Jorge O. Galante, MD, MDSc, a trailblazing orthopedic surgeon, inventor and professor who revolutionized the science of joint replacement, died on Feb. 9 on Sanibel Island, Florida. He was 82.
At the time of his death, Galante was a life trustee and the Grainger Director Emeritus of the Rush Arthritis and Orthopedic Institute at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Galante joined Rush, previously known as Presbyterian-St Luke’s, in 1972 as the first chairperson of its newly established Department of Orthopedic Surgery, a position he held until 1994. Over the years, he made Rush home to one of the country’s leading orthopedic programs. U.S. News & World Report currently ranks it as the country’s fourth best orthopedic program in the United States and the No. 1 program in Illinois.
An exceptionally talented surgeon himself, Galante nurtured generations of orthopedic surgeons and scientists at Rush, many of whom still practice today. He also established the Rush’s Motion Analysis Lab, which studies the functional performance of people during activities of daily living in order to improve the physical capabilities of people suffering from musculoskeletal ailments.
However, it was as a clinical and translational researcher focusing on biomaterials, porous metals and biomechanics that he transformed joint replacement surgery.
Innovations transformed joint replacement
“While participating in patient care,” he told Orthopedics Today in 2014, “I soon realized there were too many questions for which there were no good answers. There were serious problems affecting millions of people and few valuable solutions. From my viewpoint, the allure of tackling unresolved issues of that magnitude was irresistible.”
Galante’s pioneering contributions came on multiple fronts. In the late 1960s, as full hip replacements became more routine, problems emerged with the cement used to anchor the replacement joint to bone. Over time, the replacement joint tended to loosen, a tendency exacerbated by the minute debris of disintegrating cement particles, which doctors thought wore down the implant.
Working with the late William Rostoker, PhD, a professor of metallurgy and bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Galante developed a cementless alternative: a titanium fiber mesh that, when used as a porous coating on joint replacements, allowed for the growth of adhering new bone into the prosthesis. “It changed the way we do joint replacement,” says Joshua Jacobs, MD, chairperson of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Rush since 2008.
Using that innovation, Galante collaborated with biomechanical engineers, industry leaders, and other orthopedic surgeons in the 1980s to create innovative artificial joints that worked better, lasted longer, diminished postoperative pain and helped patients recover more rapidly. With William H. Harris, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, he developed a replacement hip that employed a cementless thigh bone component. With Joseph Miller, MD, of Montreal General Hospital and McGill University, he developed a replacement knee.
“The introduction of the Harris-Galante prosthesis represented the beginning of a paradigm shift in joint replacement among American surgeons,” according to a paper on the history of total hip arthroplasty cowritten by Gunnar Andersson, MD (who succeeded Galante as chairperson of orthopedic surgery at Rush).
The Harris-Galante hip and the Miller-Galante knee were used by doctors all over the world well into the 1990s, and many of the hips and knees used today can trace design elements back to these implants. As a result of his impact on patient care through his groundbreaking research, in 1996, Galante received the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Zimmer Award for distinguished achievement in orthopedic research.
Numerous honors for his work
That award was only one of dozens of honors bestowed on Galante. He received the Kappa Delta Award for outstanding research in the field of orthopedic surgery, twice, in 1970 and 1993; the Steindler Award from the Orthopaedic Research Society in 1990 in recognition of his significant national and international contributions to the understanding of the musculoskeletal system and musculoskeletal diseases or injuries; and a lifetime achievement award from The Hip Society in 2010.
In 2009, he received the Freedom of Movement Award from the Arthritis Foundation. As recently as last October, he traveled to Boston to receive a lifetime achievement award from the International Society for Technology in Arthroplasty, an organization dedicated to advancing the science of joint replacement.
Rush’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery established the Jorge O. Galante, MD, MDSc Chair in Orthopedic Surgery, currently held by Tibor Glant, MD, PhD, a specialist in rheumatoid arthritis.
Devoted to helping others succeed
Galante was as devoted to nurturing the success of his Rush colleagues as he was to pursuing his own endeavors. In his Orthopedics Today interview, he said “the most important contribution [to orthopedics] from my viewpoint was the opportunity to create and foster in my own institution an environment where gifted physicians and scientists could interact to address patient-oriented research issues.”
“He was incredibly generous in how he supported all of us,” Jacobs says. “He was like a father figure to me. He gave me opportunities to flourish.”
