Cloward Award Recipient

2017: Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD
Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD
Volker K.H. Sonntag, MD 
Dr. Sonntag was born in Germany in 1944 but immigrated to the USA as a youngster and became a US citizen in 1965 while he was getting his B.S. degree from Arizona State University which he completed in 1967. He moved cross state to rival University of Arizona for medical school and internship. Taking an even bigger step, he went cross country to Tufts in Boston to train under Ben Stein in neurosurgery which he completed in 1977. Too much an Arizonan, he returned home to Phoenix and did private practice until snapped up by the Barrow Neurological Institute in 1983 where he practiced and did research predominantly on spinal surgery until 2009 when he retired.

His years at the BNI fit him well as he eschewed administrative activities and paperwork and was allowed to do what he loved, namely spine surgery and clinical research and carved out a national reputation for spinal surgical excellence especially in the cervical spine. He ended up authoring over 450 papers and 100 book chapters and editing 5 textbooks. At a time when orthpods with one year of spinal surgical training were holding themselves out as God’s gift to the spine, through his complex spine techniques, novel instrumentation and writings and conducting educational courses at the AANS, CNS and Joint Spine Section, Dr. Sonntag led the charge to train neurosurgeons as premier spine surgeons capable of complex surgery of the entire spine. He has been a force for creating neurosurgical subspecialization via his roles in the Society of Neurological Surgeons and on the Committee on Advanced Surgical Techniques. >

Since joining the Barrow Neurological Institute (BNI) in 1983, he has served as Vice Chairman of the Division of Neurological Surgery and Chairman of the Spine Section from 1984 to 2010, Director of the Spine Fellowship Program from 1988 to 2010, and as Director of the Residency Program from 1995 to 2010. In 2000, he assumed the endowed Alumni Spine Chair at the BNI.

For the past 30 years, Dr. Sonntag has been a leader in neurosurgery as a director on the American Board of Neurological Surgery 1998-2004, member of the ACGME Residency Review Committee (RRC) 2005-2011, Vice President of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons in 2001, and as a member of the AANS Professional Conduct Committee 2008-2011. He was president of the North American Spine Society in 2000 and American Academy of Neurological Surgery in 2004. In 2002, Dr. Sonntag was named the Honored Guest of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Retirement is a relative term when applied to Dr. Sonntag. To this day he still serves on several editorial boards, teaches and lectures, gives courses and has been a visiting Professor at 73 institutions with more scheduled. His wife Lynne has stuck with him for 43 years and bore him three children: Alissa (now 38 and living in Dana Point, CA with her husband Tyler and Volker’s two grandchildren), Chris (35) and Stephen (26). Little surprise that the Sonntags have a home in coastal Dana Point to enjoy grandchildren and a clime a bit cooler than Phoenix in summer.

Volker has written a book entitled “Backbone” which is sub-titled “The life and game-changing career of a spinal neurosurgeon” and is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble. No shock then that the title of his Cloward presentation at our meeting in Banff was “The Journey of Spinal Neurosurgery in the US”.