Paul Manske dies, surgeon who could make a thumb for children

2011-04-28T05:00:00Z 2011-04-28T13:22:08Z Paul Manske dies, surgeon who could make a thumb for childrenBY MICHAEL D. SORKIN • msorkin@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8347 stltoday.com

Paul Manske could make a thumb. He could make an arm, too. But he was known for his thumbs.

Some children are born without thumbs. An estimated one in 600 children is born with a missing finger or other congenital hand abnormality.

During a three to five hour operation, Dr. Manske could make a finger into a thumb for a child who had none.

He changed the lives of thousands of children born with abnormalities. He helped untold thousands more through the hundreds of surgeons he trained as the former head of orthopedic surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.

Dr. Paul R. Manske died April 20, 2011, at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. He was 72 and had lived in Clayton.

Although he was diagnosed with lymphoma about a year ago, friends said he was able to perform surgery as recently as three months ago.

He was known for his ability to calm screaming children. Perhaps that was because he was so calm himself; colleagues say the angriest they ever heard the lanky 6-foot-4-inch surgeon was when he uttered a rare "dang."

Dr. Manske could perform the most delicate surgery on the tiniest of fingers. Colleagues say watching him in the operating room was like witnessing a master watchmaker perform at the top of his craft.

In addition to being a skilled surgeon and teacher, he was a researcher who wrote more than 200 articles and book chapters and was the longtime editor of the prestigious Journal of Hand Surgery.

He was considered one of the world's leading authorities on children's congenital hand problems, said Dr. Richard Gelberman, chairman of the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at Washington University.

In 2009, Dr. Manske and Dr. Charles Goldfarb operated on a 4-year-old boy from Guatemala who was born with three arms: one on the right and two on his left side. The partly formed left arms performed completely different functions, with the bottom arm complementing the top arm.

During a five-hour operation at St. Louis Shriners Hospital for Children, the two surgeons were able to "reroute" the nerves and vascular tissue, join the humerus bones of the top and bottom arms and fuse them together to provide feeling and function.

It was the surgical equivalent of a home run.

Dr. Manske developed and perfected the technique of making a thumb from an index finger, said Dr. Perry L. Schoenecker, chief of staff at Shriners.

One patient, Matthew Philipps, was born without thumbs and had other congenital problems with his elbows and shoulders.

He estimates he underwent 15 operations since he was 14 months old and his mother, a nurse, introduced him to doctors Manske and Goldfarb.

The result: He played basketball in school, pitched for his baseball team and graduated from Mount Carmel High School in Illinois with a 4.0 grade-point average. He's now 21 and works in a mining company safety department.

"They took my corner finger off and moved it over and made my thumb," Philipps said. "Every surgery that I've had I've come out better and better."

For him, the two surgeons were "miracle workers."

Jamie Suthers, a teacher from Kirkwood, was born with eight fingers. Dr. Manske performed reconstructive surgery on her, her twin sister and the three children of the two women. Their abnormalities are congenital.

"What he has done for my family alone is simply incredible," Suthers said.

Dr. Manske was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., where his father was a Lutheran parochial school teacher and principal and his mother a dental assistant.

After graduating from Washington University School of Medicine, he was drafted during the Vietnam War. He was a medical officer at the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, where he decided to become an orthopedic surgeon.

He returned to Washington University, then studied hand surgery at the University of Louisville. In 1983, he was named chairman of the division of orthopedic surgery at Washington University.

His position placed Dr. Manske in charge of orthopedic surgery at three hospitals: Barnes-Jewish, St. Louis Children's and Shriners.

In his own practice, he also performed reconstructive surgery on adults whose hands and fingers were in fixed positions from rheumatoid arthritis.

"He would find some way to help you do your activities so you wouldn't have to struggle," Philipps recalled.

To relax after a day of rigorous surgery, Dr. Manske made pillows and rugs.

"He was an amazing needlepointer," said Sandra "Sam" Manske, his wife of 35 years.

The funeral is at 4 p.m. today at the Church of St. Michael and St. George, 6345 Wydown Boulevard, Clayton. Interment will be later at the church columbarium.

Survivors, in addition to his wife, include two daughters, Claire Manske of Richmond Heights and Louisa Manske of Chicago; a son, Ethan Manske of Nantucket, Mass.; two sisters, Mary Slethaug of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Ruth McKenney of Little Falls, N.Y.; and a brother, Thomas Manske of Lakeland, Fla.

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