Home > Newsletters and Journals > ICIB 1984 Vol 19, Num 2 > pp. 21

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George Thomson Aitken, MD

Doctor George Thomson Aitken, a founder of this organization, passed away January 31, 1984.

He was born in Detroit, August 2, 1909. After receiving a bachelor's degree in 193 1, he was awarded the M.D. degree at Indiana University in 1933. He returned to Detroit for his internship. Because of the interest which he had developed at this early date in pediatric orthopedics, he then moved to Grand Rapids to take an orthopedic residency under Dr. John T. Hodgen. It was during this time that he met a fellow resident who would become a life-long friend and colleague, Dr. Charles H. Frantz. Following completion of his residency, Dr. Aitken joined his chief and Charlie in private practice. After our country entered World War 11 Tom was commissioned a Captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He served at Letterman General Hospital for two years and then was sent to Europe as the orthopedic consultant to the 15th Army. When he returned to the United States in 1945 it was as a Lieutenant Colonel and as the senior Army orthopedic consultant to the European Theater of Operations. He returned to Grand Rapids and opened his own practice.

In 1946 the Michigan Crippled Children Commission requested Drs. Aitken and Frantz to establish a Juvenile Amputee Training Center in Grand Rapids to serve child amputees from the entire state of Michigan. The clinic size grew, and information gained from Drs. Aitken and Frantz's experience was shared with the country. Their first paper concerning the juvenile amputee was read at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons meeting in 1950. Their work continued, and in 1955 the Federal Children's Bureau designated the Grand Rapids Training Center to be the pilot area clinic to serve the juvenile amputee population of the country. The first Federally funded Area Child Amputee Program clinic was held in December 1955 and has continued under a Federal grant since that time.

At about this time there was formed an interim Committee on Child's Prosthetic Problems under the aegis of the Prosthetics Research Board. The structure later was changed when the committee was transferred to the Committee on Prosthetics Research and Development (CPRD) of the National Research Council-National Academy of Sciences, and a Subcommittee on Child Prosthetics Problems was created. The CPRD was chaired by Dr. Aitken and the Subcommittee by Dr. Frantz. It was during these years that a small group of clinic chiefs was invited to exchange information and to enter into a field testing of components and fitting techniques. Under the tutelage of CPRD this small group expanded to encompass over 33 clinics and was the forerunner of the Association of Children's Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics.

Aitken and Frantz, in separate practices, continued their collaboration as Co-Medical Directors of the Area Child Amputee Program, yet also developed separate areas of interest within the program. Tom was especially interested in external power and stimulated Colin McLaurin, then Director of the Northwestern University Prosthetics Research Laboratory and engineering consultant to the Area Child Amputee Program, to develop a prototype electrically powered feeder arm-the Michigan feeder arm. Dr. Aitken recognized another area of deficiency in the field. His analysis of a fundamental problem led to his developing the first classification of what he termed proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD), its evolution during maturation and its management. Other areas of special interest were congenitally short femur, fibular hemimelia, congenital absence of the lumbar spine and sacrum, quadrimembral amelia and the multiple limb-deficient child. Indeed, all children's orthopedic disorders held his interest.

Tom greatly enjoyed teaching-formally to a large audience or informally on a oneto-one basis, and he taught superbly. He had an almost unique ability to define a problem simply and clearly, analyze its components and synthesize a solution. These qualities engendered the respect of patients, their families, his students and his colleagues. He founded and directed the orthopedic residency at Saint Mary's Hospital for 24 years. Appreciation of his organized mind resulted in his being requested twice to lead the medical staff of the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, to serve for many years on the Saint Mary's Hospital Board and to his election as President of the largest orthopedic organization in the world, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Despite the demands of professional life, his personal life was most treasured by him-as husband to his wife Dorothy and as father to his daughter Claire and his son George. His interests were wide-fly fishing and duck hunting, painting in watercolors and oils, jazz and classical music, reading and even cooking, especially in his retirement years.

Illness discovered in 1976 forced his retirement in 1977. His involvement with this organization's meeting in Grand Rapids in 1978 was Tom's last formal teaching role. But his interests did not stop. To converse with Tom was a joy-it was fun. It seemed so easy and natural for him to present a new idea, to see an old problem from a fresh vantage. And so one always left him having benefitted from his clarity of thought, from the expression of his principles and from his high standards.

We will remember him as a physician, leader, teacher and-always as a friend.
Curtis Edholm, MD