Physician who brought arthroscopy to North America passes away at 78

Robert W. Jackson, MD, FRCSC’s, contributions are proven to be immeasurable.

  • Orthopedics Today, February 2010

Robert W. Jackson, MD, FRCSC, a pioneer of arthroscopy in North America, died Jan. 6. He was 78 years old.

Jackson was widely credited with bringing the practice of arthroscopy to North America from Japan, where he traveled with the Canadian Olympic team in 1964. It was there he met Masaki Watanabe, MD, and learned of the 30-year-old process that had previously been used to investigate arthritis in the elderly.

Upon returning to his birthplace of Toronto, Canada, Jackson practiced the technique he learned from Watanabe and soon became the world’s foremost expert on arthroscopy. He served as chief of orthopaedics at Toronto Western Hospital from 1976 to 1985, was a full professor in the Department of Surgery at the University of Toronto in 1982 and served as chief of staff and chief of surgery at the Orthopaedic and Arthritic Hospital in Toronto.

A true giant

“Bob Jackson was truly a giant in our field,” former American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) president Kenneth E. DeHaven, MD, told Orthopedics Today. “His many accomplishments and contributions are exceeded only by what a wonderful person he was. He was gracious and generous personally and professionally, and will be greatly missed.”

Robert W. Jackson, MD
Robert W. Jackson, MD, FRCSC, was credited with bringing the practice of arthroscopy to North America from Japan.

Jackson was also a founding member and the first vice president of the International Arthroscopy Association.

“Bob Jackson was a man of unquestionable integrity and a man who could always be depended upon,” Orthopedics Today Chief Medical Editor Emeritus John B. McGinty, MD, said. “His only fault was the inability to say ‘no’ when asked to participate.

“He had a great sense of humor and the ability to laugh at himself,” McGinty, who is also a past president of the AAOS, added. “It is hard to believe that I am unable to pick up the phone and talk to this man — not only my mentor, but more importantly, my very good friend of 50 years. We shall all miss him.”

Sports honors

Jackson’s contributions to sports medicine earned him a spot in Sports Illustrated as one of the 40 individuals who had the most significant impact on sports in the previous half-century. The introduction and development of arthroscopic surgery is credited with saving or extending countless athletic careers.

“From the first phone call I made to Bob to ask about arthroscopy, he became a friend and was very supportive and encouraging,” Orthopedics Today Chief Medical Editor Douglas W. Jackson, MD, said.

“Many times at meetings, I have been introduced as Robert W. Jackson,” he added. “He would often joke and say we were brothers. I always thought it would be great not only to have him as a friend and mentor, but also a brother. He was the kind of man we would all be proud to have in our family. We will always remember Bob and miss him at our gatherings.”

Robert Jackson’s contributions to the sports world did not stop in the operating room: He was a founding member of the Canadian Paralympic movement, spearheading the Canadian Wheelchair Sport Association and setting the table for the first Paralympic Team Canada to make its debut at the 1968 Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv.

He also organized Canada’s first Paralympic Games, the 1976 Olympiad for the Physically Disabled. As a direct result, the Canadian Federation of Sport Organizations for the Disabled was created and later became the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

“Dr. Jackson was one of the founding fathers of the Canadian Paralympic Movement, and we are very saddened to hear of his death,” Carla Qualtrough, President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, stated in a press release. “I would like to express our condolences to his family and friends.”

In 1992, Jackson moved to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where he became the chief of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He served a team doctor for the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks from 1992 to 1995 and retired from his position at Baylor in 2004. He served as the medical director of orthopedic research at Baylor until his retirement from surgical practice in 2007.

Jackson is survived by his wife Marilyn, their five children and eight grandchildren.

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