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The world mourns the loss of the beloved godfather of sports medicine Freddie H. Fu, M.D., who on September 24, 2021, passed away following a brave fight against melanoma in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An energetic, dynamic man with a heart of gold, he was world renowned for his innovative advancements in orthopaedic sports medicine. Dr. Fu’s boundless energy, sharp memory, curious mind, and engaging personality were combined with a generous spirit and intense work ethic. He lived each of his days to the fullest, demanding the most of himself and those around him. A devoted family man, he prided himself on his efficiency and always showed up for his family, friends, patients, mentees, and colleagues. He was available, affable, and able, with an emotional IQ that was unparalleled.
Born in Hong Kong as Ho Keung F. Fu in 1950, Freddie attended secondary school at St. Paul’s College. Besides demonstrating academic prowess, he was an all-star point guard on the school’s championship basketball team and played lead guitar in a rock band. Freddie came to the United States to attend Dartmouth College where he played on the school’s championship ping pong team and served on the Chinese and International student associations. He graduated summa cum laude in 1974 with an undergraduate degree in biology. Most importantly, Freddie married Hilda Pang Fu in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1974. He then received his B.M.S. in 1975 from Dartmouth Medical School.
Thereafter, Dr. Fu went to the University of Pittsburgh where he earned his medical degree in 1977. He completed his general surgery internship at Brown University and returned to the University of Pittsburgh for his orthopaedic residency training. Following residency, he was an AO International Fellow at the Hannover Trauma Center in Germany and an arthroscopic surgery fellow in East Lansing, Michigan.
Dr. Fu then joined the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine faculty in 1982. In 1984, Freddie was selected as an AOA North American Traveling Fellow. He founded the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine in 1986 at a modest location adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh’s campus and main hospitals. Under Freddie’s leadership, the site flourished and grew into a world-renowned sports medicine and fellowship program.
Following my fellowship year, I stayed on staff at Pittsburgh as an assistant professor and inherited a portion of Freddie’s orthopaedic practice. I had the great pleasure and fortune of working with Freddie until 2003. Simply put, he was an amazing man. During my fellowship year, I witnessed him state to a few patients, “if you want second opinion, ask me twice!” To my surprise they did. His generosity was exceptional. As one example, in 2000, Freddie sent me first class to Hong Kong to present on meniscus transplantation at an international conference. The reception I received in representing their native son was spectacular. Freddie also arranged for a world class tailor to make me three custom-made suits during the trip, and Freddie picked up the tab. Upon returning, we talked for weeks about the trip. He would occasionally call early in the morning and ask for another detail about my experience in Hong Kong. He would then provide teaching pointers regarding anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) surgery and follow this with questions and comments about our upcoming ACL current concepts paper. When I was scheduled to attend a major event in Pittsburgh, Freddie would ask which suit I was planning to wear. He later ordered me a few extravagant ties to go with the suits. As was common with Freddie he would state, “don’t embarrass me, you need to look good.” He would follow the words with a quick laugh on the phone or a smile in person. I came to the realization that he demanded a lot but gave way more.
My fellowship mates Deryk Jones and Larry Higgins and I have shared warm Freddie stories on an annual basis at meetings for the past two decades. We are by no means unique in placing him as one of the three most positively influential men in our lives. Dr. Fu was an outstanding surgeon, teacher, motivator, mentor, researcher, and leader. His boundless energy was infectious. We watched how he balanced family, friendship and work remarkably well. We observed his skill at connecting with people. His ability to remember the smallest details of someone’s life was incredible. Given the intensity of interacting with him, some of the fellows used to measure time with Freddie as the number of Fu months or Fu years we experienced. One Fu year would be like three with someone else.
Freddie loved Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh loved him back. In recognition of his commitment and expansive impact to the city, the Pittsburgh Magazine in 1999 named him one of the 100 most influential Pittsburghers of the 20th century. Extremely proud of the city and people of Pittsburgh, he was also keenly aware of the social impact he was having. He took appropriate pride in his ability to help others and saw it as a blessed responsibility. He took notice that his program was helping diversify his corner of town. Pittsburghers liked being associated with Freddie. I found it fascinating that people from all walks of life would inform me of when and where they met Freddie Fu. As he travelled the world to exotic and famous places, Freddie would talk about the extraordinary city of bridges in which he lived. He took great pleasure in welcoming people from around the globe to visit him in Pittsburgh, and when visitors came, he and Hilda were the consummate hosts. Posthumously, Dr. Fu was again honored in the Pittsburgh Magazine as Pittsburgher of the Year for 2021.
