May 29, 2012

Craig Ferrell, M.D., professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation, dies after riding accident

by Leslie Hill

Craig Ferrell, M.D., professor of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery and Rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, died Monday at Vanderbilt University Hospital as a result of injuries sustained when he fell from his horse while playing polo.

Board certified in Orthopaedic Surgery and a member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, Dr. Ferrell was a founder of the Bone and Joint Clinic in Franklin, Tenn., which became Vanderbilt Bone and Joint in 2009. He served as medical chairman for the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), the world governing body for equestrian sports, and as physician for the U.S. Olympic equestrian team, and would have been traveling with the team to London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Partnering with Riders4Helmets, he has championed widespread helmet use in equestrian sports.

In April he received the Tennessee Medical Association’s Distinguished Service Award, given annually since 1963 to exemplary members of the association for notable achievements. The TMA cited Ferrell’s “substantial efforts in raising the bar in equestrian safety and his unwavering support for adults with special needs.”

“The Vanderbilt community, along with all those he touched through his professional and personal relationships, has experienced a tremendous loss through Dr. Ferrell’s untimely passing. Craig was a brilliant and highly compassionate physician who valued his many, many friendships and family above all else,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

In his 30-year relationship with Olympic swimming and equestrian sports, Dr. Ferrell traveled the globe caring for the world's most elite athletes. He had competed as a collegiate swimmer at the University of Notre Dame and naturally gravitated to caring for swimmers, beginning his relationship with the U.S. Swimming Team at their training camp in 1979. Working his way through the ranks, he became a team physician for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“The coolest experience was running down the ramp with all those Olympians and coming into the opening ceremonies. I felt very patriotic and part of something big,” he said in a VUMC Reporter profile.

Dr. Ferrell has been part of several committees to make athletics safer, especially in high-risk equestrian sports. He championed a rule that went into effect before the Beijing Olympics, banning riders from continuing competition if they fall off their horse.

After the Atlanta games, Ferrell continued as chair of U.S. Swimming Sports Medicine, but took on team physician duties for equestrian sports as well. Ferrell and his wife, Lorraine, were experienced riders and the other Olympic physicians were afraid of horses, so the fit was obvious. Ferrell cared solely for equestrian athletes at the Sydney, Athens and Beijing Olympics.

“Craig was and is a revered pillar in the medical community and in the community at large,” said C. Wright Pinson, MBA, M.D., deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs and CEO of the Vanderbilt Health System. “His personal work developing the Bone and Joint clinic is legendary. Later, Craig was the consummate leader and gentleman in the process of the clinic affiliating with Vanderbilt. He was always focused on working the issues at all these levels in a valuable and responsible way. Further, Craig was the consummate sportsman. We will miss our talented colleague in all these roles. This a terrible loss for all of us in our community, but my heart goes out especially to his family.”

Dr. Ferrell received his medical degree from Tulane University School of Medicine. He did a surgical residency at Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans and his Orthopaedic residency at the Campbell Clinic in Memphis. Last year, he was named to Best Doctors in America and received a Five Star Award in the 2010 Excellence in Healthcare Awards, sponsored by Professional Research Consultants Inc., Vanderbilt's patient satisfaction surveyor.

“Although Craig and I were friends and colleagues for 25 years, it has been in the last few years that Craig and Lorraine have become close personal friends of mine and my wife, Susan,” said Herb Schwartz, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation. “Craig founded and grew Franklin Bone and Joint into an elite orthopaedic practice mirroring his qualities of compassion, patient care, work ethic and trust. Following the transition of Franklin Bone and Joint into Vanderbilt Bone and Joint, we worked together to expand the scope of our practices combining the best of each,” he said. “I, like so many, lost a dear friend, and I will make it my mission to perpetuate Craig's vision and spirit within our department as we move forward into the future. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lorraine and their family. Craig will be profoundly missed.”

Dr. Ferrell is survived by his wife, Lorraine, sons Aaron (Tanya) and Jonathan, and two grandchildren, Kate Ferrell and Michael Cannon Ferrell, born last week.

Visitation is planned from 4-8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Harlin Student Center on the campus of Battle Ground Academy, 336 Ernest Rice Lane, Franklin. The funeral is planned for 2 p.m., Thursday, at the Cathedral of the Incarnation, 2015 West End Ave., Nashville.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Brightstone, 140 Southeast Pkwy Court, Franklin, Tenn., 37205. Dr. Ferrell served as former chairman and was a current member of the board of the Franklin-based organization that provides comprehensive work and a social community for adults with special needs in Middle Tennessee.