About us | South African Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons


A short history of The South African Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons
By Donald B Mackenzie, Port Elizabeth

The idea to form a special interest group for the Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons in South Africa probably first started at the time of the 4th ICSS meeting in New York in 1989. I was President of the South African Orthopaedic Association at that time and was, I believe, the only South African representative at the meeting which coincided with the high water mark of world-wide anti-South African sentiment. Notwithstanding, I was made to feel very welcome by Dr Charles Neer, the Organizing Chairman and other American shoulder surgeons such as Carter Row, Bob Cofield and Bob Neviaser all of whom I had met previously when I visited them in 1983. To my surprise I had been appointed the “African Continent Delegate” and to make me feel especially welcome they exhibited the Kenyan flag together with the flags of the rest of the representative nations! Flying the South African flag was apparently a problem for them at the time. At the Delegates’ Meeting which was held informally at a restaurant close to the Congress Hotel (the Waldorf-Astoria) there was discussion about possible venues for the future ICSS meetings. Besides the Americans whose names I have mentioned above, to my surprise, given South Africa’s pariah status at that stage, I was most cordially received by other international delegates such as angus Wallace (UK), Steve Copeland (UK) whose Reading Shoulder Course I had attended in 1986, Richard Wallensten of Sweden and Martti Vastamäki of Finland, all of whom had recently formed shoulder special interest sub-groups in their respective countries.

In discussion with them it became clear to me that we needed a Shoulder Society in South Africa, but before that I felt that we should invite well-known figures in shoulder surgery to attend our local SAOA meetings. Historically the first recognized shoulder authority to visit South Africa was probably Sir Harry Platt in 1955 while in 1979 the late Bob Samilson and Charles Rockwood attended the SAOA Congress in Pretoria. In 1982 Charles Rockwood was also a contributor of shoulder-related papers at the successful Combined Meeting in Cape Town helping to fire-up enthusiasm for this challenging and rewarding sub-specially and has remained a constant friend of this country and its shoulder sub-group. During my SAOA presidency two shoulder surgeons were invited as guest lecturers, namely Bog Cofield of the Mayo Clinic, 9USA) in 1990 and Richard Wallensten of the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm, Sweden) in 1991.

It was Bob Cofield who was the real impetus for the formation of the SASES and he attended our very first meeting in Durban in September 1990 and gave us very useful guidelines and encouragement. At that meeting I was elected the Inaugural President with Joe de Beer as the Honorary Secretary.

The Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery came into being in 1992 with Bob Cofield as its first Editor. The SASES was up and running at that time and we were invited to nominate a member to the Editorial Board and I served in that capacity until 2000. In 1990 Thys de Beer took over as Secretary-Treasurer. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Thys and several other South African surgeons visited Europe, United Kingdom and America to learn new skills particularly with respect to arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

In 1992, Thys de Beer was closely involved in the organization of the Combined Arthroplasty Societies’ Meeting held at the Drakensberg Sun with Prof Christian Gerber of Switzerland and Dr Herbert Resch of Austria as invited guest speakers.

There was a sizeable South African contingent at the 5th ICSS meeting in Paris in July 1992. By this time South Africa was well and truly back in the international fold, as it were, and encouraged and assisted by Thys de Beer, I put on a last minute bid competing against Australia and Brazil to host the 1998 ICSS meeting – Helsinki/Stockholm having been awarded the 1995 meeting in New York in 1989. In any event the Australians won the bid, but Thys de Beer, Abe Lambrechts and myself were determined that we would be ready with a proper bid for the 2001 meeting, the venue for which was to be decided in Helsinki.

In September 1993, to act as a stimulus to further promote an interest in shoulder surgery, the SASES arranged an Instructional Course to coincide with the SAOA meeting in Bloemfontein. The course was well-attended and Steve Copeland (United Kingdom) and Dave Sonnabend (Australia) were excellent course directors with significant input from local Shoulder Surgeons as well.

In 1995 the next ICSS meeting (the 6th) was held jointly in Helsinki and Stockholm and organized by Martti Vastamäki (Finland) and Richard Wallensten (Sweden). South Africa was really riding the crest of the wave at that time and to cap it all, a few days prior to our arrival in Helsinki (with 20+ South Africans among the registrants), the Springboks had lifted the Rugby World Cup. Our presentation at the Delegates’ Meeting was well-organized this time and together with Ottawa, Sao Paulo and Washington DC, we were given 15 minutes to state our case. Peter Menelaou of Medi-Clinic had assisted with the production of a first-rate audiovisual presentation and on conclusion of the four presentations, South Africa was declared the winner with Cape Town as the proposed venue.

