Orthopedic surgeon and University of St. Thomas alumni, Nicholas Weiss ’92, sits for a portrait holding a knee replacement model

3D Knees, if You Please: Dr. Nick Weiss '92 Pushes Boundaries of Orthopedic Possibilities

Nick Weiss ’92 is someone who likes to fix things.

It’s no wonder he enjoys his work so much, then, because he gets to help fix the most important of things: people. Weiss is an orthopedic surgeon for Twin Cities Orthopedics, specializing in sports medicine and knee care, and on a daily basis gets to help make people’s lives more enjoyable through his care.

“Someone who comes in, they can’t walk, they’re in pain at night, whatever it is. If it’s the right option, after surgery and healing, I’m in a great position to positively influence their life, not just pain but their ability to have general exercise and stay healthy,” Weiss said. “I like the idea of being able to do that.”

Finding a new way

Weiss has been bringing that idea to life for more than two decades, since 2003 with St. Croix Orthopedics, which merged with TCO in 2015. In the past three years Weiss has also taken his exploration of how to best help people to another level, as he became one of the first surgeons in Minnesota to begin using custom knee replacements, originally with 3D printing.

“As we’re looking at the success rates of these procedures, I really started to explore the questions of, ‘What can we do to be better? How can we up the bar?’ I went on a search for how we do this, whether it’s pain control, physical therapy, anything. What can I do as a surgeon? One of the things I looked at was the prosthesis I was using,” he said.

A model of a knee replacement

A model of a knee replacement used by orthopedic surgeon and University of St. Thomas alumni, Nicholas Weiss ’92, in the Twin Cities Orthopedics office in Stillwater. (Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas)

Conventional knee replacements feature measuring different elements of the patients’ leg, and then using those measurements to inform what size of knee they will receive. Say, for instance, your femur is a certain width, tibia is a certain width: You get a certain size knee replacement, “even though there are subtle differences in the bones of each individual person,” Weiss said.

“The concept I work with is, rather than making the patient match the prosthesis, the prosthesis matches the unique patient,” he added.

The case of every patient is different, Weiss said, and custom versus conventional knee replacements are always put forward without pressure as valid options. Most people, in general, aren’t aware of the option.

“If we’re looking at outcomes, perhaps this knee or that type of knee, perhaps a custom knee will eventually show to have distinct advantages,” Weiss said. “There’s some literature that shows that, but it hasn’t been widespread. A lot of new technologies take some time to gain some steam and legs enough to get on everyone’s radar.”

"I feel that eventually, all knee replacements will be performed with parts that are custom made.” he added.

Roots as a Tommie

Originally from New Richmond, Wisconsin, Weiss had family members in St. Paul growing up and fell in love with the city and St. Thomas as he visited. As he studied biology and chemistry in earning his undergraduate degree, he already had an eye toward medicine and feels now “St. Thomas definitely gave me an edge in how I was prepared.”

Perhaps more than the skill development, though, was his formation as a person during his time here.

“I definitely think that as your mind is at that age, 18, 19, the person you are is being molded,” he said. “It’s such a critical time to be in the right environment, and St. Thomas with such well-rounded education, not just teaching the nuts and bolts, but asking the big questions and thinking about other people, that really set that education apart.”

Weiss did a year of research after graduating before attending medical school in Milwaukee. He then completed his orthopedic training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and completed a year-long sports medicine fellowship in Madison, Wisconsin, before returning to Minnesota for good.

Sports medicine has helped solidify a strong connection back to his alma mater: Fellow alumna Ed Kelly, St. Thomas’ lead team physician for athletics, brought Weiss into the treatment team that helps tend to Tommie athletes.

“Sports medicine has been in my blood. I enjoy event coverage, taking care of athletes. It’s a labor of love,” he said. “Being present, in that athletic environment, and helping athletes as needed is something I really enjoy. It has been a real privilege.”

Whether it’s knee patients, athletes he’s advising, or anyone he can offer his expertise to, Weiss continues to live out the direction he cultivated at St. Thomas: always asking questions, and using what he has learned to help people.

“I absolutely love what I do, and feel very fortunate that’s the case,” Weiss said. “And I am certainly proud to be a Tommie.”