Dedication to DENNIS WILLIAM BURKE, MD.
THE COMPLEAT HIP AND KNEE SURGEON
(WITH ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO ISAAC WALTON)
WILLIAM HARRIS, MD
1952 was a banner year, the year of Denniss birth. Born in Boston, of grandparents who emigrated from Lithuania and from Ireland, Dennis was the fourth of five siblings. Notably four of the five went to college. These few sentences foretold much of the nature of the man, but not, in any sense, all.
These facts condition his deep seated loyalties, his devotion to family, to region, to community and to church, his love of children, and his humility. They also inform of his ready wit, his thoroughly engaging personality, and his strong sense of humor. But these traits, along with the enormous strength of his mother, also equipped him with compelling motivation, overriding sense of purpose, and a marvelous practicality.
But other forces were required to create the man in the form that one sees today The first one of these was a most remarkable other factor, namely the unlikely coincidence that launched his formal, higher level education. He was approached by a friend who was attempting the deeply frightening task of taking the competitive exam for admission at Boston Latin School. In need of succor and reinforcement, the friend begged Dennis to go with him. And so, Dennis agreeably did so. But he not only went with him into this strange and frightening event, but actually took the exam as well. Thus began his rigorous education. Because of the rich combination of his native gifts and strong motivation, success was forthcoming at Boston Latin. However, there must have been wondrous dinner table discussions about life and the other students at Boston Latin.
But then, what next? Dennis is a man of uncanny skills with his hands. Surrounded by a community of workers, his practical bent and the high octane environment at Boston Latin made the choice of MIT most attractive. While there, his conceptual skills, practical orientation and ever revealing ingenuity flowered, especially in mechanical engineering. As positive as that experience was, it remained in some sense, not fully complete. He gradually came to recognize that life had even more to give, and even more to require of him-thus leading him to the decision to go to the Stritch School of Medicine at Loyola University in Chicago.
That experience, stressful to all of us, gradually eased as it became possible to focus more and more on things surgical, and even more on things orthopedic, and leave behind biochemistry and molecular biology. So, thus it was he returned back to Boston and onto the MGH for his orthopedic training.
The second major influence beyond the nuclear Burke family was Martha. Martha is the daughter of Dr. John Connelly, the pediatrician who practiced in his early career at the MGH, and to whom Yawkey 6 is dedicated. Martha is to whom Dennis is dedicated, and with good reason. A woman of great strength, enormous spirit and great zest for life, she is the anchor around which Dennis revolves.
Now what is the finished (although certainly not finished) product? Dennis William Burke, the Compleat Hip & Knee Surgeon.
The reasons are many. Let me list a few, and perhaps not necessarily in the order that you might spontaneously think. First on the list is the fact that he haunts the hospital. His approach to patient care is 24 x 7 x 366. Early in the morning, late at night, and particularly during weekends, vacations, and Academy meetings, Dennis is on the scene. Surgery is a hands-on profession. Dennis is a hands-on guy. The best care comes when you stand right next to the patient, whether its in the emergency ward, in the operating room, or at the bedside.
Second on this list is his engaging charm, which leaves each patient feeling as if Dennis has just one patient in the world, namely you, and if human effort and human skill can make the operation succeed, this is the guy who can do it.
But these are simply two ingredients, powerful and wondrous as they are. These ingredients by themselves would go for naught, if they were not woven into a constellation of other outstanding attributes.
He is the consummate surgeon.
He is devoted to tissue preservation.
He is a compassionate care-giver.
His judgments are always soundly based and immensely practical.
He devours the literature.
His intelligence is exceeded only by his ingenuity.
He contributes to the advancement of the field.
He loves to teach.
These latter two aspects, ingenuity and teaching would in the minds of many people and especially the residents top the list, and rightly so. His ingenuity is legend, ranging from the v-fins to the cemented femoral stems to an automatic wire tightener, to trochanteric plates, to a major role in the design of the Boston Hip Simulator, to devices to pack bone graft behind well fixed cementless acetabular components, to creating unique reamers for doing acetabular revisions around an intact femoral component. He has a machine shop in his barn in Milton that makes Zimmer jealous.
And teaching, he is a compulsive teacher. They are the best kind. But thinking of kind, he is also a kind teacher, never embarrassing a novice student, but rather stimulating them. Small group teaching is his favorite, such as the daily Adult Reconstructive Conference at 7 am, or even better one-on-one teaching in the operating room. His structured presentations are also works of art, beautifully illustrated and imaginatively assembled. Note however, such formal talks occur only after he has overcome a residual fear of lecturing, and its worse if he has to go to the meeting on an airplane. Nevertheless, each one of these is a gem.
And so, why is he the Compleat Hip and Knee surgeon? Because he is smart, compassionate, dedicated, devoted to unfailing care, blessed with an uplifting personality, skilled hands, pragmatic and effective decision making, ingenuity of a remarkable degree, relentless quest for better ideas, and total devotion to teaching. What more could you ask?