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Dr. Jacquelin Perry, a legendary physician and researcher considered the Grande Dame of Orthopaedics, passed away at her home in Downey on Monday at age 94.
Dr. Perry was the world’s most accomplished physician in Rehabilitation Medicine and the study of human gait analysis. She began her long association with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in 1955 and continued to be a major contributor to the renowned hospital’s work during the remainder of her life, most recently serving as Emeritus Chief of Rancho’s Polio and Gait Clinic and Pathokinesiology Program.
She was honored throughout her career with many awards and recognitions for her distinguished contributions to patients and the fields of Orthopaedic Surgery and Pathokinesiology.
Dr. Perry is credited with many clinical breakthroughs that have been adopted by clinicians around the world, from refining the halo device that helps stabilize the spine for patients with broken necks to many new surgical techniques to improve patients’ lives. Through the years, her passion for improving the function of her patients never wavered.
She was beloved not just at Rancho, but throughout the worldwide medical community, a superstar who was revered for her dedication to advancing the practice of Rehabilitation Medicine, the extraordinary care she gave each of her patients, and the class with which she lived her life.
A TRUE GIANT
“Dr. Perry was a true giant of Rehabilitation Medicine,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who was a friend and admirer of Dr. Perry’s for more than three decades. “In addition to being a brilliant physician, physical therapist and surgeon, she was beloved for her intellect, her dedication and her kindness. She was a legendary scientist and an even more memorable person. We will remember her always as Rancho’s greatest doctor and an enduring symbol of true excellence. She will be greatly missed.”
“Dr. Perry was a remarkable physician and an inspirational leader,” said Rancho Chief Executive Officer Jorge Orozco. “She continued to contribute and continued to push our clinicians to practice at a very high level, even into her 90’s. She made major contributions to Rancho and our patients for nearly 60 years, and we move forward determined to honor her legacy by assuring that Rancho will always have the very highest quality of clinical care.”
“She contributed more than any other person to the practice of Rehabilitation Medicine, not just in America, but throughout the world,” said renowned retired Rancho physician John Hsu, MD.
“Dr. Perry didn’t just set the standard, she was the standard,” said Rancho Chief of Rehabilitation Therapies Lilli Thompson.
THE HEART OF RANCHO
“Dr. Jacquelin Perry was the heart of Rancho,” said Rancho Los Amigos Foundation President and former Rancho CEO Connie Martinez. “She leaves us with so many memories of her greatness and with full hearts knowing how lucky Rancho was to have such a talented, loyal and accomplished friend for so many years. She was, and will always be, our guiding light.”
Jacquelin Perry was born in Denver on May 31, 1918 and grew up in Los Angeles, the only child of a clothing shop clerk and a traveling salesman. She decided on her career path at a very young age. “I knew at about age 10 that I wanted to be a doctor,” she said. “I read every medical book in the Los Angeles library.”
After earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education from UCLA, she joined the U.S. Army and trained to be a physical therapist. She served in the Army as a physical therapist from 1941-1946 prior to attending medical school. “I had to convince the Army that I was completely unable to write, because if they thought I could write they would have made me a secretary,” Dr. Perry said.
She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from UC San Francisco in 1950 and completed her internship at Children’s Hospital of San Francisco in 1951. She completed residencies in General Surgery at the Children’s Hospital in San Francisco in 1952 and in Orthopaedic Surgery at UC San Francisco in 1955.
“Orthopaedic Surgery was definitely not a field for women back then,” Dr. Perry said. “People said it was too strenuous and too mechanical. Surgery wasn’t very fancy back then…the hardest part was holding up some football player’s leg while putting on a plaster cast.”
“My medical school class had nearly 10% women – seven out of 76, pretty good numbers in those days. Orthopaedic surgery wasn’t very popular then – it was mostly braces and buckles, not the surgical specialty it is today.”
AN ENVIRONMENT TO INNOVATE & FLOURISH
She joined the medical staff at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in 1955, where as one of only 10 female orthopaedic surgeons in the U.S., she found an environment that suited her interest in human function and allowed her to innovate and flourish.
Like many of her contemporaries, she was skilled with hand tools and improvised and built many of the rehabilitation devices she used with her patients. For example, recognizing that bracing was not an adequate method to provide stability for polio patients who had paralysis of the neck and trunk, Dr. Perry worked with her friend and Rancho colleague Dr. Vernon Nickel to pioneer the use of halo devices for spinal surgery and rehabilitation.
