When Dr. Patrick McConkey first started to operate on injured Whistlerites' knees it was out of the old medical trailer on what is now the Whislter Golf Club course driving range.
This week, thousands of surgeries later, patients gathered to say a fond farewell as McConkey retires.
On Tuesday evening around 20 people, many of them ski instructors, gathered at the Brewhouse pubside, to shake hands one more time with the man who brought them back from their knee injuries. When asked what he thought of the event being held in his honour, McConkey described himself as "a pretty lucky guy."
"I'm very flattered," he said. " I've never been interested in any self promotion. Whatever I've done has been my pleasure and my honour, I couldn't be a luckier guy in many ways in treating the kinds of patients that I want to treat."
Throughout his career, McConkey has operated on approximately 3,500 ACLs on patients from all over the Lower Mainland. His entry into knee-specific surgery came in 1976 when left to train for three months in Eugene, Oregon, under the watchful eye of Dr. Donald B. Slocum. Slocum was regarded as the "champion of new approaches to orthopaedic care," having undertaken the first gait analysis and educated the orthopaedic community on the concept of knee instability and reconstruction. McConkey referred to Slocum simply as "The Master."
"When I came back I told people that I was a knee surgeon. That was kind of unheard of at the time, to do any sub-specialization like that. Back then I did trauma and all kinds of things, but I slowly started to isolate my practice to knees only."
McConkey cut his teeth as a knee surgeon at the Acute Care Unit Hospital at the University of British Columbia in the late 70s. Seasonal workers and ski professionals from all the ski hills, as well as any knee injuries from Vancouver, would get shipped to the centre after a busy weekend and often get treated then and there.
"On Sundays they would drop a bus load of injured knees at the University Hospital and in those days we had the opportunity to operate on these skiers sometimes on the same day or on the evening of the following day," said McConkey.
He first started seeing patients in Whistler on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the mid-80s. "I made some visits there myself actually, as an injured skier," recalled McConkey of his early years skiing as a medical student.
"I wasn't much of a skier, but those were different days."
Vancouver Coastal Health expects to announce McConkey's replacement in the coming weeks.
Over the last 30 years, McConkey has earned a reputation as one of the leading knee surgeons in Canada having operated on everyone from Sea to Sky locals to World Cup ski racers. Folk around Whistler that bear the distinct ACL surgery scar down their knee most likely wear the mark of "Dr. McConkey" and many consider it a badge of honour.
Luis Mi Del Corral Rojo, a local ski instructor from Spain who had his ACL surgery just four months ago, organized the event as a tribute to his surgeon.
"This was the least I could do for Dr. McConkey, the man who has allowed me to again do the things that I love," he said.
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