World Renowned Sports Complex
Under Dr. Fu’s leadership, the sports center flourished, and it soon became time for a bigger place. He is primarily responsible for the conception, oversight, and design of the $80 million UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, a 60-acre sports medicine complex that opened in 2000. The complex, built on an old steel mill site on the south side of Pittsburgh, was a novel innovation, combining the resources of a major academic health system with professional and collegiate sports programs. The facility encompasses large indoor and outdoor football training facilities for the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers and has helped to revitalize the surrounding area economically and socially. It is what some of us refer to as “the house that Freddie built.” I recall move-in day when he propped his feet upon his spacious office desk on a sunny fall day in October. Overlooking the Monongahela River, he was overjoyed in expressing that “my team did it, it is beautiful”! I asked why he accepted the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) not providing him with name recognition for a portion of the complex? He prophesied that, “they will one day.” This he said not boastfully, but with confidence.
The sports center has a multidisciplinary approach to sports injuries and performance. Dr. Fu developed an exceptional comprehensive medical team and built the center to provide top-notch care for everyone, whether you were a world-class, youth, or recreational athlete. Coinciding with the opening of the new sports complex was the launching of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in 2000, which was the first of its kind. It has remained the largest program in the country, with six full-time neuropsychologists and 30 faculty, and serves as an international leader in concussion research, assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, and education. In 2018, the center was renamed the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center, following a multimillion- dollar renovation and expansion. Just previously, in 2015, Dr. Fu fostered a partnership between UPMC and the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins to build the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which is dedicated to hockey-related training, injury prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation.
Dr. Fu established a research environment that was productive and stimulating. His personal academic productivity was prolific. In total, Dr. Fu published 705 peer-reviewed articles, 200 non-peer-reviewed articles, 145 book chapters, and has edited 33 major textbooks on sports medicine. He gave 1,315 national or international presentations. Freddie was particularly in constant pursuit of improving ACL surgery techniques. Freddie published articles that were cited more than 60,000 times, and the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine reported in a 2021 study that he had more of the top-100 cited papers on ACL reconstruction than anyone else in the world.
Given Dr. Fu’s academic contributions, he was awarded with advanced degrees. He held a secondary appointment as a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. He also held an honorary Doctorate in Science degree from Point Park University and one from Public Service from Chatham University.
Freddie said and showed that family always comes first. Even with his hectic schedule and distinguished accolades, he cherished his family time the most. His wife Hilda was the love of his life. At Freddie’s memorial service, his son Gordon and daughter Joyce both reflected on how their father always made quality time for them. Gordon recalled evenings as a young boy when Freddie would hug him, share stories with him, and lovingly provide a perpetual tap on Gordon’s side. Joyce reflected on her father’s bountiful energy and the joy they shared during frequent amusement park trips. Freddie rarely missed his children’s sporting events. Joyce recalled how her dad would arrive to her games in his biking shorts and be the leader of the cheering section. In later years, he took pride in visiting his children at his alma mater Dartmouth, from where they have both since graduated. In recent years, he enjoyed telling stories and sharing pictures after visits with his grandchildren. Gordon and Joyce both spoke of their dad being such a devoted grandfather. In speaking with his children, you can sense the pride and love they have for their father.
Compassionate and Effective Teacher
Hundreds of future leaders in orthopaedics and sports medicine trained under Dr Fu. The quotes from a few of his previous residents and fellows share a common theme; he strived to bring out the best in everyone by providing mentorship, encouragement, and access:Darren Johnson (1993 fellow): “He made everyone perform on a scale not thought possible. He changed the lives and careers of those who were fortunate enough to work with him.”Marc Safran (1994 fellow): “Freddie had many talents. One was the ability to instill confidence in us. Another was his ability to help us find our maximal abilities.”Lee Kaplan (2002 fellow): “Freddie was a great coach. He always knew when to push you and when to put his arm around you. He also took tremendous pride in your accomplishments, just as much as he did in his own.”C. Benjamin Ma (2002 Resident): “Freddie was a great mentor, leader, and more importantly, a friend. He had the innate ability to remember the smallest detail and believe in the best about everyone.”Barrett Woods (2014 resident): “Dr. Fu had the ability to appreciate your talent in its rawest form, and then put you in position to cultivate it. He gave me opportunities that have changed my life.”Kellie Middleton (2018 resident): “Every day, I strive to uphold Dr. Fu’s legacy—to hold myself to his standards of excellence. May all of my patients, staff, and clinical teammates come to know and feel Dr. Fu’s inspiration through me.”Many of Dr. Fu’s former students, residents, and fellows share similar sentiments.
