Andrew King, M.D. - Putting down the scalpel, picking up a new title
Thanks to Andrew King, M.D., New Zealand has more sheep than people. Well, Dr. King did leave his native country years ago, but he didn’t tip the balance of sheep/human power.
In honor of the raconteur that is Dr. King, we began this tribute with a (slightly exaggerated) tale. And now, we will weave a story for the illustrious Kiwi who steadied the LSU Orthopaedic Department through the tumultuous post-Katrina years.
Perspective from Robert Zura, M.D.
“I met Andy as I was being recruited from Duke to LSU. In him, I found an immediate mentor and friend. When I heard that he himself had decided to step down as chair I was extraordinarily impressed. Andy was clearly devoted to our program and had done an outstanding job of stewarding us through tough times.”
“When I assumed the chair, I was fortunate to have Andy by my side. He has been in virtually every kind of political and clinical situation and thoroughly understands the stresses that come with the position. He would commiserate with me and help me navigate the political landscape, in part by talking through people’s personality types.”
“Andy is a super nice person and I, well, I am from the Northeast, so you know how we can be. He and I really have complementary styles. Andy is so nice that he will assume the best of you and even if you prove him wrong, he will continue to see the best in you. He has mastered the art of going through this world and still being an optimist. I am probably a little kinder because of him.”
“A master surgeon, Andy is so devoid of ego that he asked me to tell him when I felt he had lost any of his surgical skills (I never had to do that)."
"His surgical decision making and clinical acumen are unparalleled. To this day he does the most complex cases with aplomb.”
“On the storytelling front, Andy never fails to liven up a situation. Whether it’s in journal club or in the OR, he can weave a tangential, stirring tale that keeps people’s attention and ultimately draws a group closer.”
“Andy King is a treasure, and I am so pleased that he will now be an emeritus gratis professor who will continue to teach and mentor the next generation of surgeons. When not engaged with orthopedics, Andy will be spending time with his treasure, his wife Carey, an artist who brings out an extra sparkle in Andy’s eyes.”
Perspective from William Accousti, M.D.
“I had the privilege of being trained by Andy, who was THE ‘scoliosis guy’ in Louisiana. Dr. King was that partner I would call when I got into a pickle or an orthopedic conundrum and needed advice or help."
"He always seemed to have the right answer that came from his years of experience and wisdom.”
“Early in my career one late Friday evening, I found myself in the OR with an emergency case that had gotten beyond my assistant’s level of skill. Having worked all day I was very worried that fatigue would set in. I called Andy from the OR and he was out at a restaurant having dinner with Carey, his wife and said, ‘Well, the good news is I haven’t really had anything to drink. I’ll be right over.’ He finished dinner quickly and came straight to the OR where we worked for a couple of hours, dramatically reducing my stress level and allowing us to give appropriate attention to this young patient in need. I will never forget that case and how he came back to the hospital late at night to help out a colleague (and patient) in need.”
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the butt dials. So many times, Andy’s phone called me…I would get calls all hours of the day and night. Mostly, I hung up, but occasionally something funny would catch my ear. One time it was obvious they were in the airport, and I heard him say to Carey, ‘Austin!? I thought we were going to Boston!’ Another time I was on vacation when I got a call at 2am and thought, ‘Oh no…it’s about one of my patients.’ Nope. Andy had butt dialed me while pulling his kid out of a party and all I heard was, ‘What do you mean he punched you in the face!?’”
“Dr. King is a consummate storyteller, or maybe a tall tale ‘re-teller’ is more accurate. Many of us who have worked with Andy have realized that on occasion he would approach you with a funny story that started to sound all too familiar. Not because he had told it to you before but because you had told it to him just a few days, or even hours earlier! However, this time he was the protagonist and not you.
"He had adopted the story as his own, put himself in it and actually improved it considerably!"
So I learned that if I want a better story than the one I had I would just tell it to Andy and wait until it came back around to me via Andy.”
