Pro Golfer Honored for Contributions to UAMS Scoliosis Research

Lunch with the Duke Ken Duke speaks to UAMS physicians T. Glenn Pait, M.D., (left) and Richard McCarthy, M.D., (right), UAMS donors and friends during "Lunch with the Duke."

Nov. 13, 2013 | Every time professional golfer Ken Duke swings his favorite putter, “Spongebob,” he thinks about the 16-inch metal rod in his back that allows him to golf. The rod, placed there by a UAMS doctor more than 20 years ago, corrects a severe curve in his spine.

Since his diagnosis 24 years ago, Duke is giving children with scoliosis the same opportunities he has been given with the help of the Ken Duke Endowed Chair in Scoliosis, a $1 million effort to further research and treatment for spinal deformities, tumors and fractures.

UAMS physicians, donors and friends of Duke gathered for “Lunch with the Duke” Oct. 23 to support the chair and to honor Duke for his charitable donations to UAMS.

“It’s not about me, it’s about giving back to children,” Duke said. “I've been given a second chance, and I want to give that to kids.” 

This year, Duke has given UAMS $50,000, the prize money he received after winning the “PGA Tour Player of the Month” award last summer, and an additional $49,000 in prize winnings to further scoliosis research and treatment.

“Before I even won the money, I knew where it was going to go,” Duke said. “I was just hoping that I would win it.” 

Richard McCarthy, M.D. professor of orthopedic surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, who performed surgery on Duke, and T. Glenn Pait, M.D., director of the Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute, spoke about Duke at the luncheon. 

“This is truly rewarding to be sitting here with a man who was at first resistant to the idea of surgery on his spine and has turned it around and overcome his adversities,” McCarthy said. “When I met Ken he had a glimmer in his eye when he talked about golf, and he wasn't going to let surgery stand in his way.”

Pait praised Duke for his determination to triumph over his disability.

“Ken is an Arkansas hero because he did what people didn't think he could do,” Pait said. “With the Ken Duke Endowed chair, people will be inspired to do amazing work like Ken.”

McCarthy said because of the chair and Duke’s desire to make the UAMS orthopedic program better, he will be able to continue research on ways to treat early-onset scoliosis in children, giving them the best chance of living a normal adult life.

Two projects McCarthy has worked on include a technique that will allow children with scoliosis to grow with having fewer surgeries and a brace that corrects curvature of the spine when inserted into a tendon in the spine.

Duke, of Arkadelphia, came close to never realizing a pro golfing career after a routine spine exam at age 15 showed a 26 percent curve in his spine — he was diagnosed with scoliosis and was advised to wear a back brace 23 hours a day. But, the curve became severe, threatening his lungs and heart. McCarthy then attached a rod to his spine, which is still there today. Duke said he has had no complications from the surgery.

This year, Duke was inducted in the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame and captured the 2013 PGA Travelers Championship.

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