Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr. Glenn Pfeffer
Sep 27, 2019 Agata Smieciuszewski
Meet Dr. Glenn Pfeffer, director of the foot and ankle surgery program at Cedars-Sinai!
When he's not hard at work performing surgeries that help people walk, he spends his free time practicing magic and bonsai, a Japanese art form of growing small trees using special pruning and wiring techniques.
"When I was young, I rebelled and pursued performing magic in night clubs, but I suppose medicine was in my DNA. I liked working with my hands, and I wanted to help people. Surgery was a natural fit."
Q: What do you love about bonsai?
Dr. Glenn Pfeffer: Bonsai are beautiful—they are living art.
They're miniaturized trees that would normally grow in a field, forest, or the side of a mountain.
Each tree is grand and yet so personal. They bring nature into my life in the most intimate of ways.
Q: What drew you to studying bonsai?
GP: When I was a first-year medical school student, I met Chase Rosade, a bonsai master in Pennsylvania. He and his wife ran an incredible bonsai studio with many magnificent works of art on display—from young saplings in training to trees more than 50 years old.
Eventually I had more than a dozen trees in my collection, some of them started by Chase. Several years later I chose orthopaedics as a career. I think part of my interest had to do with bonsai.
The two are so similar—bending limbs, healing broken parts, and sustaining healthy growth. Both combine science and art, and cover the entire spectrum of form vs. function.
What I do in surgery to correct foot deformity is almost identical. I start with a twisted foot, and with wires, screws, and plates transform it into something beautiful and more functional. The big difference is that bonsai can take decades, and a foot only hours.
Q: What inspired you to pursue your career?
GP: My father was a surgeon, and starting in grade school I used to make rounds with him in the hospital. In those days, I was even able to go into the operating room.
When I was young, I rebelled and pursued performing magic in night clubs, but I suppose medicine was in my DNA. I liked working with my hands, and I wanted to help people. Surgery was a natural fit.
Just after residency I joined Project Hope for 6 months as the only orthopaedic surgeon in Grenada after the invasion. I also spent time in southeast Asia, working in a leprosy colony in northern Burma.
I was always interested in the extremities and did hand and foot/ankle surgery for 18 years in San Francisco before coming to Cedars-Sinai. And there has not been one day that I have questioned my decision to pursue medicine. I never go home wondering, "Did I do anything worthwhile today?"
Q: What is a condition that you work with commonly?
GP: I do a lot of surgery on twisted feet caused by Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), which is the most common inherited nerve disease. It often presents between the ages of 9 and 14, and typically affects the lower extremities.
A muscle imbalance occurs that causes the feet to become twisted and deformed. Walking is painful, if not impossible. During surgery, we straighten the feet and balance the muscles. We probably do more of this surgery than anywhere else in the United States.
I feel especially tied to these patients because I have my own foot problem. It's called a tarsal coalition and the range of motion in my left foot is limited. I saw several experts as a child, but no one diagnosed me correctly. I ultimately diagnosed myself.
Q: How do you spend your free time?
GP: I love to spend time with my wife, who also works at Cedars-Sinai as a nurse practitioner at the Breast Center.
We love film and like to go to the beach, play tennis, scuba dive, and dance.
There is the bonsai of course, and I am a magician member at the Magic Castle.
Q: What's your favorite part of being in LA?
GP: LA has a great vibe.
Even since I've been here the restaurant scene has exploded and the city has become a world center of contemporary art.
It is a city of discovery. World-class destinations are hidden in corner shopping malls, back streets, or non-descript buildings.
I am also very proud to work at Cedars-Sinai. Although LA is great, I am here because of my job. Cedars-Sinai does not hope for good, it strives for perfection. Hard to obtain, but it's such a worthwhile goal for our patients.
Q: What excites you about the future?
GP: Personally, I look forward to the years ahead with my wife, Amanda.
Professionally, I look forward to my continued research with CMT patients, and the evolving surgery that will keep them walking.