Melvin Jahss, MD, orthopaedic surgeon, mentor, educator, researcher, scholar, collector, author and loving husband, passed away in his apartment in New York City in the early morning of February 14, 2009. Considered by many as one of the fathers of the discipline of modern foot and ankle surgery, he was the Chief of foot and ankle services at the Hospital for Joint Diseases and was a founding member of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society. As founding editor of the most prestigious journal on the subject, Foot and Ankle International, and author of numerous articles and textbooks, he helped guide the emerging subspecialty by fostering a higher standard for orthopaedic scholarship on the lower extremity.

He was born in New York City in 1921, the son of well-known orthopaedic surgeon Samuel Jahss of the Hospital for Joint Diseases. Dr. Jahss attended NYU Medical College and then enlisted in the Navy in 1943 to serve in China during World War II. He subsequently joined the Hospital for Joint Diseases as a resident from 1947 to 1951. During his residency, he received the gold medal from the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons for researching 450 cases of slip capital femoral epiphysis. Following his service as a medical officer during the Korean War, he returned to take over the foot and ankle service from Paul Lapidus, MD, at Hospital for Joint Diseases. He co-founded the Foot and Ankle Society in 1969 and soon thereafter established one of the first fellowships in foot and ankle reconstructive surgery. From 1947 until his retirement in 1997, Dr. Jahss’ influence was well known regionally and internationally for his insight and skill.

In addition to his editorials in Foot and Ankle International, he authored over 46 peer-reviewed publications in the field of foot and ankle reconstruction, and was the sole editor of the encyclopedic textbook Disorders of the Foot published in 1981 and Disorders of the Foot and Ankle published in 1991.

While president of the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, he proclaimed, “Our ultimate goal is to educate the public and to provide them with the best foot care at the highest academic and professional level.” It was through his life’s work at the Hospital for Joint Disease that he fulfilled this goal. He was responsible for training over 350 residents and 14 fellows. Furthermore, he inspired numerous students and researchers worldwide to pursue the field with a passion. He was the first recipient of the Humana Award for Excellence in 1990, an award established by the American Foot and Ankle Society

Not only did he embody the values of a dedicated physician and surgeon, but he was a proponent of a well-balanced liberal arts education and personally pursued numerous interests outside of orthopaedics. His fondness for Japanese lacquer art culminated his publication of a landmark textbook on Inro in 1971. Other personal collections included Tiffany glass paintings, American and Chinese pottery, Japanese sword guards, fine antique furniture, music, antique silver, minerals, butterflies and walking sticks. In each of his collections, he mastered the full breadth of the subject with the same intensity and zeal that he embraced orthopaedic surgery.

His insatiable quest to have deep knowledge always led him towards further research and innovation. Malcolm Brahms, one of the early members of the Foot and Ankle Society, had stated, “The organization, the recruitment, the desire and the impetus for our society was initiated by Melvin Jahss.” Dr. Jahss’ colorful, dynamic, and creative style made him one of the greatest teachers in all of orthopaedics. Humor and levity was often intermingled with the serious and intense. He coined several words and phrases: Hungy Bungies (food), Schmoggler (a surgical tool best described as a small curved gouge), Shquiggle Shquagle (surgical manipulation to free up an anatomic structure) and Ichal Bichal (unpleasant appearance of an appendage).

Dr. Jahss leaves behind a loving wife, Harriet, and his stepchildren. His legacy in foot and ankle is vast and he will remain as a source of inspiration for an eternity.

LCS

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