Dr. Peter Bonutti of Manalapan in his home office with his father, Karl Bonutti, 95, and sons Michael, 8, and Marc, 17. The
family’s two Dobermans are Sam (left) and Sarge. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Dr. Peter Bonutti was well into his career as an orthopedic surgeon when he realized something was missing: the patient’s perspective.
“I always thought it was important to look at it,” Bonutti said. “Because we’re operating on people and doing all kinds of crazy things to them and you go, ‘What if we flipped the table and looked at it from their perspective?’ Like the length of the incision, the surgical approach, the fast recovery. It came from my sports medicine background combined with my background from joint replacements.”
It wasn’t long before Bonutti, 65 — who resides with wife, Simone, in Manalapan, along with five of their six children — began inventing tools to make a difference in patients’ experiences, starting with recovery time and rehab.
“When I started doing joint replacements the incisions were a foot long, the patients would be in the hospital for a week, and it would take them a year to recover,” Bonutti said. “I was saying, ‘This is not what people want.’ So, I started learning, because I felt industry wasn’t keeping up with medical technology.
“That’s where I got creative and innovative and said we’ve got to improve the quality of care. That’s been my focus my whole life.”
Bonutti said he has 440-450 patents on file and another 100 in development. Where most inventors focus on one area, his innovations cover a wide area, from automotive to aeronautical to medical devices to pharmaceuticals to consumer goods. “We do a lot of different things and have a lot of fun with it,” he said.
Bonutti spends one week a month at his workplace, the SBL Bonutti Clinic in Effingham, Illinois, in which time he said he performs 50 surgeries including 35-40 joint replacements, and the remainder at home, much of it on research and development.
His family time includes skiing, boating, fishing and trips to “a small place” in the Bahamas. His wife is a former member of the Manalapan Town Commission who is returning to the board this month after running unopposed for one of the open seats.
Their children are Mia, a student at the University of Virginia; Marc, Margaux and Mary at Oxbridge Academy, and Martina and Michael at Gulf Stream School. He also has two Dobermans that “I like to exercise when I can.”
— Brian Biggane
Q: Where did you grow up and go to school? How that has influenced you?
A: I was born in an inner-city community in Cleveland — one of six children after my parents immigrated from Slovenia. I went to Gilmour Academy, graduating at 16, and went to the University of Chicago, where I had a full scholarship, to earn a degree in biology. Subsequently, I went to the University of Cincinnati for medical school and then the Cleveland Clinic for my orthopedic residency training. There I won the International Traveling Fellowship and studied abroad in Graz, Austria; Sydney, Australia; Auckland, New Zealand, and London, Ontario, with additional studies at the Mayo Clinic.
During this time, I was a Cleveland Clinic Institute fellow and won numerous awards for my research on the development of medical and surgical adhesives. I performed a Cleveland Research Institute traveling fellowship and won the most awards for research on medical and surgical adhesives.
My parents are both educators and pushed us all in school. When I started college, I was 4-foot-9 and weighed 90 pounds. Being younger and much smaller than the other students created more of a drive to succeed. What I learned was about thought, discipline and concentration as well as the importance of education over social life in school. I learned education requires one must learn to teach oneself. One cannot depend on educators to spoon-feed you information or answers to problems.
Q: What professions have you worked in? What accomplishments are you most proud of?
A: In college I had a full scholarship, but to pay for additional expenses I worked in a biochemistry lab as a technician. After college, I worked as a medical technician at the Cleveland Clinic, working the graveyard shift in the hematology lab learning how to do blood tests as well as treating patients working on blood draws (a unique skill). Upon completion of my residency and fellowships, I became an orthopedic surgeon with a subspecialty in arthroscopy and arthroplasty. I also worked as a clinical professor at the University of Arkansas in orthopedics.
What I learned during my education was the importance of not just practicing medicine — doing what you were taught — but challenging the status quo/dogma. ... Rather than saying this is good enough, my question was why can we not improve and make things better.
Q: What advice do you have for a young person seeking a career?
A: Find a career that allows you to not just emulate others, but to improve the status quo. You will find not just financial success, but tremendous personal satisfaction. This drives individuals to work harder and improve not just their own career, but others around them.
Q: How did you choose to make your home in Manalapan?
A: My wife was born and raised in Florida. After a decade of living in small-town Effingham, Illinois, she asked to have a vacation home in Florida. She identified a home in Lighthouse Point. However, when I drove down, I saw a large home on a small lot in a crowded area with no parking and I felt claustrophobic.
Being from a small town, I enjoyed open space and the sense of community. I drove up A1A, saying if I was going to move to Florida I wanted to live on the ocean. As I drove north, I stumbled onto Manalapan and saw an old wooden house with a For Sale sign. I looked at the small, old, three-bedroom wooden home with an overgrown yard and at high tide the Intracoastal was actually leaking into the swimming pool and the home. However, I saw the beauty of the open space, ocean-to-Intracoastal lot, and the small-town feel and I immediately put an offer on the property, which was quickly accepted.
This was a vacation home until 2009, when we decided to tear down the home and create a full-time residence. We built the home to house our expanding family and moved in full time in 2014.
Q: What’s your favorite part of living in Manalapan?
A: I have lived for 35 years in a small rural town where I enjoy the open spaces and close community. I have the same feel in Manalapan from the open spaces to the administrators, police, fire department and neighbors when the town makes everyone feel like a close friend with personal relationships.
Q: What book are you reading now?
A: I am reading Dare Disturb the Universe: A Memoir of Venture Capital, written by Charles Newhall III. This is a fascinating book from the father of one of our Manalapan neighbors, Ashton Newhall. It is a very unique perspective on Mr. Newhall’s life and career, who is an excellent role model.
Q: What music do you listen to when you want to be inspired?
A: My father was a pianist and used to play Chopin, Liszt and Beethoven at night. As I was growing up, I picked up the guitar and taught myself contemporary music — rock ’n’ roll. I began playing in a band and then ultimately wrote and recorded two albums. When I want to relax, I pick up my guitar and work on my creative side on my own songs and melodies. I do, however, listen to almost any genre of music but prefer guitar-themed songs.
Q: Have you had mentors in your life or individuals who inspired your life decision?
A: I would argue my father and mother were probably my greatest mentors. My parents were immigrants from both Slovenia and Italy. They came here with $5 in their pocket and were able to build a successful life raising six children, and my father ultimately became U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. My parents showed me the value of hard work and family.
Art Steffee, MD, orthopedic surgeon in Cleveland, was also a major influence. During my first year of residency, I rotated to a small hospital and worked with Art, who was an orthopedic hand surgeon. He showed me if an individual is observant and willing to spend their own time, money and effort, they can truly make an impact in medicine.
Q: If your life story were made into a movie, who would play you?
A: I saw Dennis Quaid act as Ronald Reagan in a movie and enjoyed his demeanor and met him in person during the movie preview. Although he is much better looking than I am, I feel he would be a great person for the role.
Q: What/who makes you laugh?
A: My family and children make me laugh on a daily basis and I find humor in all aspects of life. I feel if you can encourage someone to laugh or even smile for even a second or two, then you have improved that person’s day.