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Freddie H. Fu, MD, the creator of UPMC’s world-renowned sports medicine program, long-time chairman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and head team physician for Pitt’s Department of Athletics, died Friday, September 24, surrounded by his loving family.
Dr. Fu was one of the most recognized and beloved physicians in Pittsburgh and is acclaimed worldwide for his innovative research and teaching, leading to many clinical advancements in sports medicine and orthpaedic care, particularly in treating knee injuries. Throughout his life and career, Dr. Fu worked passionately to always set the bar higher for his local, national, and international medical/surgical colleagues, thousands of medical students, surgical residents, and fellows who came to Pittsburgh to learn from the best. He set the bar higher most of all for his tens of thousands of patients – elite, professional, Olympic, and amateur athletes from around the globe as well as non-athletes from around the corner who sought clinical care from the best. As an ardent proponent and supporter of diversity in medicine, Dr. Fu developed one of the most ethnically and gender-diverse academic and clinical departments in the country. He also is known for his enormous impact on the entire Pittsburgh region as a deeply devoted and enthusiastic community ambassador, actively serving for more than 30 years on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations and life-enriching initiatives.
Dr. Fu is survived by his wife of 47 years, Hilda Pang Fu, who shares her husband’s enduring community commitment, often witnessed partnering with him as well as leading her own projects. A proud and doting father and grandfather, Dr. Fu is survived also by his daughter, Joyce Lok-See Fu (and husband, Chad Martin); son, Gordon Ka-Hong Fu (and wife, Ding Li); five grandchildren: Ludivine Ling-Yun Fu Martin, Alexander Zee-Yun Fu Martin, Axel Wei-Yun Fu Martin, Kendrick Kai Cheng Fu, and Kasen Kai Sheng Fu; his mother, Mabel Foo; sisters Susan Lam and Jeanette Maeba; and brothers Frank Fu and Nigel Fu. He was preceded in death by his father, Ying Foo.
With his larger-than-life presence, fierce ingenuity, and deep respect and generosity for others, Dr. Fu’s professional, civic, and personal priorities have had immeasurable positive influence on countless people of all walks of life that is difficult to briefly summarize. In 1999, Pittsburgh Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential Pittsburghers of the 20th century.
He founded western Pennsylvania’s first sports medicine program in 1986 in a small suite near Pitt’s main campus. In 2000, after outgrowing a second, bigger location, the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine moved into a newly built 37,000-square-foot building on Pittsburgh’s South Side, within the 60 acres now known as the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Largely envisioned and designed by Dr. Fu, the first-of-its-kind compound combines the resources of a major academic health system with professional and collegiate sports programs, encompassing the massive indoor and outdoor football training facilities of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and the National Football League’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Dr. Fu expanded and advanced UPMC Sports Medicine to become one of the largest, most comprehensive clinical and research programs in the world, uniquely placing dozens of leading multi-specialists under one roof for the prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of chronic and acute sports-related and non-sports-related injuries and conditions ranging from ankle sprains to knee ligament tears to concussions. As a result of Dr. Fu’s vision and magnetism, thousands of top elite, professional, Olympic and amateur athletes of all ages have traveled to UPMC over the years to seek care, as evidenced by the hundreds of framed photos and jerseys of famous athletes autographed with gratitude to Dr. Fu covering almost every inch of wall space throughout the two-story building. But, Dr. Fu made sure the center was for everybody and every patient was treated equally – whether you were a young Olympic Gold Medalist in training or just someone trying to retain the ability to perform activities of daily living. In 2018, the center was reopened as the UPMC Freddie Fu Sports Medicine Center following a multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion. The complex, built on the site of a sprawling shuttered steel mill, also served to economically revitalize the surrounding area.
In 2015, Dr. Fu guided a partnership between UPMC and the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins to build a sports medicine and training facility in Cranberry Township, a suburb north of Pittsburgh. The UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex is dedicated to hockey-related training, injury prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation, and unites UPMC Sports Medicine and professional hockey under one roof, attracting local, national, and international experts to care for patients and train athletes of all levels. Much like the South Side structure, the Cranberry complex also proved to be a catalyst for robust local community and business growth.
As an internationally renowned orthopaedic scientist and surgeon, Dr. Fu helped revolutionize anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction and is extoled specifically for his relentless scientific research and clinical expertise in treating ACL injuries, common in athletes of all ages and skill levels. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine in 2019 identified Pitt as the most prolific institution for influential ACL research and Dr. Fu was the most-cited author. Overall, he delivered more than 1,200 national and international presentations, co-authored 173 book chapters, wrote more than 675 peer-reviewed articles, and edited 30 major orthopaedic textbooks.