Freddie was a compassionate and passionate teacher, with a unique style. He had the ability to make most anyone feel valued and special. Dr. Fu was not only a mentor but also a father figure to so many. “I have a good attitude about everything,’’ Dr. Fu told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2002. “I practice medicine with unconditional love, the way you are with your children. You don’t expect anything back. But it does come back to you.” Lee Kaplan and Deryk Jones (1998 fellows) emphasized how much Freddie paid detailed attention to the well-being of their children when any health or injury concerns existed. Freddie, in a way uncommon to many leaders of his prominence, showed kindness, support, and humanity toward so many lives that he touched. Laura Copaken (2003 resident) shares that, “residency was a complicated and difficult time which I may not have managed without Freddie’s support. He cared about people as much as he cared about medicine, academics, or power.” Laura adds, “years after I graduated, just a few days following a holiday time phone call to Freddie, I received a signed Troy Palamalou football Christmas present for a 10-year-old battling Ewing’s Sarcoma. Freddie heard me say the patient was a Steelers’ fan. Freddie just cared.” More than 1,500 residents and fellows from 62 counties have trained under Freddie, and his personal touch had a lasting effect on most.
The operative suite was Dr. Fu’s performance stage and classroom, with fellows and observers from around the world coming to witness the procedures. It is here that his teaching impact may have been the greatest. One of Freddie’s mantras was “speed and accuracy.” He would want us to proceed quickly and perfectly. I recall the nervous anticipation before my first ACL reconstruction with Dr. Fu. I was learning under the man who was revolutionizing ACL surgery. Immediately before the case, I asked for some particulars regarding what kind of approach we were taking. His response was, “We go fast and perfect.” When I pressed for more details he said, “Stick it in, bang, we done.” Mark Miller (1993 fellow) reflects that, “what I learned most from Freddie was the importance of not perseverating. He used to say go fast so you won’t make a mistake. While that may seem counterintuitive, through the years I have come to appreciate that there is truth in that approach.”
ACL reconstruction was Freddie’s favorite procedure and his greatest clinical contribution. For an extended period, the double-bundle ACL was his trademark. I recall an early morning phone call in 2003 after I had left Pittsburgh. Freddie emphatically said, “come back next week so I can show you the double bundle.” In recent years, Freddie placed more emphasis on replication of the ACL’s anatomic footprint than on the two-bundle concept. Through practice and research, he came to appreciate the importance of accurately restoring the insertional anatomy of the ACL during reconstruction procedures. His three decades of research and dedication have advanced the procedure immeasurably.
Revered Team Physician
Along with everything else, Dr. Fu was a revered team physician. For 32 years, he was the head team physician for the University of Pittsburgh Department of Athletics. In recognition of his contribution, Pitt athletes wore the initials “FF” on their uniforms this past fall season. Additionally, as the first team physician for Pittsburgh’s Mount Lebanon and Central Catholic High Schools, in 1984, he established the first-ever high school athletic training program in Western Pennsylvania. This program has subsequently grown into one of the largest in the country, supporting 44 high schools. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association awarded him the Presidential Challenge Award for his significant contributions and support in advancing athletic training.
Passionate Patron of the Arts and Athletics
Dr. Fu was a patron of the arts and athletic events. He was the company physician for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for 37 years. Freddie was instrumental in establishing the first City of Pittsburgh Marathon in 1985 and served as the marathon’s board chairman and executive medical director until 2003. An avid cyclist, he was a central person in bringing the Thrift Drug Classic annual professional cycling race to Pittsburgh from 1991 to 1997. He served as medical director of the race, which featured cyclists Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond. On several occasions, both the marathon and the professional cycling race served as U.S. Olympic Trial events.
He and Hilda were generous and passionate philanthropists. Freddie actively served for more than 30 years on numerous boards of organizations that helped to support initiatives to enhance the economic dynamism of the region. He had an immense social and medical impact on the Greater Pittsburgh community. In 2016, given the magnitude of his contributions, the Pittsburgh City Council declared September 13 ‘‘Dr. Freddie Fu Day.’’
