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Spine Solutions: SLUCare Orthopedic Surgery


Dr. Howard Place and Sr. Marie OrfPictured: Sister Marie Orf and SLUCare spinal surgeon Dr. Howard Place

Sister Marie Orf always has led a busy, active life. The 75-year-old nun manages the St. Anthony of Padua Food Pantry in south St. Louis and spends a lot of time walking and standing as part of her job. But in recent years, her battle with scoliosis (curvature of the spine) had caused increasing discomfort and immobility. She tried chiropractic and other therapies, but decided to see SLUCare orthopedic surgeon Dr. Howard Place when the pain became too great to manage.

Orf says she first was diagnosed with scoliosis at age 21, and by the time she consulted Place, her spinal curve had reached nearly 70 degrees. “I just didn’t want to live like that any longer,” she says. “One of the sisters in my congregation had seen Dr. Place for surgery several years before and was doing well, so I took her advice and talked to him.” Place carefully discussed options with Orf, and they decided that straightening her spine with permanent implants would offer the best outcome.

She had the operation at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital, and physical therapy helped her regain strength and range of motion. Before long, she was able to return to work, and says the difference was like night and day. “I love my job and was dying to get back to it,” she notes. “It’s so great to feel well again. The SLUCare doctors and nurses have been wonderful; I can only say good things about them. They kept a close eye on my progress, were very patient and caring, and made sure everything went well.” Orf says Place has started bringing colleagues to her food pantry each month to screen clients for leg and foot problems and refer them for treatment if needed. “It’s a blessing to have health professionals who care that much,” she says.

We help people heal and return to the activities that are important to them.”

SLUCare Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Howard Place

Place says SLUCare is widely recognized as an important resource for spinal patients like Orf, receiving surgical referrals from all over Missouri and Illinois. Cases include highly complex ones that surgeons and hospitals in other areas may not be able to treat. Besides scoliosis, patients also are seen for bone infections, injuries, congenital problems, revisions of previous surgeries and other needs. “We use the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques, including intraoperative navigation,” Place explains. “It allows us to use CT imaging during surgery to perform procedures like spinal implants.” He says SLUCare is committed to less-invasive techniques that minimize downtime, infection risk, pain and other complications. And for cases when surgery isn’t needed, physicians work closely with patients to plan other types of treatment.

According to Place, SLUCare’s combination of modern diagnostics, professional expertise and advanced surgical therapies can change patients’ lives for the better. “We help people heal and return to the activities that are important to them,” he notes.

Orf says her spinal surgery has been more than a blessing. “When other people complain about their back pain, they look knowingly at me and say, ‘Well, you understand what I mean,’” she notes. “But now my response is, ‘I used to know what you mean!’”

SLUCare Physician Group provides a full range of diagnostic treatment and surgical care for patients with spinal problems. For more information, call 314-977-4440 or visit

This article originally appeared in Town & Style, March 11, 2019.

By: Julia M. Johnson