orthopedic surgery

New orthopedics chief combines innovation, common touch

John deVries, M.D., has committed his career to treating bone cancer patients. He seeks out and utilizes the most advanced techniques to restore or retain mobility and address pain while saving lives

The path to medicine for John deVries, M.D., was far from traditional. Up through a stint in graduate school, the Detroit native worked in a variety of jobs, including construction and truck driving. 

John deVries, M.D.

DeVries continues to work with his hands today as chief of City of Hope’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. He also sees another way that the earlier entries on his resume prepared him for a career in oncology.

“It all comes down to relating with people from any walk of life,” said deVries, who joined City of Hope’s Department of Surgery as an assistant clinical professor in March 2024. “I’ll probably never take care of another orthopedic oncologist, or another surgeon, in my clinic. The experience of ‘I may not make rent this month’ was formative for me.”

His approach combines that common touch with a deep interest in state-of-the-art orthopedic techniques. As he plots the course of City of Hope’s burgeoning clinic for bone, joint and soft tissue tumors, he’s building in access to the latest innovations for curing patients, restoring their mobility and helping them get the most out of their lives.  

Helping Patients Restore Quality of Life

“What I like about orthopedics in general is getting people’s quality of life and function back,” deVries said. “The decisions before, during and after surgery directly impact that. If you weren’t able to walk, and after the cancer comes out, now you’re able to walk, to bend your knee, to go back to your job — that’s just game-changing.”

City of Hope® colleagues are excited about what he brings to the organization as a leader and clinician.

“Dr. deVries is a great fit for us, from the standpoint of both training and personality,” said Yuman Fong, M.D ., chair and professor of surgery and holder of City of Hope’s Sangiacomo Family Chair in Surgical Oncology. “With his vision for where the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery should go, the future here is very, very bright.” 

A Dedicated Surgeon With Heart 

DeVries’ background is characterized not only by hard work but also a steeping in science and music. He broke away from a family tradition in mechanical engineering — the career field of his mother and grandfather — to take up first the biological sciences, then medicine. 

His father, a physicist, played bluegrass banjo, and deVries himself started with the violin and later was the guitarist in blues-rock bands. Music is still a big part of his life, from playing it and writing it to collecting records and singing karaoke.

As his vocation in surgery was being shaped, there was a memorable moment while attending medical school at Wayne State University when his focus in orthopedics clicked. Shadowing a specialist, he received an invitation to assist with foot surgery: “Do you know how to work a screw gun?” 

“Being part of that surgery was the coolest thing,” deVries said. “I just thought, I have to get back here.”

Following his residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin, he would focus on cancer care during fellowship training at the University of Chicago. He relishes the challenge and thrives on the technical details of procedures. But more than that, he values the difference he can make in the lives of patients, many of them children and young adults, who face relatively rare cancers.

“Curing osteosarcoma in a child can add, on average, about 60 to 70 years to somebody’s life,” he said. “A lot of times, childhood cancer survivors live a full life after that. Those cases are motivating and exciting to be a part of.”

The focus on patients guided him to his previous appointment before City of Hope, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In a city lacking a major cancer center nearby, he was driven to launch an academic program in orthopedic oncology — the first ever in the state of Nevada — out of concern for sarcoma patients who too often had to travel by plane to receive care.

“Not everybody has the means to go out of state,” deVries said. “A lot of folks who were underinsured or uninsured were not getting cancer care. One of the big reasons I took the job at UNLV was that chance, with the institution’s support, to maintain that care for people in Nevada.”

He pinpoints the shared commitment to serving patients as the major factor that brought him to City of Hope.

“Everybody’s behind one unified mission,” he said. “From the minute you arrive, starting with valet and continuing all the way through, people ask right away, ‘How can we help you?’”

Innovations in Orthopedic Oncology

One facet of deVries’ patient focus is bringing them leading-edge treatment. He aims to expand clinical trials while nurturing a homegrown research program that develops better surgical technologies — an area where he already has some experience. 

From the start, he’s providing advanced options that benefit quality of life after treatment. For instance, some whose disease has spread to the bones may be candidates for minimally invasive radiofrequency ablation, a gentler procedure that kills cancer using a current generated with radio waves. Using a minimally invasive approach, surgeons then stabilize the bone, which may have been weakened by the cancer, using 3D-guided screws and/or surgical cement, a leading-edge technique not offered at many cancer treatment centers.

“We basically heat it up to 95 degrees Celsius, and it cooks the tumor,” deVries said. “We see really functional results, and there’s good, long-term data. It used to take three weeks in the hospital, but now it’s outpatient.”

'What I like about orthopedics in general is getting people’s quality of life and function back.'
John deVries, M.D.

Another innovation against bone cancer enables replacing parts of the pelvic bone with titanium implants. A computed tomography scan is used as the basis for a custom, 3D-printed implant that perfectly matches the patient’s anatomy. The result is more mobility and less pain.

For young patients, the removal of bone in a limb that’s been invaded by cancer must be balanced with consideration for their growth as survivors. Some may benefit from an implant with a coil inside that can then be stretched, millimeters at a time, using a device with a strong magnet, to keep up with the lengthening of the other limb.

Ultimately, the treatment plans deVries creates alongside his patients and their families are always tailored based on specific, individual factors, in keeping with City of Hope’s ethos of compassionate, personalized care. It’s at the heart of how he approaches orthopedic oncology: In addition to addressing the characteristics of the tumor, he prioritizes the needs of the patient.

“It all depends on what their goals are,” deVries said. “That’s what I like about my job — getting to know the patients and delivering what they need. The conversations before surgery are vital because each person is different.”