Ignacio Vives Ponseti, 44R, 07DSC, has changed the future for literally thousands of people worldwide. When the Spanish-born and -educated physician arrived at the University of Iowa in 1941 to begin his residency, he embarked upon a decades-long career in orthopaedic surgery that would transform countless lives.
This distinguished journey started at the University of Barcelona in Spain, where Ponseti completed a B.S. degree in 1932 and a medical degree in 1936. After graduation, the young doctor served as a captain in the Spanish Republican Army, treating hundreds of soldiers wounded during his country's civil war.
Such experiences marked the beginning of Ponseti's commitment to caring for others. When the war ended, he traveled first to France and then to Mexico, where he operated a medical practice until deciding to come to Iowa to pursue his residency. Once he arrived on the UI campus, Ponseti began working with Arthur Steindler, a skilled surgeon and the well-known chair of the UI Department of Orthopaedics.
Throughout his years as a resident and then as an instructor and professor in the department—roles he assumed in 1944—Ponseti observed how Steindler and other surgeons treated clubfoot, a condition that causes babies to be born with severely twisted ankles, which often turn the feet almost completely upside down. Ponsetis conclusion that surgery was not the most effective treatment prompted him to develop an innovative, nonsurgical method, which he began applying in the early 1950s.
This approach, now known as the Ponseti Method, has earned global accolades for the UI professor emeritus. His technique for gently stretching ligaments and applying a series of plaster casts to painlessly mold feet into the proper shape has been in use by hundreds of doctors for more than five decades. It has allowed children around the world to walk, run, and jump without pain.
Though Ponseti left the operating room at the age of 70 in 1984, he continues to see patients, whose parents seek him out because of his gentle technique and special way with children. He also continues his research and has published a book, Congenital Clubfoot: Fundamentals of Treatment, which came out in 1996.
In recognition of the renowned physicians many accomplishments, the UI dedicated the Ponseti Clubfoot Treatment Center within the Reginald R. Cooper Orthopaedic Surgery Clinic. New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases named its clubfoot treatment center in Ponsetis honor as well.
Recently, a group of former colleagues and grateful patients and parents established an endowed chair in Ponsetis name to sustain his legacy. This legacy includes a commitment to Iowa. In addition to his professional contributions, Ponseti also gives generously, supporting a variety of UI programs and projects, including the Museum of Art and Hancher Auditorium. He is a member of the UI Foundations Presidents Club, as well as the UI Alumni Associations Old Capitol Club.
This Spanish watchmakers son is many years—and many miles—from his professional beginnings in medicine. However, since then, Ignacio Vives Ponseti has used his Iowa career to make every year and every mile count for his lucky patients.