With the death of Dr Pat McConkey on 10 June 2021, Canada said goodbye to one of the shy, quiet giants of orthopaedics. He was 76.
A clinical professor at the University of British Columbia, Pat was a member of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery since 1977. He completed his MD at UBC in 1969 with an internship at McGill. He completed his residency at UBC in 1975. He spent 1 year on the “western” rotation under Drs Kennedy and Fowler. His 1976 fellowship took him to Eugene, Oregon, under Dr Slocum.
His lineage in orthopaedic surgery was three generations deep. His father, Dr A.S. McConkey, was an orthopaedic surgeon, and Pat’s son, Dr Mark McConkey, is an orthopaedic surgeon at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.
Legacies are about people, and Pat created legacies. He was a leader and an integrated team player at the Allan McGavin Sports Medicine Centre at UBC. Working with his bright and energetic colleagues, he dedicated his excellence to the optimal care of the athlete. Throughout all of this intensity he always had time to inject laughter and fun into all undertakings.
Pat pioneered and popularized the current optimal care for athletes with knee injuries. His 1986 article about a new mechanism of ski injuries, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, was a seminal accomplishment. The rest of the world took notice. Internationally, Pat gained recognition for his comprehensive understanding and treatment of the athlete’s knee. At home in Canada, Pat quietly but progressively taught us the important findings, diagnostic guides, and best management for knee injuries. From him, many hundreds have learned the importance of careful examination while using the appropriate diagnostic tests. His understanding of the knee paved the way for our current correlation of knee pathology to the findings on MRIs.
Pat became the consultant to the Canadian Alpine Ski Team in 1981, and for many decades the best athletes in the world trusted him with their care. While he looked after many athletes and multiple teams, the skier remained his focus, and the skiing world benefited immensely from his visionary observations and treatment. When you traveled the world to orthopaedic and sports medicine meetings, you were always asked if you had worked with Dr McConkey.
Pat was forever a fighter for truth and excellence in all areas of his life. Nothing was more important to him than his family. His wife, Christie, was his partner on their voyage of 48 years together. Their three children, Mark, Bronwen, and PJ, were forever a source of pride and fulfillment.
Pat’s final 8 years, spent living with brain cancer, were very hard. With his constant caregiver, Christie, he was able to enjoy a great deal of satisfaction with his family and lifelong friends. It was Christie who allowed Pat to soldier on as he did with such dignity to the end. What a team.
A person’s life can be measured in documented accomplishments; Pat had many of these. But above all, Pat will be remembered by those he brought along with him for the ride. He shared, he laughed, he loved like few others ever will. He is dearly missed.
—Paul Wright, MD
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