Fox Valley Orthopedics: 50 Years of Independent Orthopedic Care

There’s a good reason this practice continues to grow and thrive after five decades. It starts with the freedom to adapt with an evolving industry and patients’ ever-changing needs.

Dr. David Morawski (left) and Dr. Craig Torosian have watched Fox Valley Orthopedics expand numerous times since they joined in the 1990s.

For half a century, patients in the west and northwest suburbs have enjoyed a convenient one-stop shop for musculoskeletal care.

Fox Valley Orthopedics has been physician-owned and operated since its inception in 1974, and its independence, combined with its all-encompassing orthopedic care, has made it a shining example of what hometown medicine can look like in the 21st century.

“We’ve taken where we started, which was this very local, community organization founded in St. Charles with just two doctors, and we’ve grown that,” says Dr. Vishal Mehta, who joined the practice in 2006 as a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon and has spent the past eight years as its president and managing partner. “We’ve always had this mission to provide the best orthopedic care to our community.”

When Mehta says they’ve grown the practice, he’s not kidding. FVO now boasts more than 40 providers at 10 suburban sites, including its newest office in Yorkville, which opened last fall.

“It takes care of so many of the Yorkville High School athletes and coaches,” Mehta says of the new location. “We have kids from Iowa and central Illinois, and we’ve wanted to expand to get closer to them.

Dr. Vishal Mehta

“We’ve experienced a ton of growth,” he adds. “We have over 350 employees. We’ve increased the scope of what we do as well. But as we grow, we always want to provide the best possible care.”

That’s evidenced by things like a new MRI purchased for the Elgin office, and top-of-the-line physical therapists, which Mehta says is one of the biggest draws to FVO.

All of this has been possible because of FVO’s commitment to staying independent, which directly ties into its commitment to the community.

“Any type of business that survives for 50 years, I think there are a lot of common traits,” says Dr. Craig Torosian, a hand and wrist orthopedic surgeon who joined the practice in 1995. “For me, the most important is having respect for the people we take care of. We respect all of our patients, and it has that much more value when you live in the same community.”

Dr. David Morawski, joint orthopedic surgeon, vividly remembers when he first joined FVO in August 1993.

“I was excited because I believed that the existing partners were really forward thinking and had a vision of building a building where you can not only see patients and diagnose their problems through X-ray imaging, but you would also have therapy to send them to,” says Morawski. “You could actually do surgery there, and a few years later, we did MRIs, too. It was a one-stop shop for musculoskeletal care.”

When Morawski first started, he performed his total hip and knee replacement surgeries in a hospital. Patients typically stayed overnight – sometimes three to five days – and then were sent to rehab.

Today, 95% of Morawski’s cases are heading home the same day as their surgery – which is performed in FVO’s own outpatient surgery center.

“Those are testaments to the engineering of devices and methods to control pain and surgical techniques that have changed, and that has allowed us to improve our chances to stay independent, because now we can do the majority of things in our own surgery center,” he says.

Morawski went on to perform the first outpatient total joint surgery in an Illinois ambulatory surgery center owned by a single specialty group that is privately owned.

The upside of having everything in-house is that it allows for constant communication, Mehta says. That makes a world of difference to patients now, just as it did decades ago.

“If you had problems getting a patient moving, you could walk to physical therapy, see the patient, talk to the therapist, and the patients loved that,” says Dr. Merle Denker, one of the founders of FVO. “They got an office visit they weren’t charged for and it gave us more control over the patient’s care.”

In addition to being an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Vishal Mehta has spent the past eight years as president and managing partner of Fox Valley Orthopedics.

Today, with a robust health record system, Mehta can pull up a patient chart on his phone and advance someone to ACL surgery with the push of a button – because that treatment option is available within an FVO facility, via FVO providers.

“We can communicate with therapists in real time and make adjustments and inform them when the patient is in the office,” he says. “It’s really grown into an organization with lots of different modalities to treat our community and get them better.”

Over the years, FVO has added a pediatric orthopedic surgeon, podiatrist, rheumatologist, spine surgeons, hand surgeons and physiatrists.

“We pretty much own all the ancillaries and continue to look for ancillaries, like other subspecialists,” Morawski says. “Most recently, we added a family practice doctor who subspecializes in weight loss, which obviously is connected to the musculoskeletal system and contributes to a lot of diseases in the musculoskeletal field.”

Not only have those subspecialties expanded the scope of care FVO can offer, but the additional hires continue the trend of founding fathers Dr. Eugene Wittenstrom and Dr. Merle Denker.

“One of the things that Gene and I decided, one way we can keep up with things, was to periodically get new doctors into our practice,” says Denker, who retired in 2003. “New people know the new procedures improving on the old procedures. We wanted to keep up with the most up-to-date procedures for a particular injury or condition.”

Why all this talk about FVO being an independent practice?

“The original six or eight people, we were very close, and we were motivated to make this model of having an institute of orthopedics owned just by orthopedic surgeons that provided such a large service to the community,” Morawski says. “And a lot of people thought we would fail, but we’ve only gotten stronger, and we’ve only provided better care in the community over the years.”

