How two brothers—doctors both—found a mutual calling and inspiration in relieving pain
By Jessica Jones-Gorman • photos by Premier Digital
Growing up in St. George, Drs. Ken and Cary Chapman excelled. Both products of Curtis High School, the student athletes each found glory on the gridiron and were awarded with the esteemed Andrew Barberi player of the year award for their efforts—the two brothers shone in both academics and athletics. They played college football, too, and each attended medical school to study anesthesiology/pain management and orthopedics, respectively. Today, years after those triumphs, the pair is now garnering awards and attention for their work as physicians, practicing together and on staff at Staten Island University Hospital and NYU Langone Medical Center.
“Playing sports in any stage of your life ingrains traits, habits and qualities you carry on with you throughout your entire life,” noted Dr. Ken Chapman, a pain management specialist with The Spine and Pain Institute of New York, which has offices in Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. “You become a team player and you learn your role within a unit, so I think that history as a student athlete definitely played a role in my character development.”
A board certified physician in pain management and anesthesiology, Dr. Chapman completed his interventional pain management fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio and his anesthesiology residency at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.
“I became interested in pain management during medical school because I noticed often in the hospital that doctors and specialists would fix patient issues, but the pain would linger even after the underlying problem was resolved. I felt badly for these people. It really made me want to be involved in helping to alleviate the patients’ pain.”
Dr. Chapman also appreciated the fact that pain management was an evolving specialty.
“Even since I started, the field has changed dramatically,” he said. “In the past, patients went from having traditional conservative treatments for back pain to getting surgery. But with the evolution of new, minimally invasive techniques, there are now many different steps. Now, these new procedures and interventions help put off and oftentimes avoid surgery altogether.”
Dr. Chapman’s practice, The Spine and Pain Institute of New York, has six full-time pain physicians dedicated to treating all aspects of pain. He is the director of pain management at SIUH and their practice covers the inpatient and outpatient services at the hospital and its clinic. The most commonly treated problems they see are back pain and neck pain, most commonly secondary to arthritis of the spine, disc herniations, and spinal stenosis. The practice is geared towards interventional options for these conditions, offering treatments such as radiofrequency ablation treatment, endoscopic procedures, spinal cord stimulation, and treatments for peripheral nerve related pain.
When treating pain patients, the team works in close collaboration with referring physicians, including neurologists, internists, and surgeons in an effort to avoid or potentially delay surgery, as well as to facilitate in making an unavoidable surgery more precise.
His brother, Dr. Cary Chapman, is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine and reconstructive foot & ankle surgery. Both brothers were recently recognized as Top Doctors by Castle Connolly, a prestigious honor for any practicing physician, and have received other top physician awards, such as placement in the New York Super Doctors Rising Stars.
“Even as a teen I thought about pursuing medicine,” noted Dr. Cary Chapman. “But I didn’t consider orthopedics until I was in medical school.”
In his classes and during rotations, Dr. Chapman was drawn to the subspecialty because for him it was satisfying to help a patient achieve immediate change.
“It reminded me very much of my upbringing,” he said. “My father owned and renovated several houses and apartment buildings and I would work with him on the weekends. After spending a long day working with your hands fixing these homes, there was a feeling of gratification. And for me, it’s the same with orthopedics. It’s an extremely interesting subspecialty of medicine that allows me to find and fix a problem.”
Cary Chapman received his undergraduate degree at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland and his medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons in Manhattan. He is board certified in both orthopedic surgery and orthopedic sports medicine, and is currently Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at NYU-Hospital for Joint Diseases, where he performs surgery, teaches orthopedic residents, and carries out clinical orthopedic research.
“I treat anything from a bunion to a rotator cuff tear and everything in between,” he said. “But because I’m treating pain and functional deficits, it’s all very fulfilling. The most rewarding part is having patients call me months and years after their procedures and treatments to tell me how much more capable they are now that the pain is gone.”
Cary Chapman, too, was quick to point of that, since starting his practice more than a decade ago, the field has changed.
“A lot of surgery we perform now is minimally invasive,” he said. “When I was a resident, there were bigger incisions, more recovery time, and more chances for complications. But that has all decreased greatly over the past ten years.”
Cartilage regeneration or repair is also a relatively new innovation, he added.
“In the past, if a patient had a cartilage injury, there weren’t many options,” Chapman said. “But now there are significantly more options with bioengineered substances and donated tissue that we didn’t have in the past.”
But the most important focus for both doctors is the use of more pain treatments, and less surgery.
“My hope is that in the future most conditions can be resolved without open surgical intervention,” Dr. Ken Chapman concluded. “Our role is to decrease the need for surgery and concentrate on bringing the patient treatments to facilitate their improvement. Our main focus continues to be the delivery of these treatments to get patients back on track and enjoying their life again.”