Passing of groundbreaking orthopaedic surgeon ‘a significant loss to SA medicine’

Internationally recognised healthcare professional mourned

The Netcare Group mourns the passing of distinguished Johannesburg orthopaedic surgeon, Professor Charles Lautenbach, who passed away recently.

Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of Netcare, said that Professor Lautenbach, who practised medicine at Netcare Milpark Hospital well past his retirement age, had a most distinguished career in medicine.

“Professor Lautenbach made a significant contribution not only at the hospital and to his patients, but also to the advancement of orthopaedic medicine internationally. He leaves a most remarkable legacy and will be sorely missed,” added Dr Friedland. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to his family in this time of bereavement and we wish them strength.”

Professor Lautenbach had a rich and extensive career, including working as medical officer for the third South African National Antarctic Expedition in 1962. Professor Lautenbach began his training in orthopaedics in 1967 and was the first recipient of the Fellow of College of South Africa in Orthopaedics. He also received the Christiaan Barnard Gold Medal, which was established by Netcare in 2010 to recognise medical practitioners who have made exceptional contributions to South African medicine and was among the first doctors to sign up for rooms at the fledgling Milpark Hospital, in 1976.

“Professor Lautenbach designed a world-renowned procedure for treating bone infections, which he researched and continued to refine over the span of his medical career. He also trained a number of doctors from around the world in what became known as the ‘Lautenbach technique’,” noted Dr Friedland.

Professor Lautenbach was of the opinion that “You sometimes have to break the rules” in order to make progress in medical science. His technique of infiltrating high doses of antibiotics to treat bone infection was controversial when he introduced it half a century ago, but it was life saving for many patients.

He presented more than 120 scientific research papers between 1968 and 2017, one sixth of them after the age of 80. He lectured in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Oswestry, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Israel, Cairo, Egypt, China and Pakistan.

Forty of his papers were based on original research and described the numerous factors involved in bone and joint infection, and the effective treatment of such infections. In addition, he wrote four chapters in orthopaedic textbooks, including in the prestigious Oxford Text Book of Orthopaedic Trauma, which was published in three volumes.

Professor Lautenbach was fluent in Zulu and Sotho, which he learned while working on the mines in the 1950s to earn money in order to pay for his medical studies.

He spent much of his free time orienteering, which is a sport in which competitors raced between checkpoints using a map and a compass.

“Professor Lautenbach dedicated his life’s work to his patients and his profession, and his passing leaves a considerable gap within both local and international medicine, upon which he has left an indelible mark,” concluded Dr Friedland.