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John Charnley

Charnley's contributions still help relieve pain, suffering

The British surgeon devised low friction THA, acrylic bone cement, infection prevention methods and basic fracture treatments


The only son of a nurse and a small town chemist who dabbled in dentistry, Sir John Charnley, DSc (1911-1982), is remembered for the countless contributions he made to orthopedic and general surgery, many of which still come into play on a daily basis in examination and operating rooms around the world.

"If Sir Robert Jones is considered the father of modern orthopedic surgery, then Sir John Charnley is the heir apparent, who even surpassed the father, as Plato did Socrates," said the late Frank E. Stinchfield, MD, in 1982, the year Charnley died.

Charnley's mark on the field of orthopedics is still apparent today. Hip stems with Charnley and Charnley-like designs are widely implanted throughout the world. Many of them are fixed using polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) bone cement, a material on which the surgeon-biologist - as the late Sir Harry Platt, of Manchester, England, referred to Charnley - did considerable foundational research. Less infection and contamination is spread in operating rooms (OR) throughout the world today because of systems that were conceived of and implemented by Charnley, to clean the air by removing microbial particles in a downward linear, or laminar, fashion.

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Relieved pain, suffering

John Charnley --- John Charnley is known to many as the inventor of the total hip replacement. Many of his total hip arthroplasty patients are reportedly doing well today. However, as a pioneer in orthopedics, his contributions extend into countless other areas, including prevention of wound infections, methods to compare implant materials, and the concept of rational documentation of operative procedures.

But, as any well-versed student of orthopedic surgery knows, there are even more useful and innovative contributions that Charnley made to the practice of clinical orthopedic surgery. They encompass such areas as materials science, fractures, disc protrusions, arthrodesis and the keeping of accurate, detailed follow-up records on patients and procedures.

"It is not possible to single out the most important aspect of Charnley's contribution to orthopedic surgery - there are so many of them. His contribution to the relief of pain and suffering would cover most," said B. Michael Wroblewski, FRCS, professor at the John Charnley Research Centre at Wrightington Hospital in Wigan, England.

Wroblewski - who first worked with Charnley as a junior resident in 1969, and again starting in 1973 as a member of the consultant surgeon staff at Wrightington Hospital - said he found the man to be direct, stimulating, full of enthusiasm and always willing to listen. Others who knew and worked with Charnley recall that his personality was absolutely magnetic. Many others whose lives he touched believe it was his impeccable integrity, dedication, perseverance, and attention to details that perhaps enabled him to accomplish so much in the nearly 71 years of his life.

"I think that all those who have been fortunate to have met and worked with Charnley would agree that the presence of the man and his lively mind and intellect were the outstanding features," Wroblewski said.



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