Robert D. Leffert (1933-2008)
By: J S Barr, Jr. MD

Bob was born in New York City in August of 1933. He attended Dartmouth College and received his MD from Tufts University School of Medicine in 1958. He trained in General Surgery on the Cornell Service at Bellevue and then went on to Orthopaedic Residency at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. His interests in neuromuscular disease, biomechanics, and kinesiology developed during residency and continued throughout his professional life.

Bob received a Fraumenthal Travelling Fellowship in 1963 and spent six months at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London as Honorary Registrar to Sir Herbert Seddon and Mr. Donal Brooks. He and H.J. Seddon published a paper on brachial plexus injuries in JBJS in 1965. Bob then spent four months in Paris as Assistant Etranger to Professor Merle D’Aubigne at the Hopital Cochin.

On his return to New York Bob was inducted into the United States Naval Medical Corps and served for one year in Jacksonville and one year in Vietnam as a Lietenant Commander with the Third Marine Division. Bob was proud of his military service, he received several decorations and qualified as a Naval Pistol Expert, something his Marine colleagues doubted that he was capable of! He worked with Dick Braun and they became lifelong friends.

After Vietnam, Bob returned to his duties at the Hospital for Joint Diseases and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He was Chief of the Neuromuscular Clinic. In 1972, his chief, Dr. Henry J. Mankin was appointed Chief of the Orthopaedic Service at Massachusetts General Hospital and Bob, Dick Smith, and Charles Weiss accompanied Dr. Mankin to Boston. In his new job in Boston, Bob was appointed Chief of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and Chief of the Surgical Upper Extremity Rehabilitation Unit at MGH. My association with Bob began at that time and continued throughout the rest of his life. We worked together on White 9 with amputees, stroke patients, spinal cord injuries, and other neuromuscular conditions. Both Physical and Occupational Therapy were under Bob’s control. Orthopaedic residents received a good introduction in all these areas. With the advent of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital it became evident that a rehabilitation unit was no longer viable at MGH and White 9 was closed.

Bob continued his interest in brachial plexus injuries and thoracic outlet syndrome and was nationally recognized in these areas. He taught Instructional Courses at the AAOS yearly in these areas. In addition he became an expert in the area of musculoskeletal problems in professional musicians. He published widely in these areas and in 1985 authored Brachial Plexus Injuries the definitive monograph on that subject.

In 1991 Bob was promoted to Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School. Among his many other honors, Bob was elected to the Presidency of the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons in 1996-7. He served on many committees at the MGH, HMS, and the AAOS. He closed his busy clinical practice in July, 2000, but continued with many activities related to computers and education. He served as Senior Medical Advisor to Partners Telemedicine which provided medical consultation and second opinions for international patients. He was a Founding Member of the Harvard Interfaculty Neuroscience Program. Bob became interested in computers when most of us thought they were nothing but glorified word processors. He designed and maintained web sites for the MGH Orthopaedic Department and the American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons. He worked with the Harvard Program for Interdisciplinary Learning on the ICON (interactive case-based online network). His intellectual curiosity and vigor carried on right to the end of his life.

Bob and Linda were married in 1959 and have two children, Adam and Lisa. Linda has a busy trial law practice. Adam works in computer software. Lisa is an MD and is Vice Chair of the MGH Department of Anaesthesia and is a specialist in obstetrical anaesthesia. She is married to Lee Schwamm, MD who is Vice Chair of the Neurology Department at MGH. Lisa and Lee have two children, Samuel and Eli. Bob delighted in watching the growth of his grandsons’ intellectual curiosity and helped to nourish that curiosity. He was very proud of the boys and spent time with them whenever possible.

Tragically, Bob developed a melanoma of his thumb and stoically endured many painful bouts of surgery and chemotherapy. He succumbed to that disease on December 7th, 2008. The family has established the Robert Leffert Memorial Fund in his memory and contributions may be made c/o the MGH Development Office, 165 Cambridge St. Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114.

To Robert D. Leffert
A devoted husband, father, and grandfather
A skilled clinician and educator
A valued friend and colleague

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