Dr. Jacquelin Perry's life celebrated at Rancho

DOWNEY - An overflow crowd of rehabilitation medicine royalty, patients and Rancho staff attended last Friday's Celebration of Life ceremony at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for the beloved Dr. Jacquelin Perry, one of history's most outstanding woman orthapaedic surgeons, researchers, educators and mentors. Dr. Perry passed away on March 11 at age 94 at her home in Downey. "Dr. Perry will always be the guiding star for Rancho and her soul will live here forever," said Rancho CEO Jorge Orozco. "She gave her life and her career to helping others, not only her patients but also her colleagues, and making everyone around her better."

"How fitting as we celebrate 125 years of Rancho history to recognize that she was a key part of that history for the last 58 years," said Los Angeles County Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe. "Her very core was so kind and gentle and giving. For Dr. Perry, bringing all her incredible skills together to care for her patients was always her top priority. She will truly be missed."

Rancho Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mindy Aisen, said "I'm honored and humbled to be able to represent the doctors of Rancho as we mourn Dr. Perry. "She was one of the greatest leaders in orthopaedics and rehabilitation medicine. Women in medicine have come a long, long way. The whole world of women in medicine know about her and aspire to be like her. I just hope that all of us here at Rancho will continue to be worthy of working at the Jacquelin Perry Institute and honor the legacy she's left us."

"I went to school to get a medical degree, but Dr. Perry truly taught me how to be a doctor," said Dr. Sophia Chun, Director of Rancho's Post-Polio clinic and the head of the Spinal Cord Injury Service at the Long Beach VA. "She embodied the words patient-centered care before it was in vogue, because she always mobilized the whole team to solve what mattered most to the patient."

Dr. Sara Mulroy, who heads the Rancho Pathokinesiology Laboratory that was founded by Dr. Perry in 1968, commented on Dr. Perry's work as a professor at USC. "Dr. Perry dedicated her Saturdays to teaching for 20 years, and I'm sure it was a lot more exciting to us than it was to her. I think she took it as her personal mission to educate clinicians so that they would do a better job at taking care of their patients."

She also mentioned Dr. Perry's love of chocolate, as did several other speakers. "She knew how to have fun...a chocolate cake was guaranteed to bring a smile to her face and also bring forth that trademark twinkle in her eyes."

Dr. Mark Hoffer, a longtime colleague and admirer of Dr. Perry, spoke about her entire life. "Her mother was so very proud of her, and she said that Dr. Perry was always so very kind to her." He also noted that she was a champion athlete in high school.

"Can you imagine a person who is a wonderful technical surgeon and a full professor at USC in both orthopaedics and physical therapy having the vigor to write more than 400 peer-reviewed journal articles?" he said. "So this professor of orthopaedics and physical therapy was a marvelous athlete, a patriot, a physical therapist, and most of all, a grand academic surgeon. But we remember her best as our teacher and our mentor."

Dr. Joanne Gronley, Dr. Perry's research colleague and close friend, described life with Dr. Perry after receiving a standing ovation as she walked to the podium. "She was my best friend, and oh, what adventures we had! Whether visiting the tombs of Egypt at the invitation of Madam Sadat, hiking the trails of New Zealand, sampling the many facets of the Alaskan wilderness, fishing off the Pacific Northwest Coast or enjoying the scenery and the bountiful wildlife of the Yukon or the High Sierra, she brought a true zest for life."

Dr. Scott Ward, Immediate Past President of the American Physical Therapy Association, said "Thousands and thousands of people have been affected by her work. What a delightful legacy she leaves, and she will never be forgotten." Dr. Cheryl Resnick of USC represented the California Physical Therapy Association, emphasizing Dr. Perry's many contributions to the field of physical therapy.

Dr. Chris Powers, co-director of the Jacquelin Perry Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory at USC, commented about how Dr. Perry inspired him in his career and the daunting task of caring for her as she fought Parkinson's Disease later in life.

