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Biographical entry McKee, George Kenneth (1906 - 1991)

CBE 1972; MRCS 1930; FRCS 1934; LRCP 1930.

5 January 1906
18 July 1991
Orthopaedic surgeon


Ken McKee was born on 5 January 1906. He was the son of Frank Charles McKee, a general practitioner who had migrated from Northern Ireland at the turn of the century. Ken was educated at Chigwell School before winning a scholarship to the Medical School at St Bartholomew's Hospital. After qualifying he held house surgeon appointments at Bart's and also at Chailey Heritage, where he was influenced by Elmslie, Higgs and Brockman, and this was the stimulus for his chosen career in orthopaedic surgery. His subsequent training included registrar posts in Sheffield and the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. He obtained the FRCS in 1934 and joined H A Brittain on the staff as a consultant at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 1939. His early interest in taking motor cycles and cars to pieces prepared him for an outstandingly inventive career.

His design of a strong steel nail-plate was later used universally for internal fixation of pertrochanteric fractures of the femur. He also developed an external fixator for unstable fractures of the tibia and a lag screw for securing an arthrodesis of the hip joint. It was soon evident to him that a mobile hip joint was a better alternative than total fixation for patients suffering from arthritis of that joint. He became a pioneer in arthroplasty of the hip using a metal prosthesis and was joined by Watson-Farrar in the development of a metal ball replacement of the femoral head which articulated with a similar metal cup in the acetabulum; the entire prosthesis was embedded in acrylic cement to give a firm bond between the two components and the bone. This was the beginning of a new era in the surgical treatment of osteoarthritis of the hip. Ken McKee did not receive immediate support but it developed into an international procedure. His contemporary, John Charnley, had different ideas, and his prosthesis was based on a small metal head which articulated with a plastic socket and this was perfected later when he used a much more resilient plastic material. They were in a sense rivals, but that rivalry was confined to the rostrum. Ken was not an inspiring orator, and did not readily enjoy the challenge. He was a quiet man, full of brilliant ideas, some of which were before their time.

Ken was a keen sportsman, and used to ski, sail in the Dragon class and play an excellent game of golf. He won the Robert Jones Golf Cup on three separate occasions, and 'holed in one' at the age of eighty. He also had a love of fast cars, which were nearly his downfall! He was very popular both with his peers and in particular with the younger trainees whom he taught. He served as a surgeon in the Royal Air Force and during his post in the Middle East he developed a deep religious faith on a visit to Bethlehem, which he described as 'the most important event of my life'.

Ken McKee was rewarded for his outstanding ability by receiving the CBE and later an honorary Doctorate of Science at Cambridge University, and an honorary Fellowship of the Royal Society of Medicine. He married Sylvia Bird in 1932 and they had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Theo. He married again in 1954 to Dan, and they had two daughters, Georgina and Belinda. He died on 18 July 1991.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 1 August 1991, with portrait; BMJ 1991 303 641, with portrait; JBJS (Br) 1992 74 161].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England