Feb. 24, 1922 – Feb. 15, 2019
Dr. Eugene R. Mindell began focusing on bone cancer in the late 1940s while he was doing his residency at the University of Chicago with some of the era’s leading osteosarcoma researchers.
“The big problem we faced was why did so many of these patients die,” Dr. Mindell told the medical journal Orthopedics Today in 2005. “Most of these patients were being treated with an amputation, and more than 80 percent of those patients died anyway. There weren’t a lot of good options back in those days.”
The researchers in Chicago pioneered bone resections and bone reconstruction, procedures that Dr. Mindell employed when he came to Buffalo in 1953.
Recruited in 1964 to found the Department of Orthopaedics at the University at Buffalo Medical School, he served as its first chairman. He established the area’s first bone bank for bone grafts, set up a residency program and a bone research laboratory, and built the department into a nationally ranked program for training in orthopedic surgery.
“He was an icon at the medical school,” his son, David, said.
Dr. Mindell died Feb. 15 at his home in Canterbury Woods, Amherst. He was 96.
Born in Chicago, he attended the University of Chicago, where he played on the freshman basketball team and was a member of Alpha Omega Alpha and Sigma Xi fraternities. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1943 and completed his medical degree there in 1945, the same year he married a student from Buffalo, June Abrams.
He joined the Navy while in medical school and served as a Veterans Administration physician in Columbia, S.C., in 1945 and 1946, caring for soldiers and veterans. He then was an intern at Cincinnati General Hospital before returning to the University of Chicago for his residency.
Dr. Mindell came to Buffalo in 1953, set up a private practice and became affiliated with Millard Fillmore Hospital and Buffalo General Hospital. Also a volunteer lecturer to UB medical students, he was asked in 1964 to become the university’s first orthopedist and to establish a new department in the medical school.
“At the time, there was a tussle between general surgery and orthopedics,” his son, David, said. “There was a lot of resistance to forming a department, but if there was an adversary, he’d make him a friend. He arranged for joint appointments of a general surgeon and an orthopedist. This paved the way for the new department.”
Dr. Mindell was the department’s chairman until 1988. He wrote a history of the department in 2002 and continued to attend seminars and medical school functions.
A leading researcher who published more than 100 scientific papers, and a pioneer in limb-sparing surgery, he was among the first to adopt chemotherapy and new surgical procedures in the treatment of bone cancer patients in the 1970s.
“The survival rate changed from less than 20 percent to around 70 percent,” he told Orthopedics Today in 2005. “Instead of amputation, patients could now receive a limb-sparing operation. It became possible to save lives as well as limbs. That was the big turnaround.”
Prominent in several professional organizations, he was one of the founders of the Musculoskeletal Tumor Society and was president of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, where he set up the board’s certifying process for orthopedic surgeons, and the Orthopaedic Research Society.
In 1991, he was elected to the board of directors of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and served as chairman of the academy’s Council of Musculoskeletal Specialty Societies.
He was deputy editor for the Journal of Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research and associate editor and member of the board of trustees for the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.
He received the UB Medical School’s Dean’s Award in 1986, the University of Chicago Distinguished Service Award in 1990, the Lifetime Achievement Award from UB Orthopaedics in 2002, the D’Youville College Achievement in Health Care Award in 2002 and the Distinguished Service Award from the Erie County Medical Society in 2012.
He and his wife, an accomplished weaver and quilt maker who died in 2010, endowed the June A. and Eugene R. Mindell Chair of Orthopaedics in the UB Medical School. He also established the annual Eugene R. Mindell and Harold Brody Clinical Translational Research Award for junior research scientists at UB.
He enjoyed golf, tennis, skiing, traveling with his wife and, in recent years, playing the piano and watercolor painting.
Survivors include two sons, David P. and Douglas G.; a sister, Audrey Rubin; three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in Congregation Shir Shalom, 4660 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.