Many big hospital systems are now run by people who no longer live in the communities those hospitals serve, Morawski says. Staying independent has allowed FVO to keep its hometown feel, despite its larger size. And that’s been incredibly important to FVO staff.

“At least early on, the first eight, nine surgeons all lived in the Tri-Cities, and we very often saw our patients on the streets at high school games, movie theaters,” says Morawski. “So, when we do have a Yorkville office, we like to fill that up with people who are from Yorkville or the southwest side of Naperville and Aurora and live in that community near that office.”

“Each of these hometowns has grown as well: Geneva has grown into a much larger place than it used to be; and Sugar Grove, Oswego and Yorkville, the whole area is growing,” Mehta agrees. “It wouldn’t make sense for us to not grow with the area. We have people living amongst all these communities and we can be a part of them. Our Barrington clinic has people at Barrington High School games taking care of the players. We are key members of these communities.”

The term “individual practice” has a powerful presence behind it that patients can sense, as well, Mehta says.

When Fox Valley Orthopedics started performing outpatient operations such as joint replacements on-site, it was one of the first privately owned groups in Illinois to do so. Now, the surgery center is a standard route for procedures like total joint replacements.

“When I walk through my office, if there’s a piece of paper on the floor, I clean it up,” he says. “We close up at 5, but if a patient shows up at 5:01, I take care of that patient. It’s a different sense of pride and ownership and truly caring because each individual is Fox Valley Orthopedics. We are the organization.”

The way any business survives is to adapt to its environment in a big way, says Torosian.

“We’re in the health care environment, and that has changed so many times in my career,” he says. “And happily, the business part of our operation has always been able to keep us one step ahead – and that’s a big part of it. You can be the best doctor, but if you don’t have good leadership and you can’t identify future trends and things coming downstream, you’re never going to survive.”

A lot of those trends are technological advancements, and FVO has prided itself on being on the cutting edge of those advancements from day one.

“Technology is a large part of what we do, just surgically,” Mehta says. “The latest implants, the latest imaging in the operating room … we purchased robotics for hip and knee replacement because we always want to make the investments to provide the latest surgical technology, no questions.”

Staying a step ahead is key, but celebrating 50 years has provided FVO staffers time to sit back and reflect on where it was and what it has become, Mehta says.

“I think it really comes back to that constant,” Mehta says. “The reality is everything around us will change. The population will grow, technology will change, but the constant is taking care of our community. That commitment will be there 50 years from now. We will continue to change as times change and be on the forefront of orthopedic care. We are really looking forward to what the future brings.”

Looking Back in Time
A Growth Machine from the Beginning

Fox Valley Orthopedics began as Wittenstrom Orthopedics, founded by Dr. Eugene (Gene) Wittenstrom in 1973 in a small, private, home-turned-office right next to the old Delnor Hospital on Illinois Route 25 in east St. Charles.

Just a year later, he joined forces with Dr. Merle Denker, and Fox Valley Orthopedics was licensed by the state.

Mary O’Brien became the practice’s first office manager and helped FVO computerize its records, Denker says, because before that, a transcriptionist sat in to take notes for the physicians.
When Dr. David Morawski joined in 1993, FVO was a team of just five orthopedic surgeons. In October 1994, that group opened its first building in Geneva and called it the Fox Valley Orthopedic Institute.

“It actually had a swimming pool when you first walked in, which looked really nice,” Morawski says. “That’s how forward-thinking we were at that time – we knew aqua therapy was going to be a big thing.”

By Denker’s retirement in 2003, the practice had grown to 12 doctors and 150 employees.
In 2006, the team realized they were outgrowing their space, so they bought the old UPS building across the street – which was being used to park Geneva Community Unit School District 304 school buses at the time – and converted it into the practice’s North Geneva office.

“We made a fairly large footprint of a campus for Fox Valley Orthopedics,” Morawski says. “And at that building, we put in a closed MRI, which is just as powerful as the ones that they have at the hospitals. Initially, we had just an open MRI in the south building. Now, we have another closed MRI in Elgin for our Elgin physicians and patients.”

OrthoFirst – the practice’s immediate care orthopedic walk-in clinic – opened in 2012 in Geneva. Today, FVO urgent care clinics are available in Barrington, Elgin, Geneva and Yorkville.
In 2020, FVO merged with Midwest Bone and Joint Institute, adding five established surgeons from the community to its staff.

Last year, on top of adding the comprehensive Yorkville facility, FVO also opened new physical therapy-only locations in Huntley and Aurora, bringing the total number of FVO PT locations to 10.

“I never even thought about reaching 50 years,” says Denker. “We were so busy and we kept expanding and doing things that, quite frankly, I didn’t have a goal of, ‘OK we’re going to make it 50 years.’ But it’s wonderful that we’ve done it. I’m proud of Fox Valley Orthopedics and Fox Valley Orthopedic Institute.”