Patrick Barry, M.D.

"He Knows Knees"

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The Unusual Career of Patrick J. Barry, M.D.

Alumni Profile:

The Unusual Career of Patrick J. Barry, M.D.

by Sherri Kronfeld
Special Projects Coordinator, Education Division

On a warm July afternoon, Dr. Patrick Barry stopped by my office while visiting the hospital to do research in the medical library. I managed to persuade him to give an interview for this newsletter; the following is culled from our lengthy conversation.

Dr. Barry was not one of those orthopaedists who always wanted to be a doctor. ”I was a child actor and model during World War II,” he told me. He was featured in commercials, including ads for Lionel Trains. A fiery red-head, he went on to become a top male model and actor in New York City, acting in many Broadway productions. He majored in English at Columbia and would have continued in his theatre career until he discovered medicine while serving in the military. He changed his plans, to his mother’s dismay. ”I must have the only mother who was upset that her son wanted to become a doctor!” “You know, anybody can be a doctor, but few can be successful with acting” she told me.

Dr. Barry completed his Orthopaedic residency and began practicing in Florida. Then he heard about a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua – and that medical students were flying there to lend a hand. ”I thought if medical students were going there, someone with full orthopedic training could really help,” Dr. Barry said. He went to Nicaragua, where the air force had set up a clinic outside the hospital that had been destroyed in the earthquake. He and one other orthopaedist treated hundreds of people over the course of a week. The quake had occurred on December 21st, and Dr. Barry remembered noticing the hospital’s Christmas decorations still hung from the toppled walls.

He left, planning to return to the country with more medical staff. However, the night he returned to Miami was the night of an Eastern Airlines plane crash. Many of the wounded individuals were sent to his hospital, and Dr. Barry couldn’t return to Nicaragua. His newly earned trauma experience came in good stead later that year, when another earthquake hit, this time in Guatemala. The country’s government called and asked him to help. He went down there for several weeks. ”This time was a little better,” Dr. Barry said, “I wasn’t sleeping on the ground now, I slept in a hotel, even though the outside bedroom walls had been blown off.”

The second day of his trip there he was on his way to a remote village where there were many victims of the earthquake. While driving, a second quake struck. The road broke up right in front of his car. Dr. Barry did manage to get to the village, but the villagers he was going to treat had been killed.

The work he did in these countries was recognized with several awards including the Roberto Clemente Humanitarian award. Dr. Barry embarked on some new projects, including performing orthopaedic surgery on animals. He operated on an elephant with arthritis, and a local celebrity in the Miami zoo, fusing a damaged joint. I asked Dr. Barry how he prepared for this surgery, considering he did not have any veterinary training. He replied that as he could not find an elephant anatomy book, he went to the Field Museum in Chicago to examine an elephant skeleton. He then met with a medical device company, who agreed to make titanium rods, and the Goodyear company, which made the tourniquet. When arthroscopy came along, he decided to do arthroscopy on race horses. Dr. Barry was the first doctor to do so, although it is now common practice.

How did this come about?
My office in Miami was near the racetrack, and I used to take care of jockeys and trainers, so I became familiar with them. After I had done 200 arthroscopic surgeries on humans, I went up to Kentucky to assist in open surgery of horse joints to get familiar with their anatomy.

So in a way you first performed clinical tests on humans before practicing on animals?
Yes, exactly! (He laughs) I wanted to make sure that I was comfortable doing arthroscopy on humans before I began with horses.

Dr. Barry also treated a 400 pound loggerhead turtle, which had its fins bitten off in the Florida Keys by a shark. He helped create prosthestic fins and obtained a special license to operate on an endangered species. Dr. Barry practiced the procedure on a cadaverous turtle. The instrument had a metal screw that fit into the shoulder, and was covered with rubber that fit tightly around the metal. As soon as the operation was complete, the turtle instantly began to swim.

Beyond his work with animals, Dr. Barry continued to provide health care to people in developing countries including working with missionaries in Brazil to give basic medical care to patients who had never seen a doctor before. He also spent about eight years working with the people of Raotonga, and island near Fiji in the South Pacific. He took a course in tropical medicine so he could work better with the patients there. He visited Raotonga twice a year for eight years.

Outside of medicine, do you have any personal interests that you’d like to share with fellow alumni?
well, I’m very active in Egyptology. I’ve served three times as president of the Egyptology Society in Miami.

He explained that his expertise in this field led him to doing consultant work on documentaries, “like the kind you see on Discovery Channel where they show a mummy’s tomb.” Dr. Barry went with a research team to Cairo, where he enjoyed the experience of determining the dates of bones from famous figures in Egyptian history. His orthopaedic background has helped him provide an almost forensic perspective to the archeological teams that he has worked with.

You have so many interests! It seems like you have more energy than a surgeon half your age. How do you keep up the pace?

It’s refreshing! I’m always saying to people, “Let’s go, let’s go! Where is everybody?”

Contact Dr. Barry if you have the following knee problems:

  • Pain and/or difficulty walking, running or climbing stairs
  • Pain at night
  • Bone-on-bone arthritis
  • Clicking, grinding or catching of the knee
  • Swelling and/or fluid in the knee
  • Dissatisfaction with prior knee surgery
  • Told you need knee surgery but don’t want it. Or have had a total or partial knee replacement and are still unhappy.

Dr. Barry’s innovative knee manipulation/mobilization procedure has caught the attention of top medical reporters and media outlets. Here is a sampling of some of his news coverage and interviews: