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Obituary | Alberto Ponte, MD

Alberto Ponte, MD

On January 10, 2023, the Scoliosis Research Society (SRS) lost a prominent member. Alberto Ponte died in Amsterdam, Netherlands where he has lived since 2018.  He was born in Graz, Austria on July 9, 1926. He was 96 years old. During his life he made many contributions to the evaluation and treatment of spinal deformities.

In 1953 Dr. Ponte received his medical degree from the University of Turin in Italy. He did his orthopedic residency at the University Hospital in Florence from 1953-1958. He spent two of those years as an exchange fellow in some of the most important orthopedic and trauma hospitals in Great Britain, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. He then in 1958 accepted a 1-year fellowship in scoliosis at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City with John Cobb, performing approximately 60 spinal surgeries. During this time, he also spent 7 months at the Bone Tumor Service of Memorial Hospital, New York. Dr. Ponte then furthered his spine deformity training by spending time with Walter Blount (Milwaukee, USA), John Moe (Minneapolis, USA) and Joe Risser (Pasadena, USA).

In 1960 Dr. Ponte returned to the University of Florence and founded the first spine ward in Italy. He performed scoliosis surgery using the techniques and methods he learned in the United States and became a Full Professor of Orthopedics in 1963. In 1968 he became corresponding member of SRS at the invitation of doctors Moe and Blount.

In 1969 he founded the first independent Spine Center in Italy (Pietra Ligure). That same year he described an underarm orthosis for lumbar and thoracolumbar scoliosis. He was the first to recognize hypotension as a cause of paraplegia after surgical correction of scoliosis (SRS Gothenburg 1973). Was the first in Italy to use hemodilution and autotransfusion (SRS Hong Kong 1977), and in 1977 was a founder, and for 2 years president of, GIS, the Italian Scoliosis Society.

In 1987 Dr. Ponte presented the Ponte Osteotomy at SICOT meeting in Munich (SRS Portland 1994) treating thoracic hyperkyphosis by shortening the posterior column and preserving the anterior column load sharing capacity. Which is now widely used to help correct various spine deformities. In 1989 he presented 3,025 hyperkyphotic patients treated in Pietra Ligure by Risser plaster casts at the SRS meeting in Amsterdam and the ESDS meeting in Rome. From 1976-2015 Dr Ponte treated 240 skeletally mature hyperkyphotic patients surgically, the first 56 with Harrington technique and last 184 from 1987 using the Ponte Osteotomy. By invitation of the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Spine Deformity he published “The True Ponte Osteotomy: By the One Who Developed It" (Spine Deformity Jan. 2018).

Dr. Ponte has served as visiting professor around the globe. He has attended 39 meetings of the SRS with several presentations and was presented with the SRS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

He had many intimate collegial working relationships with several of the SRS’s founding and regular members. He is survived by his wife Ellen, son Roberto, daughter Stefania and granddaughter Beatrice.

Dr. Ponte will be remembered for his many contributions to improve the care of patients with spinal deformity, many of which have been the foundation for subsequent progress in our field.

Written by: Jay Shapiro, MD, George H. Thompson, MD, Behrooz A. Akbarnia, MD