Blair C. Filler, MD, receives Leadership Award

By: Annie Hayashi

By Annie Hayashi

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Not only has Blair C. Filler, MD—this year’s winner of the William W. Tipton Jr., MD, Leadership Award—run 53 marathons, he demonstrates the same determination, unwavering tenacity, and dedication in every facet of his professional life and many volunteer contributions.

According to William J. Robb III, MD, chair of the Tipton Leadership Award committee, “Dr. Filler differentiated himself with more than four decades of unrelenting commitment to often difficult and controversial orthopaedic issues.

Blair C. Filler, MD, accepts the 2009 William W.Tipton Jr., MD, Leadership Award from AAOSPresident Tony Rankin, MD.

“He has brought tremendous value to the orthopaedic community—within his practice, his hospital, his state, and the Academy. Dr. Filler will tackle issues that require hard work and a long-term commitment,” he added.

“Dr. Filler is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the difficult jobs done,” said his colleague Robert H. Haralson III, MD, MBA, AAOS medical director.

An active participant

Early in Dr. Filler’s career, his mentor, the late Herbert Stark, MD, urged him to become active in professional organizations. Dr. Filler has embraced that philosophy and exhibited it throughout his career.

In 1985, for example, he accepted a position as the professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of the orthopaedic residency program at the Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles, even though he was already serving as associate clinical professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Southern California and had a private practice. He served there for 5 years, leaving in 1990.

“The hospital was built just to serve that community. We had so many AK-47 gun shot injuries that military personnel came to learn about wound care,” recalls Dr. Filler

According to Dr. Robb, “Dr. Filler understood the importance of diversity much earlier than many people. He was able to help keep the education program going so the South Central Los Angeles community got the care that was needed.”

Dr. Filler continues to contribute his orthopaedic and medical skills to the community, working with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, participating in rescue and recovery missions, and caring for hikers, scuba divers, and victims of traffic accidents and other traumas. He has learned to rappel from a helicopter into tight areas where the aircraft cannot land.

“You think about the risks, especially when you’re in tense situations and you wonder why you’re doing this. But if you’re into medicine, you know the excitement of it; the challenge is providing the treatment, right there on the scene,” Dr. Filler said.

Professionally accomplished

Dr. Filler currently has a private practice and serves as a clinical professor in orthopaedic surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A member of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, Dr. Filler has extensively lectured on the upper extremity in cerebral palsy and developmental disabilities. He has performed muscle transplants to give function to disabled hands for children with cerebral palsy.

He is also a nationally recognized authority on running and jogging injuries who has taught several postgraduate courses on running injuries.

An effective, influential leader

“Blair Filler has had more influence on the Academy than almost anyone else in a nonpresidential position,” said Dr. Haralson.

Dr. Filler has served on the Board of Councilors (BOC), including a term as chair. He has also served on the Academy’s Board of Directors for 6 years—4 years as treasurer.

“As treasurer, he demonstrated tremendous judgment and leadership—balancing the financial resources of the Academy with the many presidential requests for various expenditures,” said Dr. Haralson.

“He has a quiet but persuasive leadership style; I’ve never heard him raise his voice. He has a profound knowledge of a range of subjects that makes him highly influential,” he continued.

In 1985, Dr. Filler and two other fellows were appointed to represent AAOS in efforts to establish the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) coding system. As a result, Dr. Filler has been described as the “king of coding” by some of his colleagues, and has received awards from both the California Orthopaedic Association and the American Medical Association for his coding work.

He helped establish and continues to contribute to the orthopaedic CPT program. “The AAOS was the first specialty to develop a Global Service Data text, listing the CPT codes for all the various things that orthopaedists do. It has been very well received and generated significant revenue for other nonrevenue producing programs,” he noted.

Dr. Filler also distinguished himself while serving as the BOC chair, according to Dr. Robb. “He effectively managed some difficult issues—creating a bridge between councilors representing their constituents and the Academy leadership.

“Dr. Filler helped establish both credibility and value for the BOC—an organization that was young and growing—through his dedicated leadership at that time.”

The ultimate accomplishment

Dr. Filler considers teaching as one of the high points of his career. “You can always tell how successful you are when you see how effective your students are with their patients,” he said.

But his proudest accomplishment is his marriage to his wife, Dodie. As he puts it, she does everything he does—runs marathons (she has done 21), has a pilot’s license, and goes to Washington, D.C. and lobbies representatives of Congress with him. In fact, they both win their respective age categories in the AAOS Annual Meeting Fun Run every year.

Dr. Filler freely admits that their partnership has made it possible for him to achieve much in his lifetime. And they clearly look forward to sharing more of their marathon life together.

Annie Hayashi is a senior science writer with AAOS Now. She can be reached at