Neil E. Green, MD, passed away at home in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, on July 16, 2016, at the age of 75. Neil was the son of the late Irene Wouk Green and the late H. Howard Green, MD, of South Norwalk, Connecticut. Neil always knew that he wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon and follow in his father’s footsteps. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Franklin & Marshall College in 1962 and his medical degree at Albany Medical College in 1968.
Neil completed his internship and residencies in general surgery and orthopaedic surgery at Duke University Medical Center under the direction of J. Leonard Goldner. Following residency, Neil served in the U.S. Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base and, upon completion of his military obligation, he joined the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1976. Neil spent his entire professional career at Vanderbilt, retiring in December 2014 after 38 years of service that saw him rise quickly through the academic ranks to hold positions as Vice Chairman of the Orthopaedic Department, Director of the Orthopaedic Residency Program, and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Orthopaedics. After stepping away from his leadership roles in 2006, he continued to practice and serve as Professor of Orthopaedics until his retirement.
While he loved surgery and his leadership obligations, Neil’s greatest fulfillment professionally came from his clinical interactions with patients and educating residents and fellows. Neil’s surgical acumen impacted tens of thousands of young lives. He used his immense skills and warm, outgoing demeanor to help many children and their parents through often difficult circumstances related to injury or illness. Virtually all of his patients and families developed a deep affection for him. As the Orthopaedic Residency Program Director for over 25 years, Neil transformed the culture of the Vanderbilt orthopaedic residency and surgical education through his example and vision. He became a respected mentor to all and was a role model for many who have gone on to become educators and leaders in their own right.
While Neil was beloved by decades of patients, residents, and fellows, he was also a world-renowned pediatric orthopaedic surgeon whose research and work left an indelible mark on orthopaedics and treatments for children. He helped to change the way orthopaedic surgeons care for pediatric patients with femoral and forearm fractures, and his research on bracing for children with scoliosis helped to introduce part-time bracing as an effective treatment for the condition. Neil authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications and 30 book chapters. He gave more than 200 presentations and guest lectures in the U.S. and around the world. Neil was the founding editor with Mark F. Swiontkowski of Skeletal Trauma in Children, since renamed in the fifth edition printing as Green’s Skeletal Trauma in Children. The American Orthopaedic Association honored him as the Alfred Shands Guest Lecturer. He was a visiting professor at various institutions, including serving as Visiting Professor in Residence in Paris, France.
Neil was a man of principle and an early advocate of diversity in orthopaedics. In the 1980s, he accepted the first woman orthopaedic resident into the training program at Vanderbilt, and with Dan Spengler he recruited and hired the first female faculty member in any surgical specialty at Vanderbilt. In 2014, Neil was an AMA-WPS (American Medical Association Women Physicians Section) Inspirational Physician Honoree. Dr. Alvin Crawford, another a longtime colleague and friend, wrote upon learning of Neil’s death: “Neil and Lesley were uniquely genuine, warm, and friendly to Jeannie and me at a time when political nuances did not require such. We were fortunate to experience his ‘joie de vivre’ as well as his professionalism.”
During his career, Neil served as President of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA), the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, the Southern Orthopaedic Association, and the Tennessee Orthopaedic Society and as Secretary/Chairman of the Twentieth Century Orthopaedic Association.
Neil was a man of many interests whom longtime colleague and friend Bob Hensinger described as “the poster boy of work/life balance.” He loved to discuss politics, world events, sports, and music, and he really liked to dance. He was motivated by challenges and, although not an avid outdoorsman, successfully completed a summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at the age of 63. He was an unabashed Francophile and especially fond of French wine, acquiring an enthusiastic collection among many varietals in his wine cellar. Neil stayed active following his diagnosis with lung cancer, giving the 2015 POSNA Presidential Lecture entitled “How Pediatric Orthopaedic Care Has Evolved: From Then ‘til Now” just 6 weeks following lung resection and continuing to travel with family and friends.
The Neil E. Green Lectureship was instituted at Vanderbilt in 2013. It recognizes Neil’s many contributions as a leader and role model in advancing the missions of education, research, and advocacy of the orthopaedic profession and the impact that Neil had on the next generation of orthopaedic surgeons with whom he interacted and influenced during his storied career. Perhaps colleague John Roberts’ words at the time of Neil’s retirement capture the essence of Neil as a man who “completed his professional life with the gratitude of so many patients, the legacy of his trainees, the pride of his mentors, and most importantly the respect of his colleagues and friends.”
So, we say goodbye to a man who was an icon in his field but also had a sense of what was important in life, a man who was loyal to his colleagues and friends, grateful to his staff, and gracious to those with whom he interacted on a daily basis. This was a man who despite his professional accolades and recognition embraced the importance of his family as a dedicated husband, father, and grandfather. Neil is survived by his wife of 54 years, Lesley Nield Green; his children, Bruce Green (Lynn) of Nashville, Tennessee, and Lisa Green Brock (Charlie) of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee; and his 4 grandchildren, Lesley Brock, Taylor Brock, Laura Brock, and Grant Green.
We all miss you, Neil.