April 2013

Orthopedist Jacquelin Perry dies, leaves legacy of innovative biomechanics work

Photo courtesy of Rancho Los Amigos.

Photo courtesy of Rancho Los Amigos.

By Emily Delzell

Jacquelin Perry, MD, DSc (Hon), died on March 11 in her home in Downey, CA. She was 94, and worked until near the end of her life at Los Angeles’s Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center, where she cared for patients and conducted research for more than 50 years.

As an orthopedic surgeon in the pre-Salk vaccine era, Perry was a leader in the treatment of polio; in the 1980s she became an acknowledged expert in management of postpolio syndrome through her work with patients who returned to her for care.

Perry also broke new ground in the lab with her innovative work in gait analysis, which included leading the creation of the observational system used by clinicians around the world to examine and manage walking deficits.

In 1992 she published Gait Analysis: Normal and Pathological Function, a seminal work widely used today by lower extremity practitioners. Along with Judith Burnfield, PT, PhD, she coauthored the second edition of the text in 2010. During her long and productive career, she also authored or coauthored more than 400 peer-reviewed papers and 38 book chapters.

“Throughout her life, Dr. Perry was a translational researcher, using the realities of clinical care and outcomes to guide the questions she asked. When the data didn’t match with reality, her intellect and curiosity drove her to seek the truth and to translate what she learned into changes in practice. Dr. Perry was a translational researcher before the term was even en vogue,” said Burnfield, who is Clifton Chair in Physical Therapy and Movement Science at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, NE.

Perry received her undergraduate degree in physical edu­cation at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1940 and then joined the US Army to train as a physical therapist. Her years in Army hospitals working with polio, rheumatoid arthritis, and trauma patients involved much gait analysis as she worked to help her patients regain their walking abilities.

After World War II, she used the GI Bill to study medicine, becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California, San Francisco, as an orthopedic surgeon. She was among the first 10 women certified by the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery.

In 1955 the 37-year-old Perry joined Rancho Los Amigos, where she jumpstarted a surgical program for paralyzed polio patients coming out of iron lungs. She was chief of Rancho’s Pathokinesiology Service for 30 years.

In the 1960s a brain artery blockage ended her operating career, but she continued her gait analysis research along with other significant work.

“Dr. Perry has been an invaluable professional mentor in my life,” Burnfield said. “Her enthusiasm for learning and passion for making a difference in the lives of the patients we have been privileged to serve were infectious. I truly value the time I spent with her as we worked on the second edition of her book. I learned so many pearls of wisdom that continue to influence my research and practice on a daily basis.”

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