Olafs Libermanis, MD, is a Latvian national who is an orthopaedic surgeon and microsurgeon with ties to Yale Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation. In recent weeks, he took up a collection of medical supplies and surgical instruments, and then personally drove from Riga, Latvia, to Kyiv, Ukraine, to deliver the provisions. He then decided to stay in Kyiv so that he could lend his surgical expertise in treating war wounds and train other medical providers as the conflict with Russia continues to escalate.
Libermanis is one of more than 250 alumni of the Keggi Orthopaedic Foundation and Keggi-Kimball Visiting Scholars Program within the Yale Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation. The program, which is run under the leadership of Kristaps (Kris) Keggi, MD, and Lee Rubin, MD, addresses a growing global need for orthopaedic surgeons, focuses on total joint replacement surgery, and nurtures future global leaders in orthopaedics.
Advanced surgical training, mentoring, knowledge sharing, and lessons in cultural exchange are among its core activities and priorities. The program has provided young surgeons at Yale with advanced training in total joint replacement surgery.
“I heard from Olafs when the war in Ukraine began,” Keggi said. “He informed me that he took up a collection, filled a van full of supplies, and was departing for Kyiv to offer his expertise in orthopaedics, microsurgery, and war wounds. I sent him my instructional course document in war wounds for reference and have spoken with him on several occasions since then to discuss some of his cases.”
Libermanis recently told Keggi, “There is an overwhelming need for young, able-bodied surgeons, residents, and medical students of any surgical discipline. The level of education and previous experience does not matter so long as they have good hands and possess the ability to learn and work in hard conditions. And ‘hard conditions’ is an understatement."
Keggi, a fellow native of Latvia, is professor emeritus and senior research scientist of orthopaedics & rehabilitation. In addition to being the pioneer of the direct anterior approach to hip replacement surgery, Keggi has intimate knowledge of treating war wounds. He trained under Yale’s first chief of the Orthopaedics Section of Surgery, the late Wayne O. Southwick, MD. Southwick, who was a Korean War veteran, felt that all his residents should be familiar with orthopaedic surgery in a combat zone and gave multiple lectures on the topic. His trainees were exposed to his teaching methodologies and personal experiences from war.
Keggi would become further proficient in war surgery, including intricate wound care and complicated combat injuries, with the 3rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) in combat zones in Vietnam during 1965 and 1966. He later gave an instructional course at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons on the management of war wounds, which was published in 1970.
Keggi has a special appreciation for what surgeons like Libermanis are doing now. “Since his arrival in Kyiv, [Libermanis] has spoken about ongoing bombardments, managing AK-47 wounds, eating meals in candle-lit rooms, and adjusting to not turning on the lights at night amidst air raids,” Keggi added. “His decision to go to Ukraine and help those in need during this terrible time is extremely courageous.”
Prior to the pandemic, senior or chief residents, fellows in total joint arthroplasty, and early-practice surgeons, as well as individuals who are recognized as emerging leaders working toward future leadership roles in medicine, were recruited for the International Scholars Program. Keggi, along with members of the department’s faculty, looks forward to it resuming in the near future.
“The relationships we were able to build were wonderful for international relations as they were for Yale,” Keggi said. “With the rapidly evolving era of global health, I hope we can continue to create academic and intellectual bridges with other surgeons around the world.”
Latvia, Turkey, Vietnam, China, and Georgia are among the latest countries from which Keggi-Kimball Program participants have visited Yale since 2017. Since inception, participants have come from dozens of countries. Each has benefited from a world-class learning experience hosted by the faculty of Yale Orthopaedics, and shared the knowledge gained with peers in their home country.