It's one thing to make a name for yourself in the medical field, but it's entirely another to create an unforgettable impact. Such is the case with Dr. J. Richard Steadman, a pioneer in the field of orthopaedic surgery. Steadman retired from his surgical practice this year, leaving behind him an unprecedented number of surgical innovations.
Originally from Texas, Steadman began his practice in 1970 in South Lake Tahoe, California. In 1988 he founded the Steadman Sports Medicine Research Foundation. Two years later Steadman moved his practice to Vail and together with Dr. Richard Hawkins created the Steadman Hawkins Clinic. In 2004 Hawkins left the area and the practice was renamed The Steadman Clinic. In 2005 Dr. Marc J. Philippon joined on and the research institute became the Steadman Philippon Research Institute (SPRI). Following Steadman’s retirement, both facilities will maintain his name in his honor and he will stay on as a chairman emeritus at The Steadman Clinic and remain co-chairman of SPRI.
Steadman first gained international recognition through revolutionizing post-surgical rehabilitation. He created techniques that shortened and strengthened the healing process and he developed a procedure called "microfracture," which repairs damaged cartilage. Later in his career he was still on the forefront of surgical research with his technique known as the “package," which restores normal movement to stiff arthritic knees.
Through his work, Steadman helped many athletes get to the top of the podium. In 1976 Steadman treated women's downhill skier Cindy Nelson, who won bronze in that year's Olympic Games. In 1979 he treated Olympic racer Phil Mahre, who went on to win a silver and gold in the slalom. He treated elite athletes for decades and served as U.S. Alpine Chief Physician at the Winter Olympics from 1976-2006. Many athletes say they owe their careers to Steadman, for without his progress in both surgery and rehabilitation, they might not have been able to return to their sport after a serious injury.
Although world-class athletes have been some of his most publicized patients, Steadman also improved the lives of many patients locally. One of Steadman's goals was to help non-athletes stay active longer, and he treated over 12,000 patients during his time in Vail. To him this was just as rewarding as seeing a pro athlete be able to compete again. Through his leadership, Steadman brought international acclaim to not only The Steadman Clinic and SPRI but also helped elevate Vail Valley Medical Center as a destination for high-quality surgical treatment.
For years, he has been a pioneer in the world of sports medicine. He retired from his surgical practice, but his groundbreaking contributions in sports medicine will continue forever," said Dr. Marc J. Philippon, managing partner of The Steadman Clinic.
Steadman's name has become synonymous with knee surgery synonymous with knee surgery but he was also a role model in the truest sense. He showed his patients, colleagues, and those he mentored that the best care is a result of compassion and a deep desire to push the limits of what’s possible for patients after major surgery.
As Dr. Steadman retires, his former patients are encouraged to follow-up with other Steadman Clinic knee experts: Dr. Steve Singleton, Dr. Tom Hackett or Dr. Robert LaPrade.
REFLECTIONS: LOOKING BACK ON DR. STEADMAN’S CAREER & INFLUENCE
"Dr. Steadman improved the lives of so many during his career and left a legacy of a top-notch clinic that will continue his quest to treat patients from all walks of life." - Doris Kirchner, President & CEO of Vail Valley Medical Center
"A generation of professional athletes and grateful patients owe their livelihood and mobility to his successful, pioneering and exceptional delivery of innovative orthopaedic health care." - Mike Shannon, Chairman of Vail Health Services
"In 1993, Dr. Steadman first told me that how the patient feels is the most important outcome of the surgery. He listens and learns from every patient." - Karen Briggs, Director for the Center for Outcomes-Based Orthopaedic Research at SPRI
"Dr. Steadman has been a mentor and inspiration to me for the last 20 years. An amazing surgeon, his real secret has been the way he listens to and cares for his patients." - Dr. Peter J. Millett, MD, MSC, Director of Shoulder Surgery at The Steadman Clinic