Downs told a congressional subcommittee last month that he had bilateral knee replacement two years ago. Unable to walk more than a few blocks without excruciating pain before his surgery, Downs said he was back on the job with crutches at ABC-TV 13 days after surgery; today he is able to walk and run without pain.
Accompanied by Michael Ehrlich, MD, chairman of the Academy committee on research, the 76-year-old Downs told the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee on Appropriations that he injured his knees in a series of accidents over the years. He thought that the injuries "seemed to heal," following an auto accident, a bad landing in a light plane and a fall off a horse. Downs learned otherwise when, he said, "I ran down 34 flights of stairs in a footrace with my grandson, who was then 10 years old. Before I got to the bottom, I knew I had done something very bad to my right knee. In the ensuing weeks, favoring that knee threw enough strain on the left one to do harm to it."
Down said he knew of the technology and the current skills of orthopaedic surgeons. "I expected a lot from this operation," he said. "I got more than I expected. After 10 months, I found I could run upstairs againósomething I hadn't done for 12 years." His orthopaedic surgeon, Murali Jasty, MD, invited Downs to tell his story to the subcommittee.
Downs is no stranger to orthopaedic surgery. He also had successful surgery on his lower spine (fusion of L4-5 in 1965), and the cervical spine (C5-6 bone spur removal in 1968).
In supporting research conducted at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), Downs said "your past investments are paying off and a continued investment in biomedical research will offer the potential for individuals to resume a productive, functional and pain-free lifestyle that is so important to us all - of which I am a prime example."
Dr. Ehrlich participated in the presentation by answering scientific questions from the subcommittee. He also submitted a prepared statement for the record of the session, explaining the widespread impact of acute and chronic musculoskeletal conditions on the American public and the need for continued investment in musculoskeletal research. The Academy urged the House subcommittee to provide $316 million in fiscal year 1999 for NIAMS and supports the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research Funding which calls for a 15 percent increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health's fiscal 1999 budget.
Hugh Downs, right, accmpanied by Michael Ehrlich, MD, tell House subcommittee the importance of orthopaedic research.