As a young elite swimmer, Peter Fowler wasn’t bothered by knee injuries.
But he later helped many athletes.
A pioneer in arthroscopic knee surgery, he has treated hockey Hall of Famers Steve Yzerman and Eric Lindros (albeit not for knee problems), former World Cup skiing legends Todd Brooker and Laurie Graham, and countless other household names and celebrities just for leisure Race workaholics.
Dr. Fowler, who founded the Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Clinic, one of the largest such facilities in North America, at Western University, now in London, Ontario, died Nov. 16 of COVID-19 with Parkinson’s disease. He is 84 years old.
In addition to being a world-class plastic surgeon, he is an internationally renowned medical educator and researcher. He has also led several Canadian and international sports medicine societies and has received a number of honors including membership in the Order of Canada (2018).
“Certainly in Ontario, if not in Canada, then internationally, I think his contribution [to sports medicine] It’s unrivaled,” said Sarah Padfield, executive director of the Fowler Kennedy Clinic.
Peter (Pete) John Fowler was born on September 25, 1938 in Woodstock, Ontario, near London. He is the eldest of three children of John (Jack) Fowler and Ruth (née Shugg) Fowler. Jack Fowler was a pharmacist and Ruth Fowler was a homemaker.
A specialist in the 100m butterfly, Pete has competed in the men’s 4x100m individual medley relay at the Pan Am Games twice. He missed the podium in Mexico City in 1955 when he was just 16 years old. But his Canadian team won silver in Chicago in 1959, the United States won gold and Mexico bronze.
Pitt earned his medical degree from Western University, where he was a top male swimmer and athlete award, and completed his residency training at the University of Michigan. He was encouraged to do so by Jack Kennedy, a London-based orthopedic surgeon and Western professor who treated him for swimming shoulder—soreness from repeated use.
Dr. Kennedy, who runs a fledgling Western clinic dedicated to the burgeoning field of sports medicine, selected him as the first resident in the university’s new plastic surgery program. After completing his surgical residency training at Duke University, Dr. Fowler returned to Western University as a general plastic surgeon and worked part-time in Dr. Kennedy’s clinic, initially treating varsity athletes and intramural competitors.
Dr. Fowler expanded his mentorship to start the nonprofit Fowler Kennedy Clinic, a multidisciplinary center that provides physical therapy, massage therapy and other services to Western students and the public. Professionals from the clinic also serve as professors of medicine and health at the university.
“It’s a very unique model for a clinic of this type in Canada,” Ms. Padfield said.
In 2002, Mr. Yzerman became the first professional hockey player to undergo corrective knee surgery, known as a high tibial osteotomy (HTO), performed by Dr. Fowler. The realignment allowed Mr. Yzerman to play part of three additional NHL seasons.
“[Dr. Fowler] was a giant,” Mr Lindros said.
Dr. Fowler primarily referred Mr. Lindros, whose career was stymied by the concussion, to other specialists. But Mr. Lindros donated $5 million to the Fowler Kennedy Clinic.
“He was always concerned with what was best for the person,” Mr Lindros said. “If he or someone else is doing the work, he doesn’t give a damn – as long as it’s done right and done in a fast manner.”
Dr. Fowler’s deadpan humor and self-deprecating attitude provide comfort in difficult times.
“You’ve got a medical situation, you’ve got an injury, you need help, and he changes the tone of the conversation and makes you think: There’s going to be progress,” Mr Lindros said.
Ms. Graham underwent ankle tendon repair and arthroscopic knee surgery by Dr. Fowler, who has served as a doctor for Canada’s men’s and women’s ski teams.
“The second was cleaning out my knee cartilage in the fall preseason,” Ms. Graham said. “I had a very successful season that year and in interviews I would attribute that to the work he did. Funny I named it having a corrector and he gently corrected me [and advised] Call it by its proper name – arthroscopic surgery. [That] Shows that he is a detail-oriented person. “
(Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that involves an arthroscope — a long, thin telescope with an attached camera — and other tools used to repair tissue. The arthroscope projects the inside of the knee onto a video screen.)
Mr. Brook estimates he has had 27 or 28 different knee surgeries since 1979, most of which were performed by Dr. Fowler. Two weeks before the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, Mr Brooke crashed during a World Cup match in Kitzbühel, Austria. Dr Fowler, who performed arthroscopic surgery in London, helped Mr Brooke to a respectable ninth in Sarajevo.
“Without his help and all the other staff he brought in from London [as Canada’s Olympic chief medical officer], I would never compete in the Olympics,” Mr Brooke said. “It turned out to be my only Olympic competition. I was injured in ’88. “
Dr. Fowler was also Canada’s Chief Medical Officer for the 1990 and 1998 Commonwealth Games, and served as team physician for the Western Soccer and other varsity teams, and as a consultant for the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball.
Paul Beeston was two-time Jays president and oversaw their World Series-winning club in 1992 and 1993, joining the club in 1976 with the help of Dr. Fowler. Don McDougall, president of the Rabat Brewery, was the team’s first owner, a neighbor of the Fowler family, and hired Mr. Beeston.
“My dad facilitated a meeting between Paul and Don by the pool in our backyard, where they talked,” said Dr. Fowler’s son, Cameron. “The rest is history.”
Mr. Beeston also served as Commissioner of Major League Baseball for five years.
When working with a team, Dr. Fowler emphasizes teamwork. He trained 77 plastic surgery fellows from around the world in London, authored 43 book chapters, and authored and co-authored numerous groundbreaking, peer-reviewed research reports.
Canadian and other surgeons have stopped arthroscopic surgery aimed at removing debris from the knee because the procedure has no long-term benefit, thanks to a study’s findings.
“We just stopped doing unnecessary surgeries,” said study co-author Dr. Robert Litchfield, a former student who succeeded him as medical director of the Fowler Kennedy Clinic.
Another study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Identifying HTO can prevent or delay knee arthroplasty. The findings from both studies have saved millions of dollars in healthcare costs, Dr. Litchfield said.
Eventually, Dr. Fowler did have knee problems due to hereditary bandy legs and underwent readjustment by Ned Amendola, another protégé who became a Western colleague at the Fowler Kennedy Clinic and a co-author of the HTO study.
“He’s a very low-key, loyal, humble guy — that’s not usually how people get to the top of the food chain,” Dr. Amendola said, referring to their professions.
Dr. Fowler is one of only three Canadians to serve as President of the American Orthopedic Association for Sports Medicine following Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Amendola.
But he never boasted about his famous patients or his many accomplishments.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Dr. Fowler preferred to tout younger surgeons, recalls being introduced as “the next big thing in sports medicine” as his mentor urged patients to see Him, because he’s “getting older”.
After retiring from the Fowler Kennedy clinic and Western in 2007, Dr. Fowler spent three years establishing Aspetar Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Hospital in Doha, Qatar. He helped Aspetar obtain accreditation as a FIFA-accredited medical facility – a prerequisite for Qatar’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup.
“So, he really set up two clinics,” Dr. Litchfield said.
Dr Fowler leaves his wife of 58 years, Libby; children, Tim, Meghan, Cameron and Peter; six grandchildren; and his brother Ken. His sister, Jaclyn, predates him.