August 2000 Bulletin

Dr. Burgess cited by Senate

Sen. Kerrey honors 50 years of service to nation, world

By Sandra Lee Breisch

His passion for orthopaedics and humanity inspired Ernest M. Burgess, MD, to break new ground in the field of prosthetic rehabilitation to fit thousands of disabled U.S. veterans and others with artificial limbs that enabled them to enjoy a more active lifestyle. This past Academy vice president (1971-72) also spearheaded advances in hip replacement surgery and new techniques in amputation surgery.

For his 50 years of "exceptional service and unfailing dedication to improving the lives of thousands of individuals," the U.S. Senate commended Dr. Burgess for his service to the nation and international community by passing S. Res. 278 last March. The resolution was submitted by Sen. J. Robert Kerrey (D-Neb.), a Vietnam veteran amputee and the only member of Congress to earn the Congressional Medal of Honor.

"Dr. Burgess has made our [amputees] lives better," says Sen. Kerrey, who noted that Dr. Burgess’s prosthetic enabled him not only to walk, but also to run, ski and play golf. "When you see these high performance prosthesis these days, well, that all began with Dr. Burgess saying, ‘I spent years as an orthopaedic surgeon and now I want to help the people I operated on.’ Dr. Burgess made a discovery and that discovery has grown into many, many other applications. There’s got to be hundreds of thousands of people who are the beneficiaries of his prosthesis."

While serving in the Pacific during World War II, Dr. Burgess became deeply interested in rehabilitating amputees. In 1964, the U.S. Veterans Administration chose Dr. Burgess to establish the Prosthetic Research Study (PRS), a leading center for post-operative amputee treatment. He later invented the Seattle Foot®, which has an internal spring to enable amputees to be active. Under Dr. Burgess’ direction at the PRS, the Seattle ShapeMaker® software and related techniques to improve the design and production of prostheses were developed.

In 1988, Dr. Burgess founded the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation (POF), a non-profit medical service organization in Seattle, Wash., that has provided more than 10,000 children and adults who live in the U.S. and developing countries with high quality prostheses. In 1991, with initial funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Burgess opened a demonstration clinic in Hanoi, Vietnam, called the Prosthetics Outreach Center (POC) and has provided free limbs to thousands of amputees. In 1994, an Endowed Burgess Chair was established at the University of Washington Medical School to fund orthopaedic research.

"I’m tremendously gratified to receive this honor," says the 88-year-old honoree who is retired from surgery, but still actively runs the POF and POC. "This award is something I enjoy because I am helping other people who need a prosthesis very badly, such as people like Sen. Kerrey who lost a limb defending our country. There are thousands of amputees in the U.S. who’ve lost a limb, an eye or something else—and we have to remember those people."

Adds Sen. Kerrey, "The Resolution is intended to recognize a single individual, but it hopefully will have a positive impact on the entire profession and not only give it some credit—but be used to support this kind of research in the future."

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