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Spine World Loses Luminary: Harry Herkowitz, M.D.

OTW Staff • Wed, June 12th, 2013

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Harry Herkowitz, M.D.

On June 9, 2013 the orthopedic world was jolted by the sudden loss of Harry N. Herkowitz, M.D., the much-loved chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. Dr. Herkowitz, who was 65 years old, is survived by his wife Jan, son Seth (Laura) and daughter Rachael (Michael – fiancé).

A luminary of the spine world, Dr. Herkowitz specialized in the surgical management of spinal disorders including spinal stenosis, herniated discs, deformity and trauma to the neck and back. Many who walk the halls of orthopedics programs nationwide continue to benefit from his extensive contributions to the field.

Dr. Herkowitz assumed the chairmanship of the department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Beaumont in 1991 and directed that institution’s spine surgery fellowship program from 1987 to 2008. His talents and leadership insight also led him to prominence as president of the Cervical Spine Research Society, the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine and the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery.

Dr. Herkowitz’s research legacies include contributions to degenerative solutions to aging discs and improving spinal implants. He gained renown with his 1991 landmark study on the treatment of degenerative spondylolisthesis, work which continues to influence current research. The name “Harry Herkowitz, M.D.” appeared under the titles of many respected articles in the peer-reviewed literature; he also presented at hundreds of conferences. Dr. Herkowitz also edited a dozen major textbooks on the spine, and served as editor or on the editorial board of major orthopedic and spine journals. He was a graduate of Wayne State University School of Medicine, did his residency at Beaumont, and completed a spine surgery fellowship at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Dr. Herkowitz was honored with an Outstanding Academic Excellence Award by Beaumont in 2011. He was also named among the 100 Best Spine Surgeons in America, recognized by Best Doctors in America, and was twice honored with the Volvo Award for Clinical Research in Low Back Pain.

Steve Garfin, M.D., chair of the department of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, San Diego, was a dear friend of Harry Herkowitz for 35 years. “He was a surgeon’s surgeon, leader’s leader, clinical scientist’s clinical scientist, a great and loyal and true friend, beat everyone at hard work, but was a wonderful (and wonder as a) father, husband, family/friend, and respected/admired by all.”

Remembering his friend with warmth, Dr. Garfin says, “He was very predictable and repetitive and had a touch of obsessiveness. At meetings or events, no matter what restaurant, or style of it, he always got salmon if it was there—always. Then there was Sunday. As busy as he was, and how much he had a cast of people doing things for him, he always went to Costco, by himself, fighting Sunday crowds to look around and see what they had and what the bargains/specials were, but the bargains/specials didn't matter. He always bought the same things—water, Kleenex, and other surprisingly simple basics—always.”

Todd Albert, M.D. is president of the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Thomas Jefferson University. His thoughts: “Harry Herkowitz was a great friend, father, husband and an icon in orthopaedic surgery. While working in a private practice, he created sentinel scientific works on the treatment of degenerative spondylolithesis and degenerative cervical disease. He was a leader in multiple societies and on the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. Most importantly he was a thread that bound together a great tradition of those trained by Dick Rothman and their progeny. He made a huge effort to be welcoming and mentoring to all.”

John Heller, M.D. is professor of orthopedic surgery at Emory University. He muses, “Dr. Herkowitz meant so much to so many. Words that come to mind include friendship, service, leadership, scholarship, excellence and loyalty. Whether you are among the countless patients he served, or those served by the surgeons he inspired or trained, Dr. Herkowitz simply changed lives. He changed the course of contemporary spine surgery through his research, his service to the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and leadership in numerous other professional organizations. He was the consummate mentor, a devoted family man and a true friend. We are all diminished by his passing. At ten years my senior, he was always cordial, supportive, willing to open doors, etc. His professional life was about paying forward the principles and behaviors of his primary mentor, Richard Rothman.”

The spine world will go on, but is today a bit less rich in experience and ideas than before his passing.