Sports Orthopaedics Society Leadership/Awards
Freddie held leadership positions for the most prestigious regional, national, and international societies. He served as the President of the Pennsylvania Orthopaedic Society and as a board member of Arthroscopic Association of North America. In 2008, Freddie assumed the presidency of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM) and was the first foreign-born president in the AOSSM’s 40-year history. In 2009, he was named the president of International Society of Arthroscopy, Knee Surgery and Orthopaedic Sports Medicine.
Given his accomplishments, the awards he received were many, exceeding 260. Noteworthy include the 2011 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) Diversity Award, testament to his leading one of the most elite and most diversified orthopaedic training programs in the country, attracting among the brightest young surgeons/researchers from the United States and abroad. In 2012, Dr. Fu was presented with the Sports Leadership Award from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette–based Dapper Dan Charities. The award was subsequently renamed the Freddie Fu Sports Leadership Award and will remain in perpetuity. In recognition of his national and international achievements, he has received Lifetime/Honorary Membership from the European Society of Sports Traumatology, Knee Surgery and Arthroscopy, the 2014 Kappa Delta Elizabeth Winston Lanier Award from the AAOS, the George D. Rovere Award on behalf of the AOSSM, and the Masaki Watanabe Award from the Japanese Orthopaedic Society of Knee, Arthroscopy and Sports Medicine. Given his momentous professional achievements, contributions, and support, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth honored Dr. Fu with the Alumni Council Career Achievement Award in 2018.
Jack Smith, longtime President of the UPMC Orthopaedic Alumni Association states, “Freddie more than anyone carried on the legacy of Dr. Albert Ferguson. Freddie valued research, was an excellent teacher, a great surgeon, and a dear friend to so many. He cared about people as much as anyone I have ever known. Additionally, he basically invented sports medicine in Pittsburgh.” Jack as well as many others have discussed Dr. Fu’s strength during his final months. Jack added that, “Freddie called me after announcing his advanced cancer diagnosis. He did not want tears or sympathy but wanted everyone to know that he had a full and great life.”
Long-standing practice partners share common reflections of their mentor. Pitt’s Chief of Sports Medicine Volker Musahl states, “Every person I have ever met that had the privilege of meeting Dr. Fu has the same story I have. He touched their life and made a difference, a suggestion, a recommendation. Each person feels as if they are the only one of importance.” MaCalus Hogan, Pitt’s Orthopaedic Vice Chair and Residency Director recalls an initial visit to Pitt a decade ago when Freddie said, “Hogan, I am already famous. One of the joys I have in life now is seeing other people do well.” Hogan went on to state that, “Freddie meant those words, they were action statements. He was a proven, tried, true, and competitive leader who cared. What he has done in support of so many is unparalleled, and he will be missed.”
Freddie loved his family, and this was followed by a love for people and his career. Other passions included a joy for science, teaching, photography, the arts, great food and wine, fast cars, stylish threads, sports, cycling, Pittsburgh, and Hong Kong. He was a dynamic, innovative, inspirational, energetic, compassionate, and highly intelligent man of action. Dr. Fu’s generational legacy was teaching medical students, residents, and fellows to have compassion for people and to help others. Given his illustrious professional accomplishments, he was inducted into the AOSSM Hall of Fame in July 2016. Given the totality of all he has done for so many, he is inducted into our Great Human Being Hall of Fame as well. During my final conversation with Dr. Fu, I felt the strength and courage that he exuded. He seemed more concerned about how his death would affect others rather than himself.
You were truly one of a kind, Freddie. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten. Your star shines so brightly. Through the lens of time, may we completely appreciate the magnitude of your impact. We would certainly like to have had one more Fu year. Thank you, Freddie. We also thank Hilda, Gordon, Joyce, and your entire family for sharing you with the world. Our condolences to your family, and may you rest in peace.Dr. Fu is survived by his devoted wife of 47 years, Hilda Pang Fu, who is a painter and the founder of Luminari, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that sponsors leadership activities and promotes community engagement. A proud father and adoring grandfather, Dr. Fu is also survived by his daughter, Joyce Lok-See Fu (and husband, Chad Martin); son, Gordon Ka-Hong Fu (and wife, Ding Li); five grandchildren, Ludivine Ling-Yun Fu Martin, Alexander Zee-Yun Fu Martin, Axel Wei-Yun Fu Martin, Kendrick Kai Cheng Fu, and Kasen Kai Sheng Fu; his mother, Mabel Foo; his sisters, Susan Lam and Jeanette Maeba; and his brothers, Frank Fu and Nigel Fu. Dr. Fu was preceded in death by his father, Ying Foo.