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2004 Distinguished Graduate Award

COL John A. Feagin, Jr. '55

An airborne artillery lieutenant who became the first active duty Army officer to attend medical school; a battlefield surgeon in Vietnam; a research physician and innovative bioengineer whose published work has led to quantum advances in orthopedic surgery; John Autrey Feagin, Jr. is the world's leading authority on cruciate ligaments and a pioneer in the practice of sports medicine.

Upon graduating from West Point in 1955, Lieutenant Feagin was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division. Convinced of the need for experienced line officers in the medical service, he gained approval from the Department of the Army to take a leave of absence, without pay, to attend medical school. He graduated from Duke in 1961, returned to the Army, and spent the next eighteen years as a military surgeon.

During these formative years of his career, Dr. Feagin served his internship at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii and at the post hospital at Fort Ord, California. He completed his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was quickly recognized as a brilliant and uniquely gifted young surgeon. Equally important, John Feagin was known for his compassion, empathy, and commitment to his patients, a quality he has imparted to the countless young physicians he has since trained and mentored. While at Walter Reed, he became a founding member of the Society of Military Orthopedic Surgeons.

In 1966, Dr. Feagin was assigned to the 85th Evacuation Hospital, Qui Nhon, Vietnam, as Chief of Orthopedic Services. His talent for the professional development of young surgeons flourished during this assignment; several of his colleagues from the 85th Evacuation Hospital have become nationally known orthopedic surgeons and educators.

While at Qui Nhon, and typical of John Feagin's concern for humanity, he established a Medical Civil Action Program (MEDCAP) by adopting a nearby leprosarium where his team provided care and life-saving surgeries for this small, isolated community.

A year later, Dr. Feagin began a four-year tour at Keller Army Hospital at West Point. In addition to the orthopedic care of the Corps of Cadets, he became team physician for the Army football and basketball teams.

Elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in 1971, Dr. Feagin studied at the Centre for Hip Surgery in Wrightington, England for a year before assuming his duties as Director, Army Joint Replacement Fellowship Program and Assistant Chief, Resident Training Program at Letterman Army Medical Center.

While at Wrightington working under the foremost medical practitioner of the then new science of artificial joints, John Feagin concluded that joint replacement was more a bioengineering problem than a surgical one and that the procedure should be approached as such. This realization brought a fresh, new perspective to the discipline of knee replacement surgery.

In 1972, John Feagin founded the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, an organization for which he later served as president. Two years later, he helped found the Low Friction Society, which awards fellowships for the study of hip surgery at Wrightington. In 1974, he co-authored a seminal study on the treatment of Anterior Cruciate Ligament injuries suffered by cadets during Dr. Feagin's tour at West Point. Published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, the article revolutionized procedures for recovery and rehabilitation of ACL injuries. Termed a "Classic" in orthopedic surgery, the article was reprinted 20 years later by the editor of a learned symposium.

Colonel Feagin was appointed Commander of Keller Army Hospital at West Point in 1978. He retired from the Army in 1979 and entered private practice. While at West Point, he personally trained those physicians serving as doctors for Army athletic teams. He continues this initiative by returning to the Military Academy as a volunteer each fall to instruct physicians and trainers in the latest developments and techniques in treating sports injuries.

Despite being involved in the full-time practice of surgery, Dr. Feagin continued his research into the problems associated with treatment of joint injuries, and found time to author and edit The Crucial Ligaments, a medical text now in its third printing. This book, termed "The Bible of the Knee," has been characterized by reviewers as "a must for orthopedic surgeons," and "a major contribution to the subjects of cruciate anatomy, biomechanics, and principles of repair and reconstruction." While at Jackson Hole, John Feagin also authored A Wilderness Medical Guide for those involved in mountaineering medicine.

In these years, honors and additional responsibilities came thick and fast for Dr. Feagin. Throughout the eighties, he served as team physician for the U.S. Olympic Ski Team, and was the team physician for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. In 1981, he was selected for a Fellowship with the Swiss Association of Osteosynthesis, an assignment that strengthened the ties between American and European orthopedic societies. John Feagin built on this relationship to inaugurate the international exchange of bright young residents in Europe and the United States through Sports Medicine Traveling Fellowships. Dr. Feagin has served as the "Godfather" of the Cleveland Orthopedic Sports Medicine Society, the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, and is an Honorary Member of the European Society for Knee Surgery.

In 1989, Dr. Feagin accepted an appointment as Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Uniformed University of Health Services, a position he holds to this day. In 1989 he was appointed Associate Professor in the Duke University School of Medicine and Chief of Orthopedic Services at the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center. His impact on the Veterans Hospital was immediate and salutary, and enabled the hospital to reverse a trend towards mediocrity that threatened the accreditation of the center as a teaching hospital. In 1994, Dr. Feagin's article, The Soldier and His Wound became Chapter 1 in the Office of the Surgeon General's text on surgery in Vietnam. John Feagin retired from Duke in 1999 and was appointed Associate Professor Emeritus by the Duke School of Medicine.

However, the word retirement is not in John Feagin's lexicon. He has served as Consultant and Scientific Advisor to the Steadman Hawkins Research Foundation; volunteered his services in Operation Blessing medical missions to Panama and to Kazakhstan; participates in World Medical Missions; was a volunteer in Kenya; is a consultant to several corporations, and is a member of the Medical Advisory Board for LeadingMD.com. Dr. Feagin is a frequent lecturer both in the United States and abroad. Last year he was elected to the Hall of Fame of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine, and received an International Knee Prize for a Lifetime of Contribution to the Science and Practice of Knee Surgery.

John Feagin's entire professional life has been one of unselfish contribution to the U.S. Army Medical Corps, the broader medical profession, and to the Nation. A role model for young physicians, his extraordinary personal standards of competency, dedication to service, and compassion, transcend his international reputation as the world's leading authority on cruciate ligament surgery. His is a consummate professional who epitomized the ideals expressed in the West Point motto: "Duty, Honor, Country." As a teacher, scientist, mentor, author, medical missionary, and humanist, John Feagin is truly a lion in his chosen field.

Accordingly, the Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2004 Distinguished Graduate Award to John Autrey Feagin, Jr.

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