Dr. Jorge Galante had a gorilla of a case when he chaired the orthopedic surgery department at Rush University Medical Center.
Though renowned for his work on humans, in 1986 he reported to Brookfield Zoo, where he helped perform hip surgery on Beta, a 25-year-old ape. Severe osteoarthritis had limited her ability to move her lower body. She had been reduced to shuffling around, using her arms as crutches.
Working with veterinary orthopedic surgeon Tom Turner, Dr. Galante replaced both her hips in two operations three months apart. She survived the procedures, recovered much of her mobility through physical therapy, and lived another 22 years, making her one of the oldest gorillas in any North American zoo when she died in 2008 at 47.
Dr. Galante, who joined Rush in 1972, helped develop innovative techniques and devices that were named after him, including the Harris-Galante hip and the Miller-Galante knee prosthesis. His breakthroughs reduced patient pain, recovery time and the need for follow-up operations.
He spoke five languages, lectured widely, and “was one of the best-known orthopedic surgeons in the world,” said Dr. Joshua Jacobs, a professor and chair of orthopedic surgery at Rush.
Dr. Galante, 82, a former Oak Brook resident, died on Feb. 9 at his retirement home on Florida’s Sanibel Island. He had been diagnosed 18 years ago with prostate cancer, and fought it successfully until the past year, said his son Charles.
“He really helped change the way we do joint replacement,” Jacobs said. “One important aspect of his legacy is many of his trainees are now international leaders in the field of joint replacement surgery.”
Working with William Rostoker, a UIC professor of metallurgy and bioengineering, he co-invented a durable titanium fiber mesh that replaced a cement once used to anchor replacement joints to bone, Jacobs said. The mesh’s porousness enabled new bone to grow into the prosthesis.
“Dr. Galante would always partner with leading scientists,” Jacobs said, “and it was the collaboration of the surgeon and leading scientists in different areas that helped propel his research, which ultimately developed medical devices that have benefited millions of patients.”
At the time of Beta’s surgery, Dr. Galante noted it wasn’t necessary to modify standard replacement parts for the gorilla. “Her hip is about the size of a small human female,” he said.
Dr. Galante and Turner “kind of went above and beyond to see that she had a high degree of animal welfare and was able to have an extended life,” said Craig Demitros, Brookfield Zoo’s associate curator of primates. “She was the first — and only gorilla, as far as we know — that had bilateral hip replacement.”
Dr. Galante’s patients “adored him,” Jacobs said. “He was a wonderful clinician. He really knew how to inspire confidence in his patients.”
Once, a patient told Dr. Galante’s son his surgery had changed her life. When Charles Galante was about 10, he accompanied his father on rounds at Rush. In a hallway, the boy struck up a conversation with a woman who didn’t know he was related to the physician who had operated on her days earlier. “She started talking about how wonderful the doctor was, and how all of a sudden she was pain free, and it changed her life,” Charles Galante said. “She mentioned his name, and I felt so proud.”
A son of an ear, nose and throat doctor, young Jorge grew up riding horses near his hometown of Buenos Aires. Later in life, back problems affected his hobby. He became a fan of the Peruvian horse, also known as the Peruvian Paso. The breed’s easy temperament and placid gait allowed him to indulge his love of riding without jarring his back.
Dr. Galante bred, raised and showed champion horses at Estancia El Corcel, his farm in Clinton, Wisconsin. “He was one of the very best breeders of the Peruvian horse in the United States,” said Chris Austin, president of the California-based North American Peruvian Horse Association, where Dr. Galante served on the board.
Austin bought Commandant — a stellar stallion who has dominated horse shows — from the physician. “He’s won so much on the national level, he’s been forced into retirement, based on our national rules,” Austin said.
Dr. Galante moved to the United States for an internship at Michael Reese Hospital, where in 1960 he met his future wife, Lithuanian immigrant Sofija Kabliauskas, a clinical cytologist. They were married for 50 years until she died in 2010. He also survived by his stepdaughter Regina Benson; a brother, Juan Carlos Galante; and four grandchildren.