F. William Bora, noted hand surgeon

Posted: February 28, 2011

WHEN THE Bora kids were growing up, Dad didn't get out the baseball mitts to toss the old apple around like a lot of American fathers.

It was over to the Llanerch Golf Club to learn to swat the little white ball. Dad, F. William Bora Jr., a world-renowned hand surgeon and teacher, was himself an excellent golfer and won tournaments at Llanerch and Indian Creek Country Club in Miami.

"He had the most drive of any person I've ever known," said his son Christian R. "Bobby" Bora, and he wasn't talking about his father's golf swing.

Dr. Bora was able to bend over a patient in an operating room for as long as eight hours to reattach a severed hand. And even after he retired as a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine professor and surgeon in 1998, he put in 14-to-20-hour weeks on staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in Philadelphia, into his 80s.

He died Wednesday of complications of head trauma suffered in a fall last year. He was 82 and lived in Gladwyne.

Bill Bora, a native of Summit, N.J., overcame youthful dyslexia to pursue his demanding career. He couldn't have memorized the incredible detail of nerves, veins and muscles while stricken with the developmental reading disorder. So, he beat it.

He joined the faculty of Penn's medical school in 1962 and also established an orthopedic-surgery practice in Yeadon, Delaware County. He performed the second hand-reattachment surgery in U.S. history in August 1965, just two months after another surgeon performed the nation's first such operation in North Carolina.

A workman had nearly severed his hand while using a metal-slitting machine at his job in Collingdale. He was taken to Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital, in Darby, with his hand dangling.

Wearing telescopic glasses, Bora labored for eight hours to reattach the severed hand. He affixed the hand with metal pins and reconnected the veins.

When he attached the two major artieres, he watched with satisfaction as color returned to the hand. He and his assistants reconnected tendons that control finger motion. The patient was doing fine a few days after surgery.

Bora earned a bachelor's degree from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut. He received his medical degree from New York Medical College and interned at the University of Chicago's medical school.

In 1955, he entered the Air Force and served as a flight surgeon in Korea and Japan before his discharge in 1957.

He then completed a residency in orthopedics at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Medical Center. He completed fellowships in hand surgery at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, in England, and at Columbia University Medical Center.

He married Ann Gallagher in 1964.

Bora was the author of numerous papers on orthopedic surgery, as well as the book "The Pediatric Upper Extremity: Diagnosis and Management," and was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Hand Surgery in the early '90s. He was an avid fan of collegiate football. He started as a Minnesota fan, then switched to Notre Dame.

He and his wife spent winters in Miami for 15 years. "He didn't just sit on the beach," his son said. "He would be out swimming in the ocean."

In addition to his wife and son, he also is survived by two other sons, F. William III and Brian Patrick; two daughters, Tammara Garraffo and Fiona Catherine Bora; and seven grandchildren. He was predeceased by a sister, Barbara Boyle.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. today at St. John Vianney Church, Youngsford Road and Route 23, Gladwyne. Burial will be in St. Denis Cemetery, Marple.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, c/o Monastery of the Visitation, 5820 City Ave., Philadelphia 19131.

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