Doctor brought the world to its knees

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BRANDON — A Brandon man credited with creating a knee-replacement system that remains one of the most used and successful orthopedic operations in the world has died.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/02/2016 (2369 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BRANDON — A Brandon man credited with creating a knee-replacement system that remains one of the most used and successful orthopedic operations in the world has died.

Dr. Frank Gunston, an Order of Canada recipient, died in his home Feb. 15. He was remembered at a service that filled Memories Chapel in Brandon Monday.

Gunston was 82, and is survived by Sharleen, his wife of 47 years, and children John and Jennifer.

BRANDON SUN FILES Dr. Frank Gunston demonstrates his knee replacement system.

His 43-year career began at a zinc and copper mine in Flin Flon before he became a pioneer in orthopedics. He later chose to give away his design for the first total knee-joint replacement prosthesis to be implanted into the human body.

Gunston was born in Flin Flon in 1933. His younger sister, Judy Grandstaff, said her brother always knew what he wanted. As a 16-year-old, that meant agreeing to a family trip on the newly completed road to Flin Flon on the condition his parents buy him a car.

Grandstaff recalled her brother taking the 1930s roadster completely apart in their parent’s garage later that summer.

“Well, that’s $100 wasted,” Grandstaff recalled their father Leonard saying at the time.

“But he put it back together, and it ran,” she said in his eulogy. Many in the room laughed knowingly.

Gunston remained a tinkerer all his life. After earning his engineering degree from the University of Manitoba in 1957, Gunston returned as an engineer to Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting in Flin Flon. He was sent by the company to England to work on transistors in telephone systems, which were at the time an emerging technology.

There, he became fascinated by the transistor’s role in the pacemaker — another new technology at the time.

“I was frustrated because I could work on the pacemakers, but not on the patients,” he told the Brandon Sun in a 1994 interview.

So he returned to Winnipeg and became a doctor of medicine. In 1963, he returned to England to work with Sir John Charnley in Lancashire — helping Charnley develop a hip prothesis.

Gunston noticed patients with newly replaced hips were often still restricted by their arthritic knees — launching his work to develop a replacement.

His solution combined plastic and metallic elements in a set of tracks, attached to the top of the tibia with matching set of metal inserts fastened to the femur, allowing the joint to work together by moving along a runner.

Gunston’s knee was eventually implanted in 27 patients before he returned to Winnipeg. He published his work in a 1971 research paper, a significant and generous decision.

A 2005 article in the Brandon Sun notes Gunston could have patented his work, which would have paved the way for commercial development and use, instead of making his work available to anybody.

“I was not particularly interested in the commercial exploitation,” he said at the time.

Gunston, who also developed several other human joint replacements, was at the time the only Manitoban to be awarded the $100,000 Manning Award for Canadian inventors in 1989 for his knee prothesis.

Gunston was named Distinguished Surgeon by the Canadian Orthopaedic Association in 1994, the Order of Canada in 1997 and the Manitoba Medical Association Scholastic Award in 1998.

— Brandon Sun

History

Updated on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 6:57 AM CST: Adds photo

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