Our Field Has Lost a Visionary and Friend

Gerry Malanga, M.D. passed away yesterday morning. I wanted to write about Gerry this morning as our field has lost a larger-than-life figure, one who worked tirelessly, like many have, to make sure that every person on this planet can one day get access to Interventional Orthobiologics. Let me explain.

Physicians and End of Life

In the 80s when I began medical school, there was a push to teach physicians the humanities and arts. That meant that we had a writing class shoved in between anatomy and medical biochemistry. The goal was to make better-rounded physicians, but we mostly griped about it. However, looking back it was actually an important thing, as physicians are surrounded by tragedy, and the humanities and arts can be a place where all of that can be placed into context.

One of my favorites from that medical school class was a physician poet named John Stone. One of his poems resonated with me and to paraphrase went something like this:

“I’ve seen death come on as slow as rust, or as quickly and unexpectedly as a doorknob come loose in the hand.”

That’s the quote that sticks in my head this morning as I think about Gerry’s life and morn his death.

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Gerry the Teacher

Gerry ran a fellowship program for many years. As a result, he has taught countless young physicians about ultrasound imaging and Interventional Orthobiologics. I consistently meet young physicians at conferences whose first exposure to the field was Gerry. These same young doctors often credit him with helping to mold their careers. There is nothing as special in this world as the way a great teacher can impact lives.

Gerry the Defender

Gerry was a visionary physician who, early on, was in our national Regenexx affiliate network, which is when we met. He trained at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey where he also did his residency in PM&R before heading to Mayo to complete a fellowship in Sports Medicine. He was a key part of the small group of physicians who early on decided that Interventional Orthobiologics was the next big thing.

Gerry was brilliant. He was one of those guys who realized that our field of Interventional Orthobiologics was still fragile and nascent. In other words, it was as likely that it became the standard of care as being relegated to the dustbin of medical history. Hence, he was that guy that I would call (or he would call me) when some nutty paper got published that seemed to show that something like PRP didn’t work when there were already two dozen papers showing it did. Gerry and I and a handful of others would discuss the research and a published rebuttal would quickly be born. In that way, Gerry was a great defender of our field and will be sorely missed. No call time was off-limits, and no deadline was too short- if it needed to get done to protect Interventional Orthobiologics, Gerry would get it done.

Gerry the Visionary

Few people can see what’s obviously next. Most people are just too rooted in the structure of the world they know to be able to see the future. Steve Jobs once said:

“When you grow up, you tend to get told that the world is the way it is, and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life. Have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is everything around that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

Gerry embodied this quote. He knew, early on, like a handful of us, that regenerative medicine would change the medical world we knew, allowing a field called Interventional Orthobiologics (IO) to be born that would give orthopedic surgery a run for its money with patients being the main benefactor. That less invasive, guided injection-based care to heal tissue would eventually be the norm and not a niche. We had more conversations about that topic than I could count.

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Gerry the Academic

Gerry knew that for IO to get where it needed to go, it needed rigor. For example, you may have seen me write about “Leukocyte-Poor” PRP. That’s from a paper written by Gerry and colleagues about a clarification schema for the different types of PRP. In fact, as I search the US National Library of Medicine, there are dozens of papers with Gerry’s name on them. Each of these is a key part of a bigger puzzle that forms the foundation on which Interventional Orthobiologics is built.

Gerry the Leader

A number of years ago, I needed to hand the Interventional Orthobiologics Foundation mantle to someone else, as all real organizations need to be able to survive and thrive once the founder steps away. It didn’t take long to figure out that there was only one person on this earth qualified to take those reins and who I could trust to continue to move the organization in the right direction. Who also believed that IO was the next big thing and who also had the knowledge and talent to move it forward in a different way. So after a short conversation at an IOF conference, Gerry accepted that challenge and became IOFs second president. In Gerry’s tenure, he began the process of organizing IOF and strengthening its relationships with other stakeholders.

Gerry the Collaborator

Gerry was so much better at collaboration than I will ever be. He was chosen to be in the leadership role of so many organizations that I soon lost count. He was that solid rock of a guy these groups could turn to who would also link important people to each other who would have never connected if not for Gerry. He did the same with IOF, forming bonds there with other groups in the firm belief that we are all stronger together than individually.

Gerry the Entrepreneur

Gerry was involved with many different companies and ventures. He recently founded a company called DataBiologics, trying to perfect a registry that all physicians practicing Interventional Orthobiologics could use. The goal was to be able to look at what was working and what wasn’t in a big picture way. Meaning is PRP kit X better than kit Y? Or are there diagnoses we should be treating more of and others that we should avoid treating because the outcomes just aren’t there. I know that Gerry’s son is at the helm of this great effort and I know that he can take that vision to the next step. Gerry believed as I did, that every physician in IO should be tracking and reporting outcomes.

Gerry the Friend

From the early days of the Regenexx network through Gerry’s IOF presidency to more recent times organizing rebuttals to nutty anti-IO papers, I counted Gerry as a friend. On a personal note, he was a gentle soul that could also be fierce. He knew right from wrong as clear as night and day, which in our world of grey today, was a comforting guidepost. I will personally miss him as I know countless others will. Our field is less this morning because of this loss. Hopefully, we can all live up to Gerry’s vision for this Interventional Orthobiologics.

I’d like to end with a quote from Emerson that I think has its roots in an Indian proverb:

“When you were born you were crying and everyone else was smiling. Live your life so at the end, your’re the one who is smiling and everyone else is crying.”

Gerry, I know you’re smiling about a life well lived that touched so many and that we are all crying. Rest in peace.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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