Sports leadership awards: Doctor is a leader in care of athletes' knees

Freddie H. Fu honored for pioneering ACL research

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Anterior cruciate ligament surgery has come a long way in a short time, thanks in large part to the work of Freddie H. Fu, who has been at the forefront of the field for nearly three decades.

Dr. Fu has played a major role in revolutionizing how the knee surgery is done, how doctors approach the surgery and how the healing proceeds.

"Back in the 1990s, when we started really doing a lot of these [ACL] surgeries, it was almost like McDonald's, where every one of them was done the same way," said Dr. Fu, chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and David Silver Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "But as I began to do more research, and really it is a team of doctors [at UPMC] over the years, it became clear that every person's knee is unique, therefore every injury is unique and every surgery should be unique.

"So that has been the biggest difference in the surgery now compared to in the 1990s and, as we continue to do more research, we find there are so many different details to each one -- from where the ligament is attached, the angle it is attached -- that it is something we need to continue to research."

Dr. Fu, who also serves as team physician and surgeon for all of Pitt's athletic teams has had a huge role in developing the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine from a pipe dream in the early 1980s into one of the world's most advanced sports medicine clinics.

His leadership and guidance in this area and his research as a pioneer in ACL surgery have earned him the 2012 Dapper Dan Sports Leadership Award.

The award will be presented to Dr. Fu, who has received countless citations and honors from all over the globe, at the charity's banquet March 12 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Dr. Fu said he appreciates the honors and awards he has received, but that is not what motivates him. Helping people get better does.

"The thing about being a doctor is you have the ability to help people heal," Dr. Fu said. "And that's what makes it special and that's also what I've committed myself to a long time ago."

"Over these years, I've had the ability to work alongside -- and train -- some of the best doctors in the world, and this UPMC Sports Medicine Complex is sort of the fruit of the labor of a lot of people who I have had the privilege to oversee."

Dr. Fu's latest source of pride is the new concussion center at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine South Side facility.

He said the center treated more than 10,000 concussion patients last year and now that the concussion center is open, that number is likely to increase significantly.

'We have people from all around the world with concussions come here," said Dr. Fu, who oversees a department of about 50 surgeons, more than 60 training surgeons and 30 scientists and who has trained more than 500 doctors in his career. "And we have many doctors who come here from all over to study as well."

Dr. Fu was born in Hong Kong in 1950 and attended St. Paul's College there, which is the same secondary school that architect I.M. Pei and journalist Ching Cheong attended.

"I was a basketball player and a swimmer and my mother was very athletic as well," Dr. Fu said, "so that is where my interest in sports and sports medicine came from. I've always tried to help people, particularly athletes, feel better and get back on the field or the court."

He enrolled at Dartmouth in 1970 and received his bachelor's degree in 1974 and his master's degree in 1975. He then moved to Pittsburgh to enroll at the University of Pittsburgh medical school and received his medical degree in 1977. He completed his orthopaedic residency and in 1982 joined the Pitt faculty as an assistant professor.

In 1985, he helped found the UPMC Sports Medicine Clinic, which at that time was known as the Sports and Preventive Medicine Institute and was in Oakland.

The clinic was moved to the South Side facility in 2000 and has training facilities for the Steelers and Pitt teams and also contains a fitness center, training center and the new concussion center.

Dr. Fu said he used to focus on both knees and shoulders in his work but has narrowed his focus to just the ACL because he believes the more he's focused on one injury, the better his research efforts will be.

Beyond his research and clinical work, Dr. Fu has served as editor of 26 major orthopaedic textbooks and has authored 79 book chapters on the management of sports injuries.

In April, he will be the keynote speaker for the European Society of Sports Traumatology Conference and he will speak about knee surgery and arthroscopy.



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