On September 23, a festive crowd of colleagues, family members, and friends filled the medical school’s Historical Library for a reception to celebrate the appointment of surgeon Kristaps J. Keggi, M.D., as the inaugural Elihu Professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation.
Many of those present had contributed directly to the creation of the new professorship, which was established with the combined contributions of a number of corporate and individual donors.
The professorship will serve as the cornerstone of a Joint Reconstruction Program being established at the School of Medicine as a center of excellence in clinical care, research, and medical education and training.
Keggi is internationally renowned for his work as an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacements. In particular, he pioneered and has continually refined a minimally invasive approach to hip replacement that relies on a single “mini-incision” only eight to 10 centimeters long, sometimes combined with one or two additional tiny incisions to accommodate surgical instruments. This approach causes less tissue trauma and less risk of infection than conventional approaches, and promotes quicker recovery, getting patients back on their feet more quickly.
Over the past three decades Keggi and colleagues he has trained at Yale and at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, Conn., have performed over 6,000 hip-replacement surgeries using this general approach, and have seen significantly fewer complications, shorter operative times, low blood loss, and a more appealing post-operative appearance.
In addition to his work in the operating room, Keggi has made a lasting contribution to medical education as the founder and president of the Keggi Orthopaedic Foundation (KOF). Since its launch in 1988, KOF has provided fellowships in advanced orthopaedic surgery at the School of Medicine and at Waterbury Hospital for more than 300 surgeons from the Baltic nations, Russia, and Vietnam.
A native of Latvia, Keggi came to the United States with his family when he was 15. “We had a dollar among us,” Keggi said in a 2009 interview, referring to his parents and three brothers. Sponsored by a church in Brooklyn, N.Y., the family lived in the parish house, and young Keggi, at age 15, worked as a bellboy at Brooklyn’s St. George Hotel. After attending three high schools in New York, Keggi ended up at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn. From there he came to Yale College, graduating in 1955.
Keggi applied for admission to Yale School of Medicine, and was slightly intimidated to be interviewed by Dorothy M. Horstmann, M.D., a legendary faculty member whose research during the 1940s had provided a basis for the vaccine against polio. “Much to my surprise they accepted me,” Keggi has said. “My performance in organic chemistry hadn’t been that stellar.”
After earning his medical degree in 1959, he completed residencies at the Roosevelt Hospital in New York and at Yale. Keggi then served in a U.S. Army mash unit in Vietnam, as chief of orthopaedic surgery at Third Surgical Hospital. His treatment of wounded soldiers there prompted him to develop novel techniques for the treatment of traumatic injuries.
He returned to Yale as an assistant professor in 1966 to work in orthopaedic trauma surgery and emergency care. Keggi was appointed clinical professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation in 1989 and became professor in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation in 2008.
At Yale, Keggi took part in the launch of both the Physician Associate Program and the trauma program in the Department of Surgery. He also helped establish the Keggi-Berzins Latvian Baltic Studies Fund at Yale University, as well as the Baltic Internship Program for the Yale University Library’s Slavic and East European Collections.
In the course of his long career, Keggi has earned many honors. He is a six-time winner of the Yale Orthopaedic Teaching Award. In 2005, he received the George Herbert Walker Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award from Yale University Athletics. He is the recipient of Latvia’s Karlis Ulmanis Medal, the Latvian Order of the Three Stars, and the Knights of Lithuania Friend of Lithuania Award. He has been president of the Yale Fencing Association and a member of the Yale Athletic Federation.
“Medicine has changed for the better,” Keggi has said, adding that today’s patients have high expectations. “We can deliver most of them. Thirty or 40 years ago we delivered half of them.”