Academy leaves a legacy in San Diego

By: Frank B. Kelly, MD

By Frank B. Kelly, MD

Continuing a tradition started in 2000, the AAOS—with incredible contributions of time and financial support from numerous volunteers—constructed a safe and handicap-accessible playground yesterday, leaving a legacy that will be enjoyed by San Diegans for many years to come.

This was also the second Fun and Fitness Park. It has equipment for balance, flexibility, and strength as well as a walking/running track for aerobic exercise.

But how—and why—did the Academy ever decide to undertake such an ambitious initiative?

In the late 1990s, the Academy’s Board of Directors authorized a survey on the public’s perceptions of orthopaedic surgeons. Results showed we had not been effective in spreading the message of who we were or what we did. Subsequently, the board established a public relations department to develop ways of informing healthcare consumers about our specialty and about what we do to improve the quality of life for so many.

Under the leadership of Sandy Gordon, and with the assistance of volunteers like Stuart Hirsch, MD, John M. Purvis, MD, and many others, the construction of a safe and handicap-accessible playground in Orlando, site of our 2000 Annual Meeting, was proposed. Such an activity would not only demonstrate the Academy’s commitment to “safe play,” injury prevention, and the importance of exercise and physical activity, but would also garner extensive publicity for the Academy, provide a way to develop relationships with industry, and leave a lasting legacy to the Orlando community.

Fundraising and planning began, along with a partnership with KaBoom!, a non-profit organization. At Magnolia School, site of the first build, more than 500 volunteers helped construct a playground in one day. Academy President Robert D. D’Ambrosia, MD, cut the ribbon, making the playground a reality.

Every year since, the AAOS has built playgrounds that can be enjoyed for generations to come.

When I learned that the nearest playground for children with disabilities was in Atlanta, 90 minutes away from my hometown of Macon, Ga., I decided to lead an effort to build a playground in my own community.

With the support of the Junior League of Macon, the AAOS, the Georgia Orthopaedic Society, and the local medical society, in 2008, we built a 5,400-square-foot facility. The rubberized surface accommodates wheelchairs and walkers, ramps facilitate handicap access, and specialized equipment is enjoyed by all children, regardless of ability.

Similar projects have been spearheaded by state and specialty societies and by members in Bridgewater, N.J., Tucson, Ariz., the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Kankakee, Ill., and many other cities. Lawrence R. Housman, MD, has organized, raised financial support, and constructed five playgrounds in Tucson.

The playground initiative has even spread beyond the United States. Orthopaedists in Puerto Rico and in Bogota, Colombia, have constructed playgrounds.

Having been involved both in several AAOS builds and with the playground build in Macon, I can say that the feeling of pride at the end of the day, when the ribbon is cut, is incredible. And the pleasure experienced in watching children enjoy what you have helped create is truly “priceless.”

Frank B. Kelly, MD, is a member of the AAOS Now editorial board.