Regarded by peers and patients alike as one of the most respected and revered Orthopedic Surgeons in the world — Dr. Robert Klapper, Clinical Chief of Orthopedic Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center uses his artistic eye for detail and cutting-edge skill to fuel his two great passions — Bone & Stone!
By Suzanne Takowsky
For many obviously apparent reasons, Dr. Robert Klapper just can’t seem to keep “tools” out of his hands; day, night or weekends!
In the operating room at Cedars Sinai Hospital, performing one of his world-famous hip replacement surgeries or at Michelangelo’s quarry in Carrara, Italy where each summer he rents studio space to sculpt in the same sunlight and observe the unfinished works of the immortal sculptor he says is his greatest inspiration, Klapper relishes his growing ability and vision to create human form in stone. He began sculpting nine years ago and has found a peace, happiness and fulfillment doing what he loves most — working with his hands.
Klapper received his medical training at Columbia and Cornell Universities and at Cedars-Sinai and UCLA. Aside from being a surgeon, lecturer and noted author (“Heal Your Hips”); he is also an inventor — of six patents, most orthopedic surgical instruments used in operating rooms by other physicians throughout the world.
Growing up did he always want to be a doctor? According to Klapper, his first choice was to be a carpenter, just like his father. But his mother, a nurse, gently urged him towards the medical field.
“I was greatly inspired by her work and I became inspired by her life and what I saw her do,” he says. “I’ve always had a burning desire to work with my hands, to build and to create. I knew in medical school that I wanted to be an Orthopedic surgeon. And, even now after 15 years and 10,000 surgeries I still can’t believe that I get to do something so exciting and fun. There is no owners manual for a body. Every surgery is different and special and I take it as a blessing that I have the opportunity to be in a profession that I love and can also help people at the same time.”
In 1991, after Klapper had barely been in private practice a little over a year, Los Angeles magazine printed an issue with a feature story called: “The Doctors, That Doctors Go To When They Get Sick.” Klapper’s name was among the 10 Orthopedic surgeons listed as: The Best. Concern for patients and a heart-felt bedside manner are two elements Klapper says set caring physicians apart from those who have no clue.
“My office is in Beverly Hills and my home is in Encino and I have a many patients between these two points. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve listened to messages at the end of the day, after I have been in surgery for so many hours I can’t r remember and I hear a call from a patient who has to cancel a check-up appointment because they don’t have a ride. Well, I call them up, find out in which direction they live, I get in my car and go to their house. You want respect from your patients? You want to really know what it’s like to go back in a time when doctors got accolades for their work and earned genuine respect from the people they helped? Then, make a house call. When a patient sees me pull up at their house they open the door and, you should see the look on their faces: That me, a doctor is coming to their house to see them. Well, let me tell you, that moment is like nothing you could ever be prepared for. Patients cannot believe that you have come to them. It’s like a halo is around my head and their appreciation is overwhelming. During my medical training, I was taught not to just talk at a patient, but to speak with care and listen with concern and, before I left ... to reach out and touch them on the hand or arm ... in other words, make a connection with that patient on a human level.”
Klapper takes the business of bones very seriously. He is an advocate for water resistance exercise, which he states is “nurturing” and shakes his head at the thought of pounding bones on the tennis court, joggers trail, golf course and, lifting weights at the gym – a big NO! He hopes to write a book on each part of the body (he started with hips) so he can shed light on how we can prevent deterioration of our bones, which he says is less age-related than exercise-abuse related. Klapper is one of the few surgeons in the world who performs Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive, outpatient surgery of the hip, which helps patients postpone the need for a hip replacement.
“I’m so blessed with the people around me. My office manager has more or less been with me my whole career. And, I’m the luckiest man in the world. I have the greatest wife, Ellen, a Pathologist and Director of the blood bank at Cedars and I have the greatest daughter, Michele. They have allowed me the stability I need to do my job. They’ve been the backbone of my ability to stay long hours at the office and take my time making rounds on weekends. Their love and support is always with me....