Those who wish to further honor the memory of Dr. Harry Herkowitz may do so by making a contribution to:

Beaumont Foundation
Dr. Harry Herkowitz Fund
3711 West 13 Mile Road
Royal Oak, MI 48073

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12 Responses to “Spine World Loses Luminary: Harry Herkowitz, M.D.”

  1. Tom Jasky says:

    I’ve had 4 spine operations in 5 years by Dr Herkowitz. The 1st using an experimental technique the he explained and offered to me and I accepted. Growing my own bone from my stem cells he successfully used for my fusion. Through the years he earned my utmost respect, trust and admiration. He will certainly be missed by me and I’m sure anyone that knew him. My deepest condolences to his family.

  2. Jacqueline Holden says:

    I have only known Dr. Herkowitz for the past year. I was brought on to help accomplish some of the goals he and Beaumont had for the ortho spine department. I realized right away this was a big responsibility, you can’t let down Dr. Herkowitz. I love my job and know I have him to thank. He will be greatly missed and a huge loss, but he gave us the desire and tools to continue striving for excellence.

  3. Cheryl Thompson says:

    I have worked on the orthopedics unit for just over 10 years. Dr Herkowitz was extremely skilled, dedicated, and unusually generous. Anyone who has even heard of him would be impressed. We now have an angel in our midst.

  4. Kathryn says:

    A true angel! Harry will be missed, loved and cherished forever!!!

  5. Lorraine says:

    In my eyes he was “special” to me — Only 65 — He fixed my back — And “gave” me Dr Verner for my hip problem.

  6. Janet Hamlin says:

    I have been a patient of Dr. Harry Herkowitz for 34 years. He was also a very good friend. I have had several surgeries with him and each time I felt 20 years younger. Dr. Herkowitz was a very skilled, dedicated and most of all generous person that I ever knew. I always trusted him to the fullest with my life in his hands. He was blessed with a wonderful gift. He will be truly missed. We now have an angel among us that is watching over all of us. He was very special to me he gave my life back to me.

  7. Debbie says:

    Dr. Herkowitz blessed me with the ability to walk again without pain after he performed a laminectomy. I trusted and admired him from the get-go. He was the hard-working surgeon that one would see at Beaumont very early in the morning doing his rounds and dressed in a suit to attend to meetings as well. My deepest condolences to his family, colleagues, and friends.

  8. Terry Cobb says:

    Dr.Herkowitz was someone I loved to brag about. Like a kid brags about his dad.Why because he had the hands of a great father someone who loved you. Who genuinely wanted to make you better.I came to him broken and skeptical.. He laided it out there in terms I could understand gave me confidence that I might walk normal again and get out of my wheel chair.Other Naysayers said the surgery wouldn’t last 2 years.It lasted over 20 years.still walking.He also did my neck which was very scary because the vertebrae were beginning to crush the spinal cord.I was going to end up like Christopher Reeves. Dr.Herkowitz did this surgery and the complications I was told might be there as a result are near nonexistent. I was told of his passing by an ER nurse all the way on the other side of town as I was caught bragging Doc up again. Everybody knows this wonderful man because he was truly the master of his craft I will hold your beautiful smile in my heart Doc My loving prayers to your family.

  9. Sandra Johnson says:

    Dr. Herkowitz made it possible for me to live my life without pain or physical restriction. I never expected to be able to do things like running, excercising, gardening (heavy work) like I did before the various injuries to my spine. I believe he was truly a genius and a fine man as well.

  10. Susan Senn says:

    You were too hard on your heart. I’m sure you knew that. The 6th floor nurses used to say that you 3 sets of clothes… Skinny, Medium and Heavy. When you came back from a skiing trip you would be all tanned and gorgeous. I used to melt when I would see you. I kept the pens that I gave you to use. I was and still am smitten. GONE much too early Harry. Why didn’t you pay more attention to your self?

  11. Susan Garrick says:

    You are the LOVE of my LIFE.

  12. Susan Jones says:

    You left us WAY TOO EARLY Doc…

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