“He has a similar way with jokes, however, after he stole it from you, he would often change the punch line just enough to render it no longer a joke and in doing so made it that much funnier to hear the second time. Once I suggested that he write down a bunch of his stories so that we could continue to share them after he retired. His response was, ‘Well, I really prefer not to write them down because then they can be subject to fact checking!’
And perspective from the maestro himself, Andrew King, M.D.
“I ended up in New Orleans by happenstance. I was at the annual meeting of the British Orthopaedic Society in Exeter, England—where I was training—when I ran into the legendary LSU Chair, Robert D’Ambrosia. He was starting spine fellowship in New Orleans and asked if I were interested. I accepted and after that year there was a slot open and D’Ambrosia asked me to stay.
"After two years I was so caught up in what I was doing and enjoying it so much that any thoughts of leaving faded. It was evident that we had a very strong department with hardworking individuals who made us one of the powerhouses of LSU Medical School.”
“At the time, our practice was part charity, part private. D’Ambrosia was looking forward and became concerned that Hotel Dieu and Charity were in peril and that we should look to the suburbs. That was when he asked me to locate our adult spine practice in Kenner, which was the ideal place in fact because we have a lot of patients from the Northshore.”
“At the end of the first year at Kenner someone told me that I was biggest biller of year at that hospital, so things were going well for orthopedics. Around that time, I married Carey, a local girl who was unimpressed when I took her back to New Zealand. It was way too green, clean and organized for her.”
“While we now have all specialties covered, after Katrina a lot of people left. I was asked to be chair however I was not sure that I was chair material. But I did know all the players, including the referring doctors, the landscape, and most colleagues at the university. Meanwhile my friends from up north were saying, ‘What is the point of staying? You know another Katrina is inevitable.’”
“So the buzz was, ‘Let’s shift it all to Baton Rouge.’ But the problem was that if people were going to be recruited to Louisiana, they wanted to live in New Orleans, not Baton Rouge. In the end, we were very fortunate to get some people who love New Orleans. Dr. Marrero had left for Texas, and I knew I had a chance to lure him back when I saw him at a meeting, and he said he missed the city. Then at AAOS I ended up sitting next to Mike Hartman, who is from Louisiana and said, ‘OK, I may be interested.’”
“While those doctors and other did sign on with us, at one point we only had two orthopedic surgeons: Vin Dasa and Peter Krause, the latter of whom had been on faculty, left, and then returned after Katrina."
"Frankly, the highlight of my career has been bringing on new faculty and witnessing the rebirth of University Hospital after Katrina—and proving the naysayers wrong.”
“After eight years as chair, I had an epiphany that was brought on by my wife’s cancer diagnosis. I knew I wanted to devote more time to her, so I tendered my resignation. I also recognized that I am more of a clinician than an administrator and I thought someone else could better serve the department. We were exceptionally fortunate to have Robert Zura step into the chair position. He was the perfect guy for the time and place. At the outset of his tenure our residents we were in the 30% percentile in the Orthopaedic In-Training Exam—now we are in the 90th percentile. I give Zura a lot of credit for that. Robert is a better parliamentarian than I was. I tend to open my mouth when I am upset, but Robert is more of a diplomat.”
“From a clinical standpoint, a case that stands out was one of a 4-year-old boy with such a severe spinal deformity that his breathing was affected. It was thought that he would die early. At that time, however, there were new ideas about using spinal rods to straighten the spine and render breathing easier. But every six months you had to go in and elongate the rods. I put some of the first rods in and also used the latest thing—pedicle screws. After Katrina his parents moved to Arizona…in 2019 a reporter from an Arizona newspaper contacted me about a kid who was graduating from high school and was captain of the basketball team. That young man had undergone 16 operations to lengthen those rods.
“I think it’s pretty unlikely that I ended up here,” sums up Dr. King. “I have had a fascinating career that couldn’t have been any better.
I adore the people of Louisiana and for some reason I have always worked with smart colleagues who have the patients’ best interests in mind. As for advice to younger surgeons, my initial instinct would be to tell them to plan their careers…but now that I think about it mine, I see that it’s worked out really well because of serendipity.”