Fred Dietz, Professor of Paediatric Orthopaedics at University of Iowa Hospital died on August 12th, at his home by ‘The Pond’, with his family around him. He was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer just a few weeks ago.
Fred was known in the UK for his dedicated teaching of the Ponseti Method and supported the work of UKCCG over many years. A look through his published research shows a depth of investigation into basic science and clinical practice that will inform paediatric orthopaedic surgeons for generations. His clinical and research interests included the determinants of normal limb growth, aetiology of regional growth disturbances and skeletal dsyplasia, aetiology, genetics and treatment of clubfoot, evaluation of treatments for cerebral palsy, slipped upper femoral epiphyses, complex foot deformities and through this and other work he was widely honoured in North America. Inherently understated about his achievements, this gentle, unassuming man was a wealth of knowledge and experience that he shared generously, patiently and with good humour.
Fred was born in Akron, Ohio. The second of four siblings, both his parents were journalists. He lost his father and younger brother too early and admitted that he never expected a long life himself. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Medical School he moved to Iowa City in 1977 for his Orthopaedic Residency. There he became part of that remarkable department with so many luminaries of the orthopaedic world.
Fred was a thoughtful and brave surgeon, still considering adaptations to operative techniques long after most of us would be set in our ways. He was a proper doctor, taking time to have conversations with families about babies sleeping patterns, supporting them through the stages of Ponseti management with good parenting and good science. He remained a conscientious researcher. His starting position for enquiry was ‘we just don’t know’ and would quote Hamlet to restart a discussion; ‘Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.
Fred taught each time he spoke and continued to strive to find the best teaching methods. His pre-retirement contribution to his university was a new curriculum. He was the rock of Ponseti Training in the UK and when travelling further afield became an enthusiastic and committed teacher, respected overseas not just because of his Professorial title but for the warmth of his involvement with communities in Laos, Bangladesh, Australia and across Europe. His contribution, internationally, to the wellbeing of children and their ability to live their lives unhampered by pain and deformity, is immeasurable.
Fred had been retired from his orthopaedic practice for 2 years and was busy with tennis, piano, guitar, trombone, swimming in the pond, playing in his workshop, working in the garden with his wife, Meg.
Fred was the best of friends. When I first met him, he opened up the busy home he shared with Meg, his two sons and her two daughters, as he did with so many visitors and instantly turned us into friends. We travelled, cooked, ate and drank, laughed and talked, shared and discussed, explored and found a common understanding.
In Fred’s own words, ‘My life has been good, it’s been a pleasure. No need for flowers, pour a Manhattan and drink it with someone you love’