On March 22, 2020, in his 95th year, Norbert Gschwend has passed away. With his sad loss, the orthopedic community and our Society have lost its cofounder (together with Didier Patte in 1987), a close personal friend for so many of us, a visionary orthopedic surgeon both in strategic aspects as in medical development of our
specialty with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, and a charismatic teacher for more than a generation of orthopedic surgeons. His empathy and his sympathy opened both, mind and hearts, of his colleagues, students and patients. He possessed outstanding lecturing capabilities in several languages inspiring coworkers and colleagues in his own institution as well as nationally and abroad, namely in English, French and Italian speaking countries.
In 1962, at the age of 37, he took over the Schulthess Klinik in Zurich, at the time a small and hardly noticed institution with one surgeon-physician and two nurses, few hospital beds, and mostly applying conservative longterm therapeutic measures, among them many children who had suffered from scoliosis, hip dysplasia and the consequences of poliomyelitis. Within four decades he had formed the Schulthess Klinik to a worldwide recognized orthopedic institution. The basis of this tremendous success were Norbert Gschwends personality, his visionary ideas about the future of orthopedic surgery in a specialized institution, creating independent departments for subspecialties and leading the institution as primus inter pares. Very early on he had realized the potential of operative treatment of patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis creating a combined unit integrating Rheumatologists and Physiotherapy teams following the model of Kauko Vainio in Heinola. Also, in a team-approach the GSB-Group (N. Gwschend, H. Scheier and A. Bähler) developed a number of joint replacements, of which the GSB-prostheses for knee and elbow became popular throughout Europe.
Numerous guests and fellows from Europe and the USA visited the Schulthess klinik and shared their knowledge with Norbert Gschwend and his team. Today the Schulthess Klinik is an important large orthopedic institution with recognition worldwide concerning patient care as well as in education, postgraduate formation of orthopedic surgeons and clinical research and is a founding member of the International Society of Orthopedic Centers (ISOC).
He was among the founders of new societies for RA-surgery. In the early seventies he initiated the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Rheuma-Orthopädie, today Deutsche Gesellschaft für Rheuma-Orthopädie, in 1978 he founded the European Rheumatism and Arthritis Surgical Society (ERASS) and served as the first president of the Society.
From a very early stage in his professional life Gschwend had seen the potential of reconstructive surgery of shoulder and elbow and had recognized the advanced knowledge in this field by his friends mainly from France and the USA. The friendship with Didier Patte had led to the decision to found an European Society for Shoulder and Elbow Surgery during the international conference on shoulder surgery in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1986. At the first congress of SECEC in Paris in 1987 Norbert Gschwend became the first president and Didier Patte the first Secretary of SECEC. I had the privilege to be part of these historical events. The tremendous success of SECEC, the international recognition, the collaboration and sharing of knowledge and experience with colleagues from other continents, was exactly what Norbert Gschwend and Didier Patte had in mind in 1986 when they outlined the structure of the new society.
Norbert Gschwend received many honors during his long professional life. He hold a large number of honorary grand lectures throughout the world and was honorary member of twenty national and international medical societies.
In 2000 Norbert Gschwend retired from active clinical work to enjoy more free time within his family. He peacefully passed away on March 22, 2020 at home in the presence of his loved ones.
With Norbert Gschwend we have lost a friend and visionary physician in the true sense of the word with a vast humanistic formation which he has lived throughout his life.
Beat R. Simmen
PD Dr. med.
Former Chairman of Shoulder-, Elbow- and Handsurgery
and Medical Director of the Schulthess Klinik Zurich