September 2016

In Memoriam

Klaus Zielke, MD

It is with great sadness that I have to announce the death of Dr. Klaus Zielke, to the SRS membership, who passed away on May 17, 2016.

Dr. Zielke was born on February 20, 1931. After receiving his german high school degree, he first completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter and then entered medical school in Duesseldorf, Germany. After receiving his degree as a medical doctor, he did parts of  his residency program in pathology, internal medicine, gynacology and also in orthopedic surgery at various hospitals, until he entered a residency program in orthopedic surgery at the University of Tuebingen in southern Germany.

Since no other resident was scientifically interested in the treatment of scoliosis, the programme director forced him into this field. He soon realized that there was no systematic approach to the treatment of scoliosis in Germany at that time, other than in the US with for instance Ferguson, Risser, and Cobb.

After a few cases of Harrington instrumentation, he was not allowed to use the system anymore, since the program director did not consider it a useful procedure.

After a few years as a board certified orthopedic surgeon in Mannheim, where he then used Harrington instrumentation routinely, he opened up the first German scoliosis center at the German-French military hospital, Emile Roux in Tuebingen. He had inspiring visits with Harrington in Houston, TX, USA; Stagnara in Lyon, France, and of course also Dwyer in Melbourne, Australia, who at that time had just invented the first anterior instrumentation system for correction of scoliosis from the anterior approach.

With Dr. Dwyer he discussed the shortcomings of his instrumentation and was encouraged by Dr. Dwyer to improve it. He modified the screw and replaced the Dwyer cable with the Harrington compression rod. With this internationally so-called Zielke instrumentation, he was the first spine surgeon to be able to truly derotate the spine. Other inventions from his side were the growing Zielke-Ascani rod for treatment of early onset scoliosis and of course the Harrington –Outrigger, just to mention a few. He also was the first to correct fixed kyphotic deformities of the spine in ankylosing spondylitis of the spondylarthritic type with multisegmental V-shaped osteotomies, very similar to the later published Ponte osteotomies.

His German Scoliosis Center in Tuebingen got so popular among patients, that in 1978 he had to move it to a much bigger hospital, the well known Werner-Wicker Klinik in Bad Wildungen with more than 100 beds for scoliosis patients. Many spine surgeons from all over the world visited over the years, to attend international courses on Zielke instrumentation and other techniques. I had the luck and honor to have been the last resident hired by Dr. Zielke in April 1989. Due to health issues he had to retire half a year later.  However, even years after that he was still involved in innovations of implant systems and influenced my scientific career significantly.

He truly is the father of modern deformity surgery in Germany. He was an inspiration for every orthopedic surgeon interested in spinal deformity surgery at that time. Like many others, I can not thank him enough for his inspiration and influence on my career.

Our thoughts are with his wife Haifa and his daughters.

Obituary was written by Henry Halm, MD

Klaus Zielke, MD with his wife Haifa.