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VUMC mourns loss of Orthopaedics innovator Brooks

Aug. 2, 2016, 10:06 AM

Arthur L. Brooks, M.D., an innovator of surgical techniques and a mentor to younger orthopaedic surgeons, died Thursday, July 28, at age 91.

Arthur L. Brooks, M.D.
Arthur L. Brooks, M.D.

He was known for hosting breakfasts at the Pancake Pantry on Saturday mornings, sharing the tomatoes he grew on his farm and for combining common sense with medical expertise in dispensing advice.

The Arthur L. Brooks Center for Education & Research in Orthopaedics was founded at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1985, one year after he retired. The Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Society, a group composed of his former residents and colleagues established the Arthur L. Brooks Endowment for Resident Education upon his retirement. The endowment supports equipment and programs to enhance resident education.

“I know we all have lost a dear friend and a valued colleague,” said Herbert Schwartz, M.D., Dan Spengler, M.D., Professor of Orthopaedics and chair of the department. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Brooks family during this difficult time. The legacy of Dr. Brooks and his resident education fund will live on in perpetuity.”

Dr. Brooks developed surgical procedures for the correction of rheumatoid hand deformities and the control of mechanical instability in the cervical spine.

He received his medical degree in 1952 from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he completed residencies in general surgery in 1955 and orthopaedic surgery in 1958.

He then worked at Charity Hospital in New Orleans from 1959 to 1962. While there, he gave a disabled child left behind on the doorsteps a second chance at life, said his friend Douglas Weikert, M.D. The child was crippled by a spinal deformity from Potts’ disease and could not speak English. When other doctors said they could not help the child, Dr. Brooks read about a new surgical procedure for the condition and successfully performed it. The boy learned English, received an education and became an accountant, Weikert said.

Dr. Brooks, a Tennessee native, returned to Vanderbilt in 1963, twice serving as acting chair of Orthopaedics (1970-1979 and 1981-1983).

“He left such a great mark on our program that basically anybody who came through the program from 1963 forward knew what he stood for and realized how important he was in the development of our Department of Orthopaedics,” Weikert said.

Weikert, who specializes in hand surgery, as Dr. Brooks did, said he often contacted him over the years for advice.

“Over the years I have called him about complicated problems that had not been seen or not much written about in the medical literature,” he said. “Usually, he had seen something similar and was more than happy to provide insight from his experience.”

Dr. Brooks often visited Vanderbilt after his retirement, said Gregory Mencio, M.D., director of Pediatric Orthopaedics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and vice chair of the Department of Orthopaedics.

“I got to know him through his continued presence at grand rounds, conferences and chief resident graduation events,” Mencio said. “As with all great teachers, Dr. Brooks understood the importance of life-long learning. His legacy as a leader, mentor, colleague and patient advocate is an important example for all of us in orthopaedics and academic medicine. His lessons and folksy wisdom continue to impact the professional lives of those he trained directly as well as several ‘next generations’ of Vanderbilt Orthopaedic residents and surgeons. Our institution, our community and our profession have lost a true orthopaedic icon and friend.”

Funeral services for Dr. Brooks were held Sunday, July 31, at Harpeth Hills Funeral Home.

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