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Hospital for Special Surgery, Founded During the Civil War, Celebrates 150 Years with Symposium

Noted historians and leading researchers to discuss evolution of medicine from “Dark Ages” of Civil War to present. Program will also highlight medical advances and health-care challenges for the future.

New York—April 22, 2013

An upcoming symposium will offer highlights of the 150-year history of Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and at the same time provide a fascinating look at the evolution of medicine from the “Dark Ages” of the Civil War period to modern medicine as we know it today. Speakers will also discuss the latest medical advances and the coming economic changes that will significantly affect the future of health care.

The two-day conference, “Honoring the Past, Envisioning the Future,” will take place Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, at the hospital, which is marking its 150th anniversary in May.

Internationally recognized for leadership in orthopedics and rheumatology, Hospital for Special Surgery had its beginnings during the Civil War. A number of noted Lincoln and Civil War scholars, including Ronald C. White, Jr., Ph.D., and Harold Holzer, will be speaking at the symposium. Holzer is one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln and the political culture of the Civil War era. White is the author of “A.Lincoln: A Biography” (2009), a New York Times bestseller. His Lincoln biography won the Christopher Award in 2010, which salutes books “that affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

“Medical historians often refer to the Civil War era as the ‘medical Middle Ages,’” said Thomas P. Sculco, M.D., surgeon-in-chief at HSS. “Injuries we successfully treat today by taking an x-ray and fixing a fracture were treated by a 15-minute amputation during the Civil War. It was not yet known that bacteria cause diseases, and many soldiers died from these injuries from devastating infections,” said Dr. Sculco, who will lead the Friday program.

“Most Civil War casualties were not from gunshots and other battlefield wounds, but from diseases and infections that were rampant at that time,” explained Dr. David B. Levine, who helped organize the symposium and will be discussing Special Surgery’s early beginnings. “Before Abraham Lincoln could end the war, as many as 500,000 soldiers died of diseases and infections, while 250,000 died from battlefield injuries. Antibiotics had not yet been invented,” added Dr. Levine, author of “Anatomy of a Hospital,” a new book that chronicles the history of Hospital for Special Surgery.

After the opening session that will cover the Civil War era, Lincoln and advances that changed the face of medicine in the 19th and 20th centuries, the conference will feature important issues in modern-day medicine, patient perspectives, health-care economics and current research.

“The symposium begins with the past and brings us up to the present to show the extraordinary medical advances that have taken place and what lies ahead for the future of orthopedic care,” said Louis A. Shapiro, Hospital for Special Surgery president and CEO. “Leading investigators from HSS and other prominent institutions will discuss the latest research to find new and better approaches to treat and prevent arthritis and other debilitating conditions.”

The following is a partial list of symposium topics:

  • New York, the Era of the Civil War, and Hospital for Special Surgery
  • Lincoln and the Civil War
  • NYC and the Political Culture of the Civil War Era
  • Inspirational HSS Patient Narratives: patient who climbed Mt. Everest after hip replacement; post-polio patient describes his scoliosis care in 1968
  • Global Healthcare and the Economics of Medicine
  • Challenges of Building an Orthopedic Hospital in Ghana
  • The Journey to Accountable Care: Past, Present, and Future
  • Genes, Viruses and the Future of Medicine
  • The Reversibility of Skeletal Disease
  • Current Concepts in Cartilage Repair
  • Developing New Therapies for Osteoarthritis
  • How Robots are Impacting Orthopedic Surgery
  • What Might it Take to Find a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

View a complete list of TOPICS and SPEAKERS.

The conference will also feature a preview of a short documentary on the history of HSS.

The symposium takes place Friday, May 3, and Saturday, May 4, starting at 7:30 a.m., in the Richard L. Menschel Education Center, Second Floor, at Hospital for Special Surgery, 535 East 70th Street (between York and FDR Drive).

The new book, “Anatomy of a Hospital,” will be available for purchase at the event.


About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the ninth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S.News & World Report (2018-2019). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic on musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.


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