AAOS Bulletin - October, 2006

A life of dedication: one patient at a time

Remembering humanitarian George J. Fipp, MD

By Frank B. Kelly, MD

For nearly 30 years, George J. Fipp, MD, who passed away unexpectedly this past May, lost hundreds of weeks of vacation, thousands of dollars from his yearly earnings as an orthopaedic surgeon in private practice and innumerable hours of personal time. But don’t worry about his losses—Dr. Fipp didn’t.

George J. Fipp, MD, with one of his patients at the Haitian clinic where he donated his services for more than 30 years. Dr. Fipp, who had been nominated for the AAOS Humanitarian Award, passed away in May 2006.

The people of southwest Haiti will miss the man who for nearly three decades brought a team of nurses, physical therapists and orthopaedic surgeons to their impoverished villages every year.

“If the hospital in Haiti will have him and there is a flight available, Dr. Fipp will make the trip to help as many of the planet’s poorest and neediest inhabitants—no risk is too great or situation too bleak,” Christopher Goll, MD, chief resident in the department of orthopaedics at the University of Florida, wrote in recommending Dr. Fipp for the AAOS Humanitarian Award. As a resident, Dr. Goll traveled to Haiti with Dr. Fipp during a period of political unrest as the tiny country was reeling from the effects of a hurricane and mudslides. “He hears and understands the ailments of the people who have walked for days to see him, and with the same effortless smile, he gives them hope and relief from their suffering.”

Dr. Goll’s letter echoes the thoughts of many whose lives were changed by Dr. Fipp. “I have watched him work with the people of Haiti, as well as the medical professionals of Haiti, and have found he has a special bond with all of those [with whom] he comes in contact,” wrote T. Michael Turner, MD, of Vincennes Orthopaedic Surgery Clinic in Vincennes, Ind., in a letter to the Academy’s Humanitarian Award committee in May. “The eyes of children that come to the orthopaedic clinic at Sacre Coure Hospital light up when they are around Dr. Fipp.”

Humanitarian Award nomination
When friends and colleagues learned that Dr. Fipp was being considered for the Humanitarian Award, letters of support poured in. They described a man who exuded warmth, consideration and gentleness; who possessed a dedication, passion and strength to help his fellow man. Words like “compassion,” “patience,” “understanding” and “humble” appeared countless times on personal and professional letterhead. Phrases like “warm smile,” “make a difference,” and “cares about people” were repeated throughout these moving accounts.

“He helps change the world one patient at a time,” wrote Kathy Bing, MD, one of Dr. Fipp’s five daughters. “Though he does not know [the Haitians’] language, or share their culture, he has a genuine, hardworking, professional commitment to aid this poor country.”

An enthusiastic fan of Notre Dame football, Dr. Fipp was often photographed beside his patients and other volunteers, wearing blue scrubs and his “Fighting Irish” hat, a thoughtful smile almost always across his face.

“Dr. Fipp is a kind, gentle and caring individual with a wry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye,” wrote

B. Hudson Berrey, MD, professor of orthopaedics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, of the program’s first graduate (1961). “Dr. Fipp embodies all that is decent and good about American medicine. There is no material reward for him in any of this endeavor, but he is rewarded spiritually through the care of these patients and through his teaching of the next generation of orthopaedic surgeons and stimulating them to humanitarian service.”

Daughter Carol Fipp agreed that her father set a wonderful example for his family, the medical community and everyone else who knew him. “When I talked with Dad about everything I saw,” she wrote, “he explained to me, ‘You can’t help everyone. But you can make life better for a few people.’”

Frank B. Kelly, MD, is chair of the AAOS Communications Cabinet. He can be reached at fkelly@forsythstreetortho.com

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