Obituary: Patrick Gowans Laing / Pioneer orthopedic surgeon of international renown for implant work

Nov. 8, 1923 - March 28, 2012

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A Sunday memorial service is scheduled for a Pittsburgh orthopedic surgeon internationally renowned for his pioneering work in surgical implants.

Patrick Gowans Laing, 88, of Fox Chapel died March 28 after an extended battle with bladder cancer. A memorial service for Dr. Laing is scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. in Faith United Methodist Church, 261 W. Chapel Ridge Road, Fox Chapel.

Dr. Laing had a long list of accomplishments. One career highlight involved his work in developing artificial implants, including hip replacements on bone and the surrounding tissue. He also is highly regarded for advocating standards for surgical implant procedures.

"He was an inspiring guy," said Peter Z. Cohen, clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and chief of orthopedic surgery at VA Pittsburgh Healthcare Systems. "He was a leader in the field of studying blood supply to bones and joints. Additionally, he did a lot of work in the use of metals in orthopedics. He was a national and world figure in the study of metallurgical implants."

Some of the early implants he developed bore his name, Dr. Cohen said, including the "Laing Plate" and the "Laing Cup" -- the artificial socket used in early hip replacements. "He developed, designed and tested the precursors that are now used in everyday surgery, including implanting screws, nails, plates and total joints. He did a lot of the original work in the field."

Dr. Laing also did pioneering research to explain the deterioration of the ball of the hip and shoulder due to loss of blood supply.

"No one understood it until he blazed the trail," said Dr. Cohen, who did his residency at the University of Pittsburgh with Dr. Laing as his teacher. "I revered him. He was the nicest guy and very kind and special."

Memories of the London native include his distinguished English accent.

"That was part of his mystique and persona," Dr. Cohen said. "His accent was wonderful, and we loved it. Every actor from Great Britain makes me think of him."

Dr. Laing attended Romsey School in Hampshire, England, then began studies at age 16 that led to a medical degree. He attained his first degree from London University and a second degree from King's College London. He was admitted to the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons at age 25, the youngest age at which admission is permitted.

His first surgical experiences occurred during World War II, when he operated on civilians wounded in the bombing of London and on British troops injured in the North Africa campaign. After the war, he moved to Canada before settling in Pittsburgh, where he worked at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and did clinical work at numerous Pittsburgh health-care institutions.

Dr. Laing was hired by Albert B. Ferguson Jr., then chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and described as one of the founding fathers of sports medicine. "Dr. Ferguson was world famous, so it means a lot for him to have chosen Pat Laing, and it says a lot about Pat Laing that he was hired by Ferguson," Dr. Cohen said.

Dr. Laing also taught as an emeritus clinical professor of orthopedics at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School and as an adjunct professor of bioengineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He also led efforts to develop science-based standards, distinct from commercial interests, for bio-materials used in surgery and implant design. Such standards now are used internationally for procedures.

Dr. Laing received various awards, including the William T. Cavanaugh Memorial Award in 2001 for his work in developing medical standards.

He is survived by his first wife, Stephanie Townley; his wife since 1957, Patricia Laing; four daughters, Janet Cavanagh, Catherine Vawda, Deirdre McNearney and Elizabeth Klevens; two sons, James and Walter; a sister, Kate Cornish; 11 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

The family requests donations to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, 800 Waterfront Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or the Alzheimer's Association, P.O. Box 96011, Washington, D.C. 20090-601.


David Templeton: or 412-263-1578. First Published May 4, 2012 12:00 AM


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