She was Chief of the Pathokinesiology Service from 1966 to 1996, when she was named Chief Emeritus and became a Medical Consultant to the service. She consulted there for the remainder of her life.
Dr. Perry once stated that her polio experience at Rancho broadened her medical experience and that of others because they developed a team concept of patient care. In this model, which has been replicated around the world, nurses, therapists and other clinicians were encouraged by the physician to take responsibility for evaluation and treatment planning. Although Dr. Perry stopped performing surgeries in the late 1960s, she continued to train surgeons and accelerated her research efforts.
Dr. Perry was Director of Rancho’s Quality Assurance Program from 1977 to 1990 and Chief of Rancho’s Polio and Gait Clinic from 1972 to 1999, when she became Chief Emeritus.
PROVIDING THE FINEST CARE
“Rancho was made for me,” Dr. Perry said. “Our patients had such a wide variety of disabilities that it was the right environment to spark my curiosity. Then, as now, Rancho’s clinicians were concerned with only one thing-to provide the finest care in the world for our patients.”
Dr. Perry was a Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Southern California School of Medicine from 1965 to 1992, and was a Professor at USC’s Department of Physical Therapy from 1977 to 1991. She served as Professor Emeritus beginning in 1992. She also was a Clinical Professor at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine from 1966 to 1985.
She broke new ground in laboratory research by becoming the world’s foremost expert on gait analysis. Dr. Perry authored Gait Analyis: Normal and Pathological Function, the classic textbook on gait and instructional course lectures for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The Second Edition of this seminal work was published in 2011. Every physical therapist student throughout the world is taught to observe human gait using the observational gait analysis techniques that Dr. Perry helped to develop.
She also had one of the most prolific academic publication records of any clinician. Dr. Perry authored more than 400 peer-reviewed publications and nearly 40 book chapters, gave hundreds of invited presentations and was honored with dozens of major awards. Her publications are noted for their rigorous scientific standards, and they reflect her concern for patients with conditions such as polio, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and stroke, and individuals with spinal cord injury and stroke.
THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE STANDARD
Rancho’s main inpatient care facility was named the “Jacquelin Perry Neuro-Trauma Institute and Rehabilitation Center” in her honor when it opened in 1996. “It amazes me that I should be honored for doing the very things I enjoy,” she said at the grand opening ceremony.
Rancho’s Pathokinesiology Laboratory, which she founded in 1968, was also named in her honor. The Laboratory has been the research home for many of Dr. Perry’s proteges such as Drs. Sara Mulroy, JoAnne Gronley and Phillip Requejo, who continue to keep Rancho at the cutting edge of research in this vital area.
“Dr. Perry set the highest possible standard in all her research work, and it was a great honor to work side-by-side with her on many research projects,” said JoAnne. “Nobody ever brought more curiosity, knowledge, intellect and dedication to advancing science as did Dr. Perry, and she always had her trademark twinkle in her eye when she was working with her patients or her publications. She loved what she did. And as a result, she stood alone in her accomplishments as a researcher and as a clinician.”
“It’s a tremendous honor to have worked with Dr. Perry for more than 25 years,” Sara said. “She has been such a role model, particularly in her dedication to patient care. She would arrange her very busy travel schedule so that she would miss as few appointments as possible. She would have the taxicab from the airport drop her off right in front of the polio clinic so that she could see the patients who were lined up and waiting to see her.”
“I was so lucky to have been mentored by Dr. Perry,” Phillip said. “She challenged and inspired me to be the very best that I could be, and she was always there to advise me when the going got tough.”
A PASSION FOR PERFECTION
Dr. Perry’s passion for perfection in the care of Rancho’s patients was a shining example to clinicians everywhere. “She expected a very high level of commitment, dedication and critical thinking from all of the staff who were involved with the patients,” Lilli said.
For example, the journal Physical Therapy dedicated its entire February 2010 issue to her work. The Rancho Los Amigos Foundation honored Dr. Perry with the Amistad Award in 1990 and its inaugural Amistad “Rancho Legend Award” in 2011.
