Jacquelin Perry

Geoff Watts

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Orthopaedic surgeon and leading authority on gait analysis. She was born in Denver, CO, USA, on May 31, 1918, and died in Downey, CA, USA, on March 11, 2013, aged 94 years.
When orthopaedic surgeon Jacquelin Perry found herself obliged for health reasons to stop operating she followed the advice she was accustomed to give her patients: accommodate to your new reality. With a prior qualification in physical therapy and already interested in human movement, her own accommodation with reality was to set up a gait laboratory at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in California. Perry established first a national and then an international reputation as one of the leading authorities on the biomechanics of walking and other forms of movement. In 1992 she wrote what is still a highly regarded textbook on gait analysis, and she continued working until the end of her life. Despite living with Parkinson's disease for 20 years and eventually requiring a wheelchair, she never gave in to her own loss of mobility. Neurologist Professor Helena Chui of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California worked with Perry for 10 years and knew her well for more than 30. “She was in the lab until the week before she passed away”, she says. “Jacquelin was a giant in her field.”
Although Perry had known from the age of 10 years that she wanted to be a doctor, this is not how her career began. With a degree in physical education she joined the US Army and trained as a physical therapist at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. It was another 5 years before she had the opportunity to study medicine. In 1950, with a medical degree from University of California, San Francisco, she moved into orthopaedics, becoming one of the first ten women to be certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. In 1955, Perry joined Rancho Los Amigos, the rehabilitation hospital where she was to spend the rest of her career. In collaboration with a colleague, orthopaedic surgeon Dr Vernon Nickel, she designed a device known as the halo, a metal ring attached by four screws into the skull and used in conjunction with metal rods to immobilise the spine and neck of patients with polio who had recovered sufficiently to leave the iron lung used to maintain their respiration, and who needed support in an upright position.
It was in the late 1960s that Perry was forced to abandon surgery says Professor Mary Ann Keenan of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. “She had a vascular abnormality at the base of her brain, and when she turned her head she would get severe vertigo. She coped well with this change. But then she was always very practical.” By focusing on gait analysis Perry was able to continue in orthopaedics, and also use her skills as a physical therapist. “She looked at everything from a functional perspective”, says Keenan. “It could be someone with very severe physical limitations or a high-performing professional athlete. She worked from one end of the spectrum to the other.” As Chui adds, “She made herself the supreme expert on what was wrong with someone's gait. She took it apart to understand it, and then set out to fix it.” Perry's thinking is still influential, notes Chui: “It's the gold standard for gait analysis.”
During the 1980s Perry was among the first to make a close study of what became known as the post-polio syndrome. This condition affects polio survivors years after their recovery from infection with the virus and is characterised by progressive muscle weakness and atrophy, fatigue, pain from joint degeneration, and skeletal deformities such as scoliosis. She guided their rehabilitation, all the time advising them, “Listen to your body and adopt a programme that avoids strain.”
“Most people who worked with her would tell you she was intimidating, and that's how I felt on first meeting her”, says Keenan. “She would challenge you with difficult questions. She could see the essence of problems and wanted to hear your reasoning.” Chui agrees, commenting that “She was tough love. People were afraid of her because she held them to such a high standard. But they loved her because they knew she had the same standard for herself.” And although Perry was not a golfer, Keenan adds, she could criticise your play: “She'd tell you what was wrong with your swing even though she'd never hit a golf ball. She understood movement. And if you did what she said you played better!”Post Polio Litaff, Association A.C _APPLAC Mexico

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