available to patients will not be inaccurate or misleading. Using only established medical sources when searching online is the best way to find reliable information on health issues and treatments.

There should be plenty to read.

"We're going to get more and more research related to regenerative medicine to refine what the protocols ought to be," Lee-Sigler said. "I also think insurance companies - which take a more hands-on approach than they did when I started - are going to come on board at some point, though currently we have no predictions as to when, but I certainly think that they will.

"That will give us an alternative to surgery for some folks and an alternative to corticosteroids which will be very welcome, though those will always have their place."

She and her husband, Glenn Sigler, who is executive director of The Center for Excellence in Analytics for ALSAC, the fund-raising arm of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, have a 17-year-old daughter, Christina, who plans to study economics and international relations next year at Duke.

"She is going to be helping society in a different way," Lee-Sigler said. "When I was five years old, I wanted to be either a professional baseball player or a physician. Growing up in the Chicago area I played baseball every day, but I finally figured out that becoming a female professional baseball player was not going to be possible. My father was a biology teacher so there were always a lot of science projects at home and dissections in the garage.

"The thing that has always appealed to me as a physician is being able to use science to help people and to have a real impact on their lives. That's always been my driving force."


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