James C. Russ, CO, a professor emeritus at Northwestern
University Feinberg School of Medicine, died on Febuary 25 at the age of 77
years of a heart attack at his home in Glenview, Ill. Russ spent more than 50
years in the orthotics industry, and he is regarded as a key leader in
establishing orthotics as a respected health profession.
||James C. Russ
Russ was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio and received his orthotist
certification from Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation in
Georgia. After completing the program in 1957, Russ worked for several orthotic
and prosthetic companies before beginning his teaching career at the
Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC) in 1968. He became
the center’s first director in 1973.
“Jim was the person who developed the orthotics program at NUPOC.
They were doing some prosthetic research and training, but they wanted to add
orthotics,” Michael Brncick, MEd, CPO, a former student and
colleague of Russ, told O&P Business News. “Jim came along and
was a leader in that particular aspect of it. He was an innovator and a
Recognize the potential
When Russ entered the orthotics field, the technology was limited, and
the field was not recognized by the American Medical Association as an allied
health profession, Brncick said.
“The field was still highly technical, and we weren’t
considered much of the clinic team or much of an allied health
profession,” he said. “But Jim could see that the profession really
had a lot of potential, and we would be professionals as part of the
rehabilitation team in treating patients with interventions in O&P.”
One way that Russ helped to establish orthotics as a professional and
meaningful aspect of the health care industry was through his students.
“His biggest contribution was bringing professionalism to the field
and making us, his students and those who were already in the field, aware of
our position in the overall rehab team,” Brncick said. “He made sure
we were prepared to take the torch and carry on his vision in terms of what we
were going to do in the field and how we would work with patients.”
Watch students succeed
Russ ensured that his students understood their roles as clinicians and
professionals, emphasizing the use of proper medical terminology and
professionalism in all aspects of their work.
“He really enjoyed watching his students succeed and took great
pleasure in that,” Brncick said. “He was certainly proud of what his
students did, and he enjoyed watching his ideals being passed through the
profession as his students succeeded.”
In addition to training thousands of students, Russ is also credited
with establishing the first residency programs for orthotics, creating
postsecondary education programs and standardizing curriculum. He is also known
for his work with and development of orthopedic devices, including
modifications to wheelchairs, neck orthoses and scoliosis management.
“One of the first things we needed to do was start a residency
program for our students,” Brncick said. “It wasn’t formerly
called a residency at the time, but Russ saw that students needed to be trained
not only at school, but also in clinical situations.”
After holding a faculty position at Northwestern for 39 years, Russ
retired in the mid-1990s, but he remained active in the orthotic community. He
was a member of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP),
American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association and American Board for
Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics. In 1992, he received
the Prosthetic Orthotic Center Award for 25 years of orthotic education from
Northwestern University, and in 1997, he was awarded the AAOP Award for
Outstanding Educator in Orthotics and Prosthetics.
Russ is survived by his wife of 56 years, Janice; three daughters, Kathy
Biondi, Nancy Mier and Leslie; six grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
“He certainly had an effect on me, not only as a mentor and
teacher, but as a friend,” Brncick said. “Many leaders in this field
were taught by Jim Russ. He had great friends, knew a lot of people within the
profession and rallied a lot of people together to make orthotics what it is
today.”— by Megan Gilbride