Western Pennsylvania athletes lost pioneering orthopedic surgeon Dr. Freddie Fu, who died Sept. 24 from metastatic melanoma. He was 70.
Fu founded the sports medicine program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and gained a worldwide reputation for developing procedures to repair ACL tears in knees, ruptured Achilles tendons and shoulder injuries of athletes. He also treated people with non-sports related injuries.
At the time of his death, Fu chaired the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and was the David Silver Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine.
Born in Hong Kong in 1950, he came to the United States to attend Dartmouth College. While earning an undergraduate degree in biology, he played on the Big Green’s championship ping pong team.
After he completed a bachelor of medical studies from Dartmouth’s Medical School, Fu came to Pittsburgh and earned his medical degree in 1977 from Pitt. Though he did his internship in general surgery at Brown University, Fu returned to Pitt for an orthopedic research fellowship and residency training.
By the 1980s, he started honing his skills in sports medicine at Mt. Lebanon High School when he was recommended as a team physician for the Blue Devil football team. Since that decade, Mt. Lebanon has contracted with UPMC for athletic trainers and services.
“(Dr. Fu) was a tremendous friend to our athletic programs,” said Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan. “He was a great resource for us.
As a person, Grogan said Fu was a “terrific guy” and “tremendous person” who had a passion for athletics and orthopedics.
“He developed a love for Mt. Lebanon,” Grogan said, “and from there a love for youth and high school sports. That led him to build a tremendous sports facility for us (at Mt. Lebanon) and all to use. It was a win-win for high school athletics.”
Under his leadership, Fu assembled emergency medical personnel on site for high school games and launched a high school athletic training program that serves schools throughout Western Pennsylvania.
In addition, he perfected the technique to repair the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) which is one of the most common sports injuries.
By 1986, he had founded the UPMC sports medicine program and by the turn of the century had opened a sports medicine center, bearing his name, in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.
Throughout his career, Fu served as the team physician for the University of Pittsburgh athletic department. It was in that capacity when Dr. Joe David first encountered what he said was then an “up-and-coming young, genius doctor” as a member of the Pitt men’s basketball team.
An Upper St. Clair graduate, David said he was treated by Fu “many times” during his tenure as a point guard for the Panthers. He also learned under Fu while pursuing his studies in physical therapy. David received his master’s degree in orthopedic/sports physical therapy from Pitt and holds a doctorate degree from Temple.
“(Dr. Fu) was my mentor. A wonderful man,” David sid. “He had a lot of compassion treating patients but he was also a whirlwind of energy. Always moving.”
David recalled being invited by Fu to watch him operate while he was a student. On Fridays from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., David had the opportunity to watch Fu in action.
“It was a great experience. To see surgeons in their element when they are operating is amazing,” he said, “but with Dr. Fu he was cutting edge and he was always teaching.”
David said he never forgot Fu’s work ethic and applies it to his own practice. David has physical therapy treatment centers in Mt. Lebanon and Southpointe. He also coaches the Mt. Lebanon boys basketball team.
“You could see how hard he worked,” David said of Fu. “He kept pushing himself. He never looked at his watch or took a lunch break. He was very humble. No ego and you could see the passion he had and how much he loved what he did.”
Fu’s techniques put Pittsburgh on the map, David said.
“He’s a legend. He gave so much to the city in many different ways,” he said. “He was true to the city and because of that he will not be forgotten.”
Mt. Lebanon football coach Bob Palko will long recall Fu as well. He met him while his son, Tyler, starred at quarterback for the University of Pittsburgh.
“What a class act,” Palko said of Fu. “He was a pioneer and an innovator. He had a vision and was relentless in trying to get that accomplished. Talk about leaving a legacy. His will be forever remembered.”