Shortly after the Hellsinki/Stockholm ICSS a working committee to organize the 8th ICSS in 2001 was formed. It consisted of myself, Thys de Beer, Abe Lambrechts and Peter Menelaou of Medi-Clinic. Soon afterwards we appointed Global Conferences of Cape Town to organize the meeting and subsequently had a most happy and satisfactory association with Brian McDonald and his staff throughout the pre-congress, intra-congress and post-congress periods. The professionalism and dedication of Brian McDonald’s assistants, Crystal Kasselman and Renee Payne must be mentioned.

So as not to be accused of perpetuating the African practice of “President for life”, I stepped down from this position in 1995 and handed the reigns to Thys de Beer who continued to serve our group admirably, supported by his wife, Marietha, and assisted by Abe Lambrechts who took over from Thys as Honorary Secretary.

The SASES was now well established and our membership continued to increase slowly. Abe Lambrechts and Thys de Beer concluded successful negotiations with Mosby to obtain a better rate for subscriptions for the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery for SASES members.

In March 1997, Thys de Beer was again instrumental in arranging a further Combined Meeting of the Arthroplasty Societies, this time as Sun City with Charles Rockwood and Gilles Walch (France) as invited lecturers.

Our group continued to thrive and at the time of the 7th ICSS in Sydney in 1998 the South African representation was in the region of 30, several of whom read good quality papers at the meeting. The full Organizing Committee for the 8th ICSS (including Peter Menelaou and Brian McDonald) attended the Sydney congress and to promote our meeting we were afforded exhibition space which Peter Menelaou and Brian McDonald manned and I was given a time slot on the scientific programme. Shortly after we returned from Sydney Abe Lambrechts took on the onerous and responsible job as Organizing Chairman of the forthcoming ICSS meeting and had sterling help from his wife, Rosanna. Later Joe de Beer, Basil Vrettos and Dinos Kastanos were co-opted onto the committee and they provided valuable service, particularly with the assessment of the abstracts of the papers for the meeting. While on this note I must pay special tribute to Basil Vrettos who virtually single-handedly (with the help of this trusty laptop computer!) put together the whole scientific programme and poster exhibition and was responsible with the late Margaret Finsen for the compilation of the various publications, including the programme book and the abstract booklet. It was a great comfort to me being stuck far away in Port Elizabeth, to know that Abe, Basil, Peter Menelaou and Brian McDonald and his staff were efficiently handling the day-to-day running of affairs leading up the meeting. During 2000 Thys de Beer stood down as President of the SASES and was succeeded by Abe Lambrechts with Basil Vrettos as his Secretary. In addition to their ICSS commitments, Abe and Basil worked hard at ‘tidying up” essential aspect such as our constitution and with the aid of a constitutional lawyer this was eventually ratified.

A few months leading up to the Cape Town meeting were hectic and nerve-racking at times. However Abe Lambrechts, with his placid and stoic personality, was always there to steady our nerves and we all felt much more relaxed when we watched our registration figures rise to record levels in excess of 700, made up by more than 60% of overseas registrants, especially from Europe and the United Kingdom with an encouraging number from the USA, Australasia, Japan and Korea. In the end 49 different countries were represented at the meeting which took place from 23rd to 26th April 2001 at the Nico Malan Theatre on the Cape Town Foreshore. Prof Michel Mansat of Toulouse, France, delivered an excellent Codman Lecture during the meeting. We believe the academic programme and the social engagements were unsurpassed compared to previous ICSS meetings. The comments of the delegates after the meeting were overwhelmingly positive. After our initial fears that the meeting would ‘bomb-out’ financially because of a stay-away due to the spate of bombings which hit Cape Town in late 2000, in the end we made an appreciable profit and most of the proceeds have been used to set up a traveling Fellowship for young aspirant shoulder surgeons, the first of whom is Steve Roche of Cape Town.

At the SASES meeting in Bloemfontein in September 2002 Theo Rösch took over the Presidency from Abe Lambrechts while we are pleased that Basil Vrettos agreed to stay on as Honorary Secretary. Basil also succeeded me as SA Editor of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery and I wish him every success. I will always be embarrassed about me tenure of this important position as there were no South African articles accepted for the Journal in spite of repeated cajoling of our senior membership and the Heads of the various university teaching departments. Happily this has now changed and I hope that the trend will continue and burgeon.

I feel very confident about the future of the SA Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons. The Organization is in the capable hands of Theo Rösch, assisted by his wife, Magda, while Basil Vrettos is an experienced and cool-headed committee man for whose work ethic and commitment I can unreservedly vouch.

It is hoped that our membership will steadily grow and that regular Instructional Courses will be held and contact maintained with overseas shoulder authorities and centers of excellence. It is essential that continuing commitment of our group to the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery be maintained and every effort made to encourage South African Shoulder and elbow surgeons not only to subscribe to this prestigious journal, but also to submit worthy articles for publication.