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In Memoriam: Kristaps Keggi, MD

July 06, 2023
by John Ready

Professor Emeritus Kristaps Keggi, MD, a pioneering orthopaedic surgeon, has died at age 88.

“Dr. Keggi was a gentleman, a philanthropist, and an educator who was immeasurably passionate about Yale,” said Lisa Lattanza, MD, Chair for the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation. “He was a world-class physician who pioneered the anterior approach to hip replacement surgery, served in the U.S. Army as the preeminent orthopaedic surgeon stationed in Vietnam, operated in dozens of countries throughout his career, and created new international educational opportunities for surgeons specializing in adult reconstruction. Words alone cannot hold a light to the impact he brought to the world but I can assure you that we have all benefitted from calling him a colleague, a mentor, and a friend.”

Kristaps Juris Keggi was born in Riga, Latvia in 1934 in the family of surgeon Jānis Kegi. His grandfather was folklorist, teacher and pastor Ludis Bērziņš (1870–1965). During World War II, he fled with his family to Germany in 1944 then to the United States in 1949. He studied medicine at Yale University (1951-1959) and completed his surgical internship at the Roosevelt Hospital in New York followed by residency in Orthopaedic Surgery at Yale New Haven Hospital in 1965. From 1965 to 1966 he participated in the Vietnam War as a military doctor, and was stationed with the 173rd Airborne as Chief of Surgery at the 3rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Biên Hòa, Vietnam. In 1966, he re-joined the Yale faculty as an assistant professor.

Keggi was in clinical practice from 1966 through 2016, performing orthopaedic surgery at both St. Mary's Hospital (1969-1989) and Waterbury Hospital (1969-2018). He served as the director of Waterbury Hospital’s Orthopaedic Center for Joint Reconstruction and as a senior research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine during that time. In 1989, Keggi became a clinical professor of orthopaedics & rehabilitation at Yale, was elected full professor in the department at Yale in 2008, was named Elihu Professor of Orthopaedics a& Rehabilitation in 2010, and retired from clinical practice to become a professor emeritus on December 31, 2016.

Since 1987, he regularly visited Latvia, where he performed demonstration operations, conducted seminars, and delivered numerous lectures in Latvia and the surrounding Baltic Nations. In 1988, he founded the non-profit Keggi Orthopaedic Foundation to allow for formal academic exchanges between the United States and the USSR. The organization provided fellowships in advanced orthopaedic surgery at both Yale School of Medicine and Waterbury Hospital for more than 300 surgeons from the Baltic nations, Russia, and Vietnam. In 1990, he founded the memorial museum of his grandfather Ludis Bērziņš in Jūrmala, Latvia, established the "Keggi Velo," a bike race in memory of his father, and was the founder of the Ludis Bērziņš Prize.

Keggi is widely considered to be the pioneer of the anterior approach to total hip replacement. He received multiple national and international awards and four honorary doctorates. These included the Latvian Order of the Three Stars in 1993, the V Class Order of the Estonian Red Cross in 1999, the Distinguished Service Medal of the Latvian Physicians Association (the second ever awarded) in 2009, and the Silver Medal of Medical Dignity and Service to Russian Medicine in 2012. He received the George H. W. Bush Lifetime of Leadership Award from Yale University in 2005. In 1994, the Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine and the Latvian Academy of the Sciences awarded him the Pauls Stradiņš Prize. Keggi was an Honorary Member of the Latvian Academy of Sciences (1990) and the Russian Academy of Sciences (1993), and held honorary degrees from the Riga Stradiņš University (1997) and the University of Latvia (2009). He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Orthopaedic Society.

In 2016, Keggi collaborated to publish The Direct Anterior Approach to Hip Reconstruction, and in 2022, he self-published his autobiography, My Century: A Memoir of War, Peace, and Pioneering in the Operating Room.

Submitted by John Ready on July 06, 2023