Ralph W. Coonrad, MD
September 10, 1923 - April 10, 2019
Dr. Coonrad, an SRS fellow since 1971, was born in Tsingtao, China, to Presbyterian missionaries, on September 10, 1923. He attended Pyengyang Foreign School in North Korea and the Stony Brook School in New York before matriculating to Davidson College, where he earned varsity letters in football, wrestling, track and tennis. He served for three years as a naval ensign during World War II. He graduated from Duke University School of Medicine (Alpha Omega Alpha) in 1947. He completed a surgical internship and a residency in orthopaedics at Duke in 1953. His residency included a fellowship at the Warm Springs Foundation where he gained invaluable experience performing tendon transfers in poliomyelitis patients, which inspired his lifelong passion for pediatric orthopaedics.
Following his residency, he was stationed at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas for two years during the Korean War as a Captain in the United States Army and Chief of Orthopedics and Hand Surgery. One particular patient whose elbow had been destroyed in combat, provided the inspiration for his future development of a total elbow joint replacement.
Dr. Coonrad returned to Durham in 1955. He was one of the founders of Triangle Orthopedic Associates, while simultaneously working throughout his career at Duke University Medical Center, first as an Assistant Clinical Professor, and later as an Associate Clinical Professor in the Division of Orthopedic Surgery. He was an attending staff member of Watts Hospital in Durham, and later the Durham Regional Hospital, where he served as President of the Medical Staff. He was as a consultant in orthopaedic surgery to the Durham Veterans Administration Hospital, an Associate Clinical Professor at University of North Carolina Memorial Hospital, and for 35 years a consultant to the United States Army and Womack Army Hospital at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Upon retirement of his mentor and cherished friend Dr. Lenox Baker, he became the Medical Director and Chief Surgeon of Lenox Baker Children’s Hospital at Duke, a position he held for 24 years.
He was also a pioneer in developing scoliosis surgery in North Carolina after training in the early 1960’s with Dr. Paul Harrington. Ralph became the first orthopaedist in North Carolina to treat scoliosis with Harrington rods and develop a state school screening program for scoliosis. He severed on the SRS membership and 3D Spinal Classification Committees. He was an inventor and designer of many surgical instruments and devices. In 1972, working alone in his garage, using cadaver bones, he designed and fabricated a total elbow joint replacement by whittling models from wood. Working with the Zimmer Company, a titanium prototype was made. The “Coonrad Total Elbow”, and later the “Coonrad-Morrey Total Elbow System”, became the gold standard of elbow replacements for over 40 years.
Dr. Coonrad served as a member and chair of several committees of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, American Shoulder and Elbow Society, the American Orthopaedic Society, and North Carolina Orthopaedic Association. He was the recipient of the North Carolina Governor’s Council Outstanding Physician Award in 1971 and the North Carolina Orthopaedic Associations Outstanding Orthopaedic Surgeon in 1996. He received the Duke Orthopaedic Residency Award for excellence in education and teaching in 1994, and the inaugural Duke Master Orthopaedist Award in 2017.
Very few individuals, have contributed as much as Ralph did in so many ways to the Duke Orthopaedic Program. He generously contributed to the Duke Orthopaedic Residency Program, providing the Coonrad Global Mission Fund for residents and the Coonrad Fellowships to enable Duke residents to attend the Piedmont Society’s Annual Meeting.
He was a genuine humanitarian who shared with the Duke faculty, residents and staff his time and expertise. Ralph served as a devoted mentor to many talented and aspiring surgeons and colleagues. He loved every opportunity to broaden the relationships with those he mentored with an occasional fishing or hunting trip He was a consummate physician in his compassionate care, grace and humility.
He died peacefully on April 10, 2019 and is survived by his daughters Sally Carrol of Charlottesville, Virginia, Sue Cullen of Durham, North Carolina, 3 grandchildren and one great grandchild. He is predeceased by his cherished wife of 49 years, Evelyn V. Coonrad, MD
Written by Jim Urbaniak and Dick Nasca
A. Edward Dean Jr., MD
October 15, 1933 - February 7, 2019
To read Dr. Dean's full obituary, please click here.