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Dr. Freddie Fu: The determined force behind UPMC's sports performance complex -- and more

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

By Deborah Weisberg

If anyone keeps Pittsburgh moving, it's orthopedic surgeon Dr. Freddie Fu, the force behind the $80 million UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side that's been dubbed simply "Freddie's building. "

"This is my baby," said Fu, opening the door to an indoor, full-size football field just beyond acres of ergometers, treadmills, ellipticals, spin bikes and free-weights. But it's hardly fun and games. It's also a research center for robotic surgery, stem cell tissue regeneration, concussion prevention and human motion -- such as how to get a better golf swing.

On display at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side is the trademark energy and exuberance of Dr. Freddie Fu whose vision and persistence brought it into being. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Golfer Greg Norman lent his arm to that study. Among the 50,000 clients the complex has served in the year since it opened in fall 2000 are hundreds of professional athletes, including players for the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins, plus five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain and ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov.

"Miguel Indurain has the most conditioned body I've ever seen," said Fu, who is partial to cyclists, logging 100 miles a week riding his own bike to work and racing. Fu the cyclist turned a collision with a careless motorist in August into a campaign for bike safety as part of his overall vision of a more fitness-friendly river town.

Next spring, Steel City Rowing Club will break ground on what he hopes will be a world-class training facility near the performance complex by the Monongahela River, a dream he helped champion for rower Dori Martin.

"I call him Mr. Magic Hands, because no matter what's wrong, he can fix it," said Martin of Verona, who went to Fu for knee and ankle surgery six years ago.

Fu, 50, tackles his busy schedule on just five hours of sleep each night. He rarely walks -- he dashes -- seeing 50 patients a day, half the load he had before he was appointed David Silver Professor and Chairman, a position created in honor of the department's first chairman. He operates on Tuesdays and Fridays and teaches three mornings a week.

Ask his secretary what it's like to work for him, and she answers, "Demanding," with a fond laugh.

When patients can't come to him, Fu makes house calls -- of a global sort-- once performing knee surgery on a billionaire sultan who insisted on the operation at 2 a.m. "He was a playboy and wanted to party first," said Fu.

They compromised on midnight. Fu has hopped from planes in Turkey, Brazil and Hong Kong and gone straight to the operating room.

Hong Kong is where Fu was born and raised and where he met his wife, Hilda. His parents still live there. He left at 18 to attend Dartmouth College, moving on to Pitt medical school, where Dartmouth alumnus Dr. Albert B. Ferguson Jr. influenced his surgery career.

The Fus, who live in Point Breeze, have two children, both educated at Dartmouth. Gordon, 24, is an economist, and Joyce, 20, is a junior who plays rugby.

Fu wants to get Pittsburgh in shape to attract a new generation of movers and shakers. He believes the city is worthy of an Olympics, starting with seniors in 2005. It's a long shot, but Fu powers his pitch with positive thinking.

"I have a good attitude about everything," he said. "I practice medicine with unconditional love, the way you are with your children. You don't expect anything back. But it does come back to you."

Deborah Weisberg is a free-lance writer who covers health issues.

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