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Lawrence D. Dorr, MD 1941-2020

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: April 7, 2021 - Volume 103 - Issue 7 - p 650-651
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.21.00127
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Lawrence D. Dorr, MD 1941-2020

Lawrence “Larry” D. Dorr, MD, passed away on December 28, 2020. He was a renowned pioneer and leader in hip and knee replacement surgery, and the founder of Operation Walk. He served as the president of The Knee Society from 1990 through 1991, the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons from 1993 through 1994, and The Hip Society from 2007 through 2008. He will be remembered as much for his kindred spirit, ability to entertain, and his humanitarian and philanthropic efforts as for his skill as an innovator, surgeon, and educator.

Lawrence Dorr was born in Storm Lake, Iowa. His father, Everett, was a Methodist minister. He received all of his formal education in Iowa, attending Roosevelt High School in Des Moines (where he was a state champion in football), Cornell College in Mt. Vernon (where he received his BA in English), and the University of Iowa in Iowa City (where he received his MS in Pharmacology and MD). There was never a person who was more proud of the state they were raised in than was Larry Dorr. What he learned in those formative years, he wore on his sleeve throughout his life.

Dr. Dorr received his orthopaedic training at the University of Southern California–Los Angeles County program, and between internship and residency, served as a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Medical Corps for 3 years. The seminal event in Larry’s professional life was his fellowship year at the Hospital for Special Surgery with Dr. Chitranjan Ranawat. Their relationship was a transformation from Dr. Ranawat as mentor, then colleague, then friend. During that time, he and Dr. Ranawat wrote the classic article published in JBJS on total hip reconstruction in protrusio acetabuli.

After returning from New York to California, Dr. Dorr practiced and performed hip and knee replacements on tens of thousands of patients at the University of Southern California, the Dorr Institute, and Centinela Hospital. However, he always maintained a presence at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, where he started practice on his return to Los Angeles. His ability to educate patients from diverse populations, from all walks of life, and to inspire them to undergo hip and knee replacement was exemplified on Operation Walk; one needed only to observe to see how he connected with his patients.

Dr. Dorr’s ability to teach others by word and by example was a strong accompaniment to his master surgical skills. Nationally and internationally, he made education entertaining. He understood that the audience needed to be shown concepts, not just told about them. He was one of the first to use high-quality videos in his presentations. He would show complications from his own cases. He understood the value of demonstrating a live surgical procedure, showing newer surgeons that those more experienced surgeons still face many of the same difficulties and complications. He especially enjoyed teaching fellows who would become disciples of his ideas and techniques, educating over 100 in his career. He participated in Current Concepts in Joint Replacement since its inception and directed a live-surgery Master’s course at his institution for 13 years.

Dr. Dorr’s organizational skills were exemplary. He was a more-junior founding member of both The Knee Society and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons. His older mentors, who were also founders, would always assign Larry Dorr the job of organizing the society and micromanaging it until staff and infrastructure could be developed. He took Operation Walk to where it is today, over 20 years later, using those incredible organizational skills. Those same skills gained Dr. Dorr the respect from his colleagues to elect him president of the 3 most influential hip and knee organizations: The Hip Society, The Knee Society, and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.

For Dr. Dorr, innovation and research went hand in hand. As a pioneer in cementless total hip replacement, he closely followed and reported his results. He discovered early issues with several devices, allowing early discontinuation of their use. Dr. Dorr continued his pursuit of innovation in hip replacement, investigating and reporting on total hip impingement, minimally invasive surgery, computer-assisted surgery, outpatient surgery, and the relationship of spine motion to total hip replacement outcomes over the last 10 to 15 years of his practice, from which he retired in 2019. His commitment to research extended to a commitment to the peer-review process. He was a punctual, highly rated manuscript reviewer for JBJS, as well as for other journals, up to the time of his death.

Larry Dorr spoke of the 4 phases of life, the last of which is giving back. His humanitarian and philanthropic passion will never be forgotten. In 1994, after reading about Operation Smile, he conceived the nonprofit organization Operation Walk to provide free joint replacements for people in underserved countries and here in the U.S. There are now over 20 chapters that have performed over 13,000 replacements. Dr. Dorr was recognized with Humanitarian Awards from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons for these efforts. On the philanthropic front, Dr. Dorr, along with his wife Marilyn, has contributed generously in many areas in and out of orthopaedics, including a chair for adult reconstruction in their name at their beloved University of Iowa.

Larry was as passionate and animated in his life outside of medicine as in it. He loved golf and would often play it with Marilyn, also a keen golfer, and their friends throughout the country. He was a poet, wrote 3 novels, and was finishing a book on Operation Walk. Most of all, he enjoyed the collegiality of fine dining with his friends, which involved entire evenings eating and drinking the best that a restaurant could offer.

Larry is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 54 years, whom he met at “The Airliner” bar in Iowa City—a meeting that is memorialized on their license plates—and by his sons Mike Dorr, with wife Tiffany and grandson Hunter, and Randy Dorr, and his beloved daughter Kristina Dorr, as well as his countless friends, colleagues, staff (especially Jeri Ward and Mary Ellen Sieben), and grateful patients throughout the world.



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