When Andersson moved to Chicago with his wife and two young children to take a position at Rush, Galante looked after the family. “The way he took care of us was incredible. He adopted us into his family” Andersson recalls. “He was extremely gracious, willing to share everything. He wanted everybody to succeed.”
From tango’s birthplace to Windy City
The second of three sons, Jorge Osvaldo Galante was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 18, 1934. His father Elias was an ear, nose and throat doctor.
Like his two brothers, who also became doctors, Jorge enjoyed a middle-class upbringing in the La Boca neighborhood in Buenos Aires, known as the birthplace of the tango. An excellent student, he attended the Lycée Français and mastered French as a boy. As an adult, he was fluent in five languages.
He graduated from the prestigious Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires (a high school) in 1952. He received his medical degree only six years later from the University of Buenos Aires Medical School.
Following graduation from medical school, Galante elected to move to the U.S. to start his medical internship Chicago, at Michael Reese Hospital. In 1960, he met Sofija Kabliauskas, who had immigrated from Lithuania in 1955 and also worked at Michael Reese as cytotechnologist. The two married in 1963 and remained together for 50 years, until her passing in 2010.
Galante began his residency in orthopedic surgery at Michael Reese and completed it, in 1964, at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago (known today as the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System). From 1964 to 1967 he studied as a research fellow at the University of Göteborg in Sweden (where his only child, Charles, was born), which awarded him a Doctorate of Medical Science.
After returning to Chicago from Sweden, Galante became a naturalized citizen of the United States. “While proud of his Argentine heritage, he was even more proud of being an American. He was very patriotic and loved this country and the opportunities it gave him to succeed,” Charles says.
Gave a gorilla new hips
In addition to his research and leadership of the orthopedic department, Galante was a devoted physician for his patients. “He instilled in us the importance of being a good doctor,” Andersson recalls. “You have to take care of your patients well. You have to treat them like family.”
His skill as a physician was so great that in 1986 Galante was called upon to perform a full, bilateral hip replacement on Beta, a 25-year-old female gorilla at the Brookfield (Ill.) Zoo. Beta had lost use of both legs due to arthritis. The surgery was successful, and Beta lived another 22 years.
Passions included vineyard, horse farm
Called “George” by his friends and colleagues, Galante was a voracious reader (with a special passion for history, mysteries, and thrillers) and an avid follower of the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Extremely health conscious, he was a distance runner and conscientious about what he ate.
As he traveled around the world, his son recalls, “he often dined in the finest restaurants. He’d order steamed vegetables and fish — no sauce! It used to drive the French chefs crazy.” A wine connoisseur, Galante invested in an Argentinian vineyard, Dominio del Plata, with his son.
After going into semiretirement in the early 1990s, Galante resurrected a passion from his youth. As a boy, he rode horses on a working farm in the province of Entre Rios, owned by his paternal grandparents.
Plagued by a bad back, he could no longer enjoy that activity as an adult—until he learned about the Peruvian Paso horse, a rare breed with a smooth, four-beat gait. On his own farm in Clinton, Wisconsin, called Estancia El Corcel, Galante raised, bred, and showed these horses and it became a passion for him.
“The farm had almost 40 horses at its peak,” says Charles Galante. “Like everything my father did, he always wanted to be the best. He won many national championships.”
Impact on many
His love and passion for orthopedics stayed with him until just days before his passing, as Galante continued to be actively involved, in collaboration with lifetime colleagues, in the design and development of a new knee implant.
Galante’s wife Sofija died in 2010. Galante is survived by his son, Charles, of Darien, Connecticut; his brother, Juan Carlos Galante, a doctor in Buenos Aires; and four grandchildren.
As a boy, Charles sometimes accompanied his father on his Sunday patient rounds. One of those visits, when he was ten years old, stands out. While waiting in an alcove at Rush, he fell into a conversation with a woman in a wheelchair.
“She began talking about this doctor who had saved her life, who overnight had relieved all her suffering and pain. She had no idea who I was, then mentioned his name. I was filled with such a sense of pride.
And thinking about it now, there must be millions of people whose lives my father had directly and indirectly impacted, people he helped free from pain.”
Galante will be buried in a private family ceremony. In lieu of flowers, the Galante family requests that donations be made to the Rush Department of Orthopedic Surgery. Please send memorial gifts to Rush University Medical Center, 1700 W. Van Buren St., Suite 250, Chicago, Illinois 60612 or visit http://rush.convio.net/jgalante.