Then it was time for Dr. Perry's patients to speak. After Dr. Perry's Post-Polio patient and polio survivor community leader Sue Lau spoke about how Dr. Perry had been the most effective, kind and compassionate friend to the Post-Polio community, Emma Eivers, PhD was rolled to the stage by Rancho Physical Therapist Kelely Kubota. When Emma was told that someone could hold the microphone while she spoke from her wheelchair, she said, "Dr. Perry did not take care of me for over 50 years for me to speak from a wheelchair at her memorial. I will stand for Dr. Perry."

Then Emma rose from her wheelchair with Kelly handling the cord to her ventilator and spotting her as the crowd erupted in cheers.

"I came here on Valentine's Day in 1958 at age 12 and didn't speak a word of English," Emma said. "I couldn't walk except in a body cast, which restricted my breathing. Dr. Perry would say, 'if you can't use it, fuse it.' And after being in a halo device for 10 months, she did spinal fusion surgery on me. I was able to walk and get rid of the cast, which meant I could wear regular clothes." After living at Rancho for five years, Emma went straight to college at Immaculate Heart. She earned a B.A, then went to USC for a Master's and PhD and even earned a degree in advanced studies in France.

"I got married and had children, I'm a grandma, and I taught at college for over 20 years," Emma said. "Dr. Perry always looked at me as this little girl who came here with a severe scoliosis at age 12. Thanks to her I was able to do so many things and be a success for her. I am so thankful to have known her, because she gave me the opportunity to live a wonderful life!"

After Rancho Pathokinesiology Laboratory staff member Charles Whitehead read a moving poem he composed for Dr. Perry, Rancho Chief of Therapies Lilli Thompson spoke about what Dr. Perry stood for. "Dr. Perry's mission was to make people better...not only the patients, but each of us at Rancho...each of us in our profession, each of us as people, and each of us as clinicians."

Rancho Physical Therapist Kelley Kubota said, "Dr. Perry was a pioneer who was extremely intelligent, generous, compassionate, courageous, thought-provoking, respected, and both a student and a teacher, because she was endlessly committed to learning. Despite all the awards, honors and accolades she received over her lifetime, Dr. Perry was also incredibly humble." Then her colleague Walt Weiss told the audience about how Dr. Perry transformed his career with her extraordinary level of precision and her ability to inspire.

Dr. Lisa Lattanza, MD, co-founder of the Perry Initiative at UC San Francisco, a program to teach high school girls about orthopaedic surgery and mechanical engineering, said, "Dr. Perry was the first person to believe in me and make me think I could go to medical school. She said that every patient she had ever worked with had taught her something. That's the epitome of who Dr. Perry was."

Dr. MaryBeth Brown, who was once a student of Dr. Perry's, said, "She was the most formidable teacher I ever faced, exacting to the max and with standards that were higher than any of us had ever had to meet. We soon grew to love the challenge of rising to the level of capability that each of us possessed. Many of us in this room were the recipients of the greatest gift we had ever gotten from Dr. Perry, and that is understanding the extent to which we personally could achieve."

Dr. Judy Burnfield, co-Author with Dr. Perry of the book Gait Analysis: Normal & Pathological Function, said, "Dr. Perry was a true visionary in the fields of Rehabilitation Sciences and gait analysis. She led in the creation of the observational system of gait analysis used by clinicians around the world to determine why a patient has a challenge walking and how to manage that difficulty. Her research with individuals with severe deficits arising from neurologic and orthopaedic injuries still guides therapeutic approaches today, and will do so well into the future."

Dr. Helena Chui, Chair of Neurology at USC who has also served Rancho patients for 30 years, summed up the audience's reaction to the event: "Being here today was kind of like being in heaven, as we saw a tremendous outpouring of affection, love, and respect for our legendary leader, Dr. Jacquelin Perry. She is the embodiment and personification of the spirit of Rancho-the heart, the mind and the soul. She cared most about helping people fight and rise above their disabilities. Dr. Perry, thanks for bringing out the best in us and being our inspiration."

********** Published: March 28, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 50