In his decade-plus career as a boundarybreaking pediatric neurosurgeon, the success of Paul Klimo, Jr., MD, MPH, originates from two qualities: curiosity and the hunt for a challenge.
His exposure to the medical profession began early in his childhood when his father, a medical oncologist, took him on weekends to the hospital to make rounds. To satisfy his growing curiosity about all things medicine, Klimo would spend time looking through his father’s old surgical textbooks. But it was during medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) where he developed his passion for neurosurgery.
For me, the most rewarding part of being a neurosurgeon at Le Bonheur has and will always be the honor of taking care of children and their families through difficult times. I want to be the person and the place that physicians and families turn to when they are told by others that ‘Nothing more can be done.’ or ‘We don’t have the experience.
“My initial curiosity in neurosurgery was a result of two events. The first was exposure to the beauty of neuroanatomy,” said Klimo. “The second was unrelated to the first. Nearly everyone who I talked to about neurosurgery as a career told me to steer clear — too long, too hard, terrible lifestyle, patients never get better, etc.”
Their words, ironically, were an instant challenge to Klimo. To further satisfy his interest, he shadowed Glenn Meyer, MD, a neurosurgeon at MCW, and was instantly hooked. He loved the complexity and intricacy of the operations, the often high-pressure and high-risk scenarios that it offered and most importantly, the ability to make lives of patients better.
Klimo completed his neurosurgery residency at the University of Utah in 2005, followed by a fellowship in pediatric neurosurgery at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard University.
“It’s a little funny…when I first rotated on the pediatrics service as a junior resident, I wasn’t too interested. But when I did my senior rotation, something just clicked. I loved taking care of kids and interacting with families,” said Klimo on why he chose pediatrics. “For some kids, I’ll get to be their doctor for years and sometimes even into adulthood, which is truly a special privilege.”
The breadth of diversity in pediatrics is unmatched compared to other areas of neurosurgery, says Klimo. He enjoys all aspects of pediatric neurosurgery, but has special interests in brain and spinal cord tumors, vascular disorders, craniosynostosis, hydrocephalus/ neuroendoscopy and neurotrauma. He joined the faculty at Semmes Murphey/The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) Department of Neurosurgery in 2010.
But before coming to Memphis, Klimo’s ambition led him toward a new challenge after he finished all his medical and neurosurgical training — as a neurosurgeon with the United States Air Force (USAF). Although he grew up in Vancouver, Canada, he was born in Madison, Wis., and always had a desire to return to the U.S. and serve his country. Klimo joined the USAF just prior to medical school and, after completion of all his medical training, served on active duty for four years stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. As part of his active duty, he completed a six-month tour in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During his time in the military he received numerous awards and medals, receiving an honorable discharge in June 2010 at a rank of lieutenant colonel (select).
Now, after more than a decade of service at Le Bonheur, Klimo was recently named co-director for Le Bonheur Children’s Neuroscience Institute. In this role, he will serve alongside Pediatric Neurologist James Wheless, MD, providing vision and leadership for the Neuroscience Institute, specifically in the area of pediatric neurosurgery. Klimo is also chief of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery, a professor at UTHSC and a chief of the pediatric neurosurgery division at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
He plans to continue expanding and strengthening the already robust programs in Le Bonheur’s pediatric neurosurgery division.
“My vision for pediatric neurosurgery is to provide the best and most comprehensive care for children with neurosurgical diseases — offering cutting-edge technology, recruiting top-notch neurosurgeons and providing the most up-to-date and highest quality care,” said Klimo.
Le Bonheur’s pediatric brain tumor program, conducted in partnership with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, will continue to be a major focus for Klimo. With close to 200 brain tumor surgeries yearly, it is already one of the highest volume programs in the country, but Klimo hopes to grow that number as much as possible. He wants to continue building upon existing well-established programs, such as epilepsy, and offer new multi-disciplinary services and technology such as spasticity/cerebral palsy, brain stimulation for dystonia and epilepsy and focused ultrasound techniques.
“In the last decade, the trend is to be less invasive in surgery as long as you can do things as well or better, and I think that quest will continue,” said Klimo on the future of pediatric neurosurgery. “For neuro-oncology, we will continue unlocking the molecular mysteries of various tumors that will better shape our surgical approach and treatment.”
In addition to his new role in the Neuroscience Institute, Klimo will continue to conduct his award-winning research, train residents and fellows and mentor students. Klimo has approximately 200 peer-reviewed publications, including two consecutive Paper of the Year Awards from the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.
“For me, the most rewarding part of being a neurosurgeon at Le Bonheur has and will always be the honor of taking care of children and their families through difficult times,” said Klimo. “I want to be the person and the place that physicians and families turn to when they are told by others that ‘Nothing more can be done.’ or ‘We don’t have the experience.’ I cannot be more excited for the opportunity to lead pediatric neurosurgery forward here in Memphis, nationally and globally.”
Le Bonheur Children's Hospital depends on the generosity of friends like you to help us serve 250,000 children each year, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. Every gift helps us improve the lives of children.Donate Now