J. Richard Steadman, orthopedic innovator for top athletes, dies at 85

Phil Mahre, an American top skier was just two-thirds done with his giant slalom race at the World Cup event in March 1979. When he crashed into a gate, Mahre was a formidable skier. He somersaulted over the snow at New York’s Whiteface Mountain, near a spot where his coach was watching.

“Before he even stopped sliding, he was saying, ‘It’s broken,’” said coach Hank Tauber. Within minutes, Tauber was on the phone with the ski team’s chief physician, orthopedist Dr. J. Richard Steadman.

The next day, Mahre was flown to Dr. Steadman’s medical facility in California to repair three breaks above his left ankle and start intensive rehabilitation with the 1980 Winter Olympics less than a year away. “We thought in terms of making him able to return to skiing,” said Dr. Steadman at the time.

Mahre was awarded a silver medal at the Lake Placid Games in slalom. For Dr. Steadman, who died Jan. 20 at 85 at his home in Vail, Colo., Mahre’s rebound further burnished his reputation as a medical virtuoso.

Dr. Steadman’s techniques in surgery and recovery helped extend the careers of scores of top athletes since the 1970s as the chief medical overseer for the U.S. Alpine Ski Team and the go-to doctor for the elite in many other sports.

The Steadman Clinic in Vail — founded by Dr. Steadman in 1990 after moving from South Lake Tahoe, Calif. — became a top destination for injured athletes still at the top of their game and hoping to squeeze out some more years of performance. You will find skiers like Picabo Street and Luxembourg’s Marc Girardelli; tennis stars Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles; NBA standouts such as Amar’e Stoudemire and Jason Kidd; and football greats including Hall of Fame defensive player Bruce Smith.

“Really all the greatness at the end of my career, I owe to him because he was the one who kept me together,” said Olympic skier Cindy NelsonHe was one of the first skiers on the U.S. National Team to be treated by Dr. Steadman during the 1970s. Nelson won a bronze in downhill at Innsbruck’s 1976 Winter Olympics. She fractured her ankle in the next year. She continued to participate in the 1984 and 1980 Olympics.

Among Dr. Steadman’s advances in the 1980s was a knee surgery known as microfracture that sought to harness the body’s regenerative powers and avoid more invasive procedures to repair worn or damaged cartilage. The procedure involves removing any calcified cartilage. The bone is then drilled with tiny holes.

This allows stem cells to be released from the marrow and stimulates, in many cases the growth of new cartilage. Many medical studiesAlthough all experts agree that the treatment works, some papers indicate that the regenerated articular may not be as strong as the original.

According to the Steadman Clinic in New York, the procedure is used on more than 500,000 people each year. It has also been expanded to include other areas like the hip, ankles, shoulders and ankles.

“[The] goal,” said Dr. Steadman in 2000, “is to recreate the structures of the knee.”

Dr. Steadman’s stamp also is seen in the fast timetable from surgery to rehabilitation steps, particularly for athletes seeking an accelerated return to competition. In the early 1970s when Dr. Steadman first began working with the U.S. Ski Team used to follow a similar protocol: weeks in a cast following knee surgery.

“That kind of rehabilitation allowed the muscle and joint to deteriorate and left the patient with no chance of a full recovery,” he told the Denver Post.

Dr. Steadman encouraged knee flexibility and other exercises as soon as possible after surgery and gradually increased resistance to the knee. He even suggested that skiers include water skiing in their rehabilitation programs.

“The thing that separates success from failure is the way rehabilitation is done. It was difficult. It wasn’t just convincing the patients, but the doctors as well,” Dr. Steadman said of his early years advocating early physical therapy. “Very few people agreed with that technology.”

John Richard Steadman, was born in Sherman (Texas) on June 4, 1937. He graduated in 1959 from Texas A&M University, where he played football for coach Paul “Bear” BryantDuring his sophomore and freshman years.

Dr. Steadman graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (Dallas) in 1963 and served in the Army in West Germany.

In 1970, he joined an orthopedics clinic in South Lake Tahoe and was a member of the U.S. medical pool. Ski Team, often traveling for events all around the globe. In 1976, he was named the team’s chief physician. (He was present with the team up to the 2006 Winter Games at Turin.

Dr. Steadman established a sport medicine in 1988. research groupThe Steadman Philippon Research Institute (now known as the Steadman Philippon Research Institute) is home to one of the largest databases of patient outcomes, treatment details, and cases.

Dr. Steadman is also known for creating many surgical instruments that were necessary for his new procedures. He was also involved in research on topical anesthetics as well as collagen meniscus knee. implants. Dr. Steadman was a consultant to the Denver Broncos in the NFL and baseball’s Colorado Rockies.

Dr. Steadman did not often boast about his close relationships with elite athletes. He could write essays for Newsweek that portrayed him as equally concerned with weekend warriors’ muscle pulls and sidewalk tumbles.

He married Gay Lyon Weber in 1961. He was survived by his wife, Gay Lyon Weber. The Steadman Clinic reported the death but did not provide any details.

Dr. Steadman stated that despite all his success in the operating rooms, one of his most rewarding moments was when he chose not to pick up a scalpel. In 2001, skier Bode Miller At a downhill race held in Austria, Miller ruptured his left knee ligaments. An operation would have jeopardized Miller’s chances of competing in the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.

Dr. Steadman noted the ACL — one of the critical structures to stabilize the knee — was not completely ruptured. Dr. Steadman decided to perform a minimal surgical procedure to remove the damaged cartilage and allow the ACL to heal naturally.

Miller won two silver medals at Salt Lake City’s giant slalom or Alpine combined.

“This was the best surgery I’ve never done,” Dr. Steadman said.

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