Vail ‘wet lab’ project delayed |

Vail ‘wet lab’ project delayed

VAIL, Colorado – An international sports medicine company’s plan to train surgeons in Vail is on hold after condo owners said they don’t want them to use human body parts in their building.

Arthrex Inc. was slapped with a temporary restraining order, halting construction of a “wet lab” in the Vail Gateway Plaza building.

Surgeons use purified body parts to learn new surgical techniques. It’s that part about using body parts to train surgeons that upset the Vail Gateway Plaza Condominium Association enough to ask for, and get, a temporary restraining order from a District Court Judge. They’re renovating a former OB/GYN office into their surgical training center.

“The residents are upset. They don’t think that’s an appropriate use,” said Charles Lipcon, one of the Vail Gateway Plaza homeowners. “It’s a good goal, but it doesn’t belong in a high-end residential building.”

Vail gave Arthrex a building permit, and the company hired local firm J.L. Viele to renovate the space. Lipcon said the condo association didn’t know anything about it, Lipcon said.

A few condo owners noticed the work and when they found out what it was for, they took legal action, Lipcon said.

“It was a professional office. Their definition of a professional office is pretty clear cut, and this does not meet it,” Lipcon said.

Not so, says Eric Jonsen, a Colorado attorney hired by Arthrex to help sort things out.

In his response, Jonsen points out that OB/GYN and ear, nose and throat doctors occupied the space “who treated sick and healthy patients in a normal physician practice.”

“Arthrex intends to open a medical professional facility in the space that is consistent with its prior uses as a medical office, and use the space to train surgeons in the latest surgical techniques,” Jonsen said. “The Arthrex use of the space is completely safe, and of high professional quality and completely approved by the (town of Vail). Arthrex intends to vigorously defend the allegations by the condominium owners association.”

Surgeons are trained using body parts provided by a medical specialty company. They use joints only, not entire cadavers.

The frozen specimens are biologically and pathologically clean, and they’re kept frozen until the surgeon is ready for them, says a memo from the town of Vail, responding to the condo owners’ concerns.

“By all standards, this is an extremely clean process which uses no hazardous chemicals and omits no dangerous or offensive odors,” the town’s memo said.

When the surgeon is done, the specimen parts are refrozen, packaged in designated disposal bags to be picked up by Stericycle, and incinerated at their Dacono facility.

“The specimens used by Arthrex Inc. arrive in the office certified pathogen free and handled in accordance with bio-hazard handling and disposal requirements,” the town’s memo says.

The town argues that the Arthrex Inc. biological disposal process is better than that of a doctor’s office since a professional bio-hazardous waste disposal company handles it.

“Conversely, patients visiting a doctor’s office for diagnosis and treatment enter the Vail Gateway Building carrying pathogens and/or illnesses,” the town’s memo says.

Arthrex is a privately held orthopedic supply company with training facilities around the world where they help train surgeons for joint surgery.

According to Arthrex Inc., their offices have not had an odor complaint during their 27 years of business.

They’ve been doing this for years without incident at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, said Kelly Adair, who manages the institute’s bioskills lab in the Vail Valley Medical Center.

Arthrex was one of many companies that leases space from Steadman Philippon to train surgeons.

“We want to be open to all different companies using our facilities,” Adair said. “We are focused on giving every company an equal opportunity.”

Surgeon teach other surgeons about the product and techniques, and that training is done on joints harvested form cadavers.

“It’s basically a hand-on cadaver lab mimicking actual surgery. It’s important for surgeons to practice on cadavers. I wouldn’t want a surgeon doing a new surgical technique on me for the first time,” Adair said.

It would never be a full body, only joints – feet, shoulders, ankles, knees and hands – Adair said.

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute says there’s room for everyone in Vail.

“They’re not competition. It doesn’t really affect us,” Adair said. “Many different companies are active in our lab. It doesn’t change anything we do.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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