In 2011, the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation inaugurated the Dr. Jacquelin Perry Legacy Society and last year The Perry Initiative was launched by UC San Francisco to motivate girls to consider medical careers. In addition, The Ruth Jackson Orthopaedic Society annually presents the Jacquelin Perry, MD Resident Research Awards for individuals in accredited orthopaedic surgical residency programs.
Dr. Perry received dozens of other major honors, including being named Woman of the Year for Medicine in Southern California by the Los Angeles Times, and Physician of the Year in the State of California in 1994.
THE WORLD LEADER
She was acknowledged as the world leader in the treatment of Post-Polio syndrome and played the pivotal role in Rancho’s Post-Polio Clinic. Dr. Perry often completed rounds in Rancho’s spinal cord injury service, sharing her wisdom and insight with her fellow Rancho clinicians. Dr. Perry continued her legacy of creativity and innovation by helping train new generations of clinical leaders that are creating their own breakthroughs, becoming tomorrow’s innovators and continuously improving the care for Rancho’s patients.
“Dr. Perry helped us to make sure that while patients transition from inpatient to outpatient and into the community our patient care is as good and comfortable as it can be,” said Rancho’s Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen. MD. “She was a towering figure who by her mere presence inspired each and every member of Rancho’s clinical team. She was our rock, our inspiration and the person we most wanted to emulate.”
Dr. Perry lived with Parkinson’s Disease for many years, learning how to adapt as the effects of the disease placed many challenges in her way. She took the same advice that she gave polio survivors, namely to “Modify your lifestyle to accommodate your new reality,” and to “Listen to your body and adopt a program that avoids the strain.”
“Dr. Perry also loved hiking and camping,” said retired Rancho physician Donna Barras, MD. “For someone who was great in every way, she was such a humble, warm and caring person. I think that’s why she was so esteemed by people from all walks of life.”
Dr. Perry was also a stalwart member of the Downey community, where she lived for much of her adult life. She was a familiar figure at cultural events in the city, often attending symphony and Civic Light Opera performances at the Downey Civic Theatre.
Perhaps the best measure of Dr. Perry’s work is the success of her patients. Two examples are Ernest Baca and Emma Eivers, PhD, who were Dr. Perry’s patients for more than half a century. Dr. Perry performed groundbreaking spinal fusion surgery on Ernest and Emma in the 1950s that enabled them to walk after suffering severe scoliosis from polio.
“When you look in Webster’s dictionary under the word ‘doctor’ there should be a picture of Dr. Perry there, because that’s how awesome she was,” Ernest said. He owns his own locksmith shop, which has been a fixture in the Montebello community for many years.
Emma Eivers, PhD would have likely died from her severe polio had she not come to Rancho in the mid-1950s. “Because of the spinal fusion surgery Dr. Perry did for me, I have been able to walk and wear regular clothes all these years,” Emma said. She was able to go back to school, getting her high school diploma, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. Then she studied in France for a year, returned to the U.S. and earned her PhD from USC. She taught at USC and other colleges for many years.
“I fell in love, got married and had a family,” she said. “Because of the gifts of life and mobility Dr. Perry gave me, I have been able to achieve all my dreams. I thank Dr. Perry not only for saving my life, but for making it worthwhile.”
HER WORK WILL LIVE ON
“Ernest and Emma are just two of the tens of thousands of people who have benefited from Dr. Perry’s groundbreaking work,” Jorge said. “Her work will live on, not just with the many clinicians she trained and mentored, but also through those who have learned from all her scientific works, as well as those who were lucky enough to call her their doctor.”
“Looking back, I could swear that she was at least nine feet tall,” said Rebecca L. Craik, PT, PhD, FAPTA, Editor-in-Chief of the noted journal Physical Therapy in the publication’s full-issue tribute to Dr. Perry. “She challenged our research results and probed our expertise. It was clear she was a powerhouse who had earned the respect of our colleagues, and we were inspired to earn her respect.”
“Dr. Perry wasn’t just a legend, she was an incredible person who contributed so much to science, improved the lives of countless people around the world and was a tremendous mentor and friend,” said Dr. Helena Chui, Chair of the Neurology Department of the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “What an inspirational life she led!”
A public celebration of Dr. Perry’s life will be held at Cafe Amigos in the Support Services Annex Building on the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center campus on Friday, March 22 from 1-4 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in honor of Dr. Perry may be made to the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation or a charity of your choice.