HSS Distinguished Alumnus Award

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Harlan C. Amstutz, MD

Recipient of the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York.

Harlan C. Amstutz (1961 resident) attributes his initial interest in science to his high school chemistry teacher. He proceeded to major in chemistry and play basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the end of his junior year, a Phi Beta Kappa, he was selected to enter UCLA’s medical school. Amstutz completed his general surgery residency and after a rotating internship at Los Angeles County General Hospital, he decided that orthopaedics was to be his path.

Amstutz and his wife, Patti, determined that HSS and New York City would be the preferred destination for his orthopaedic residency, and they moved east in July of 1958. Residents and fellows in his rotation included Thomas Rizzo, MD, and Allan Inglis, MD. He recalls spending many treasured weekend respites at the Caspary estate and Kim Barrett running the medical library.

Under the Berry Plan, he deferred and entered the service after the completion of his HSS residency. Hewas commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Minot, North Dakota, as Chief of Orthopaedics. Following his service duty he did a fellowship in London, England, at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and was also a research assistant at the Royal Institute of Orthopaedics. He became increasingly interested in anatomy and children’s deformities, hip joints and joint replacements.

Joined the Staff at HSS

Amstutz was invited to join the staff at HSS in 1964 as Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Outpatient Department and established the Leg Equalization Clinic. He became Chief of Prosthetics and Orthotics and implanted the first hip replacement with Dr. Philip D. Wilson, Jr., in 1967 and in 1968 performed possibly the first Charnley technique in the United States. Amstutz continued his extensive research as an associate scientist, opening up a lab in the new Caspary Research Building and performing numerous materials and full implant studies. He became director of the new Biomechanics and Biomaterials Laboratory and was later promoted to Director of Bioengineering. Amstutz collaborated with Paul Bruns at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and Reno Castelli at Columbia and developed the first hip simulator in the United States. He invited Peter Walker, PhD, to join the staff as an engineer and together designed the first U.S. total hip (the Trapezoidal-28) and began development of the duo-condylar total knee.

Return to California

In 1970, Amstutz made the difficult decision to leave Special Surgery and returned to UCLA as Professor and Chief, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery. He set up a bioengineering lab and specialized in joint replacement (mostly hip) and leg lengthening. Devoting much of his energy to developing and evolving hip resurfacing techniques, he holds over 13 patents. He retired from UCLA in 1991 and founded the Joint Replacement Institute (JRI), now at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Edwin Su, MD, (2002 resident, 2003 fellow), studied with Amstutz at JRIin 2001 and 2003 to learn the technique of hip resurfacing. Dr. Su admires Dr. Amstutz for his “pioneering work in the field of hip resurfacing and his dedication and enthusiasm in championing this procedure for the treatment of hip arthritis in young, active patients.”

A True Leader

Over the years, Amstutz has held numerous positions of leadership in specialty societies. Notably, he served as president for six organizations— The North American Hip Society, Orthopaedic Research Society, International Hip Society, American Orthopaedic Association, the Association of Orthopaedic Chairmen and the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons. He is the author or co-author of nearly 500 scientific publications and abstracts and was editor of the reference book Hip Arthroplasty. He has served on the editorial boards for several journals and is currently an editorial reviewer for the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (American and British editions), Journal of Arthroplasty, Journal of Orthopaedic Research and the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research. Amstutz has received seven national awards for excellence in basic research in hip and knee biomechanics, biomaterials and innovation in joint replacements. He was honored in 1980 by the UCLA Alumni Association with the Professional Achievement Award, and subsequently by its medical school with the Asclepian Award. He has been elected to the Royal College of Surgeons as an Honorary Fellow, and is an Honorary Member of the German Orthopaedic Association.

Amstutz was an avid tennis player until recently and currently cycles approximately 35 miles per week. He notes that one of his favorite aspects of living in California is the ability to both surf in the ocean and ski in the mountains, within the same weekend. Amstutz also grows orchids and is a trustee of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

Amstutz and his wife, Patti, are celebrating their 53rd year of marriage and share a love of worldwide travel and opera. Amstutz notes that Patti is a major part of his life’s story and is thankful for her unwavering understanding of his voluminous workload. They have two daughters, Julie and Katie, one son, Mark, and seven grandchildren. Future projects for Dr. Amstutz include completion of a second textbook on hip resurfacing, due out in the spring. He feels fortunate to have had tremendous opportunities throughout his career and looks forward to the alumni meeting in November.

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