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Vale Emeritus Professor Ronald L Huckstep

Emeritus Professor Ronald L Huckstep was a larger than life figure in orthopaedics. He was known to many of us, but not all will know that he passed away suddenly on 10th of April 2015.

Professor Huckstep had a long and illustrative life. He was born in China in 1926. He was the son of two teachers. His education was interrupted at age of15, when the Japanese, who had invaded China, interned him and his family near Shanghai.

He was lucky, as there was a missionary in the camp, who took him under his wing and taught him science and started an interest in engineering. Although Ron had no formal education, the missionary gave him a recommendation, which allowed him to study at Cambridge at the end of the war.

Ron studied medicine at Middlesex Hospital, where he also worked as a resident. In 1952 he went to Kenya as a young doctor and witnessed an outbreak of typhoid. He studied the illness and recorded his observations in great detail.

After a couple of years, Ron returned to England and trained in orthopaedics at St Bartholomew’s. He finished his dissertation and in 1959 he was awarded the prestigious Hunterian Professorship for his work on typhoid.

Ron’s interest in the developing world took him back to Africa. In 1960 he became professor of Orthopaedics at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. He worked there for 10 years until life became intolerable under the rule of Idi Amin.

Whilst in Uganda Ron Huckstep treated many victims of polio and later wrote a book on the subject. He also developed his skelecast, a form of lightweight immobilisation of fractures, suitable for the tropics.

In 1972 he became Professor of Orthopaedics and Traumatology at the Prince of Wales Hospital, a position endowed by Hugh Smith, an orthopaedic surgeon.

Ron was a passionate teacher. The orthopaedic department was full of students doing projects. His famous ward rounds, as he would drive down to the old huts on the Prince of Wales campus, with at times 7 or 8 residents or students packed into his racing green Triumph Stag, number plate: RLH 333.

In the 70s traction was the standard treatment for many fractures. Only Kuntscher nails were available and Ron developed the first interlocking nail. The Huckstep nail was ahead of its time and became widely used in Australia. The professor sent his registrars around the country to help inset nails in selected patients, and occasionally horses and dogs. Later he modified his nail by adding a trunnion and created the Huckstep hip.

The professor was at his best in a disaster and the Granville train disaster was a perfect example. In later years he was greatly involved in mock training disasters around the city and seemed to thrive in this situation.

Ron Huckstep wrote The Simple Guide to Trauma and later The Simple Guide to Orthopaedics.  He was known for his rules of three, which he applied to most things in life. If there were more than three possible answers to a question, hisrule became:  “1, 2, and all the rest”. He worked long hours and loved travel. Friday nights were fuelled by large bottles of Coca Cola and students helped sorting his enormous collection of slides. For the professor it was often just an excuse to run an extra teaching session and recount stories from Uganda.

 In 1978 Ron Huckstep was one of the founding fathers of World Orthopaedic Concern and continued to look after the local chapter until his untimely death.

Ron worked at the Prince of Wales for 21 years until his retirement from surgery in 1993. He was addicted to teaching. He gave Instructional Course lectures at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. After his retirement, he continued to teach students at the University of Sydney for another 5 years.

In one of the twists of his long and varied life the inventor of a hip eventually required a hip replacement. Ron had a sharp mind, but became increasingly frustrated with his failing body. He died suddenly aged 88. He is survived by his wife Ann, three children and six grandchildren. He is remembered by all as a witty and kindhearted man, who dedicated his life to orthopaedics.