Dr. Fu was particularly proud of his role as an instructor and mentor. Along with the thousands of medical students, residents, and fellows he guided throughout his career, Dr. Fu went out of his way to celebrate their successes. He and Hilda sponsored and hosted Pitt’s 2018 White Coat Ceremony, celebrating first-year medical students. Each year since, he led the incoming class in reciting the Hippocratic Oath, marking students’ commitment to integrity as doctors.
For building and overseeing one of the top and most diverse orthopaedic residency training programs in the country – attracting more than 1,500 surgical residents from 62 countries over the past 32 years – Dr. Fu received the 2011 American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Diversity Award. Hundreds of future leaders in orthopaedics and sports medicine trained under Dr. Fu, studying his philosophy, “Respect the past. Embrace the future.” Another lesson Dr. Fu preached and modeled for his trainees was that family is always first. Even with his world-renowned accomplishments and accolades, what he cherished most was his family, rarely missing an important event in the lives of his children or wife, whose photos are prominently displayed among the famous athletes at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. Conversations at work almost always included his questions about how your family was doing and offers of assistance if he thought he could help.
During his career, Dr. Fu was recognized with more than 260 professional awards and honors, including induction into the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine Hall of Fame in July 2016, one of the Society’s highest honors with only a select few inductees named each year. He served at the highest levels of leadership for the most prestigious national and international orthopaedic and sports medicine societies throughout his inspiring career.
For 32 years, Dr. Fu was the beloved head team physician for the University of Pittsburgh Department of Athletics. And, as the first team physician for Pittsburgh’s Mount Lebanon and Central Catholic high schools in 1984, Dr. Fu established the first-ever high school athletic training program in western Pennsylvania, a program that has grown into one of the largest in the country, supporting 44 high schools. He also was instrumental in initiating the on-site presence of emergency medical services at high school football games. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association awarded him the Presidential Challenge Award for his significant contributions and support in advancing athletic training.
Dr. Fu served as the company physician for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) for 37 years. When Dr. Fu first launched the UPMC Sports Medicine program at PBT, he placed it among the first professional ballet companies in the country to house a medical residency program tailored to dance. Dr. Fu was in the audience for every production, ready to provide immediate care in the event of an onstage injury. UPMC Sports Medicine physical therapists and athletic trainers still visit the studios five days a week to work with dancers in PBT’s in-house UPMC Sports Medicine Therapy room, which was endowed by Dr. Fu and his wife. UPMC Sports Medicine professionals still attend every dress rehearsal and performance, even when the company is on tour.
Dr. Fu was instrumental in aligning community leaders and resources to host the first City of Pittsburgh Marathon in 1985, attracting tens of thousands of elite and recreational runners from all over the world each year. He served as the marathon’s board chairman and executive medical director until 2003. He also was key in bringing the annual Thrift Drug Classic annual professional cycling race to Pittsburgh from 1991 to 1997, of which he was medical director, featuring cyclists Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond. On several occasions, both events served as U.S. Olympic Trial events.
Intensely serious about challenging himself and others to always be better, Dr. Fu also was known for his warmth, genuine interest in people, and unique charismatic style of generating joy, fun, and laughter with everyone around him. He loved living in Pittsburgh and turned down several lucrative offers over the years to become the chairman of other high-ranking institutions.
Dr. Fu was born in 1950 in Hong Kong and attended St. Paul’s Boys College. He received undergraduate and post-graduate degrees at Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Medical School before earning his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1977. He continued his training at Pitt, Brown University, and Hanover Trauma Center in Germany. He joined the Pitt School of Medicine faculty in 1982 and became the David Silver Professor and Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in 1998, only the eighth Distinguished Service Professor in Pitt’s history. He held secondary appointments as professor of physical therapy, health and physical activity, and mechanical engineering at the Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. He also held an honorary doctorate of science degree from Point Park University and an honorary doctorate of public service from Chatham University.
Albert Ferguson, MD, was Pitt’s orthopaedic department chairman in 1977 when he saw the potential of a young Dr. Freddie Fu and gave him a chance at being a surgical resident. With the utmost respect for his long-time mentor, Dr. Fu constantly over the years publicly shared Dr. Ferguson’s doctrine to “Do the right thing. Take care of your patients and they will take care of you.” As much as he did for others, Dr. Fu was overheard every day saying “Thank You” to his patients, trainees, colleagues, and friends.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the Fu family kindly asks memorial contributions to be made to the Fu Family Legacy Fund in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, P.O. Box 640093, Pittsburgh, PA, 15264-0093, or at https://pae.pitt.edu/FuLegacy.