James M. Hunter, 88, orthopedic surgeon

Dr. James M. Hunter was an innovator in hand surgery and trained more than 100 fellows. A medical device is named for him.
Dr. James M. Hunter was an innovator in hand surgery and trained more than 100 fellows. A medical device is named for him.
Posted: February 17, 2013

James M. Hunter, 88, an orthopedic surgeon at Thomas Jefferson University and a pioneer and innovator in the field of hand surgery, died Tuesday, Jan. 29, of heart failure at the Southeastern Veterans Center in Spring City, Chester County.

Dr. Hunter worked for about 50 years at Jefferson, where he treated many patients and trained more than 100 fellows in hand surgery.

He was awarded the first fellowship in hand surgery at Columbia University in 1959.

Dr. Hunter was an editor of Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity, now in its sixth edition. It is considered the bible of hand surgery and therapy and is one of the best-selling hand textbooks in the world.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dr. Hunter developed the first artificial tendon for use in reconstructing hands. The device, the Hunter Tendon Prosthesis, is named for him.

Dr. Hunter was born on April 5, 1924, in Camden, the son of Robert and Helen Hunter. He was raised in Merchantville.

He was a 1949 graduate of Dickinson College and earned his medical degree at Thomas Jefferson University in 1953.

He was in the Army during World War II, stationed in Northern Italy and France.

Dr. Hunter lived in Chester Springs and Philadelphia. He was married three times, to the late Carolyn Lippincott Hunter, Joy Krenzel, and Margaret Hunter.

His longtime friend and colleague, Phillip Marone, said Dr. Hunter helped train him at Jefferson in the 1950s.

Marone, currently a professor and associate dean of alumni relations at Jefferson, hailed Dr. Hunter as "the ultimate physician, clinician, educator, and researcher."

"I miss him as a teacher, mentor, and colleague and a great person," Marone said. "He was the nicest person you would ever run into."

Peter C. Amadio, a professor of orthopedic surgery and dean for research and academic affairs at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said he, too, was a fellow trained by Dr. Hunter.

"I was inspired by Dr. Hunter to pursue research in tendon reconstruction, and that's what I've been doing for the last 30 years," Amadio said.

Dr. Hunter, who loved music since his childhood, played the upright bass with jazz artists around Philadelphia and was in a jazz band known as the Red Peppers, featuring other area physicians. He also played the tuba.

His son Gary described Dr. Hunter as a renaissance man who enjoyed taking his family to the Philadelphia Orchestra.

He said his father also loved sailing with his family and always owned a sailboat, which he kept in Avalon, N.J. Dr. Hunter enjoyed sculling on the Schuylkill, even in his later years, and surfing at the Shore.

"He introduced us to surfing in Avalon," Gary Hunter said. "How many guys can say the greatest gift their father gave them was surfing?

"He was, to the bitter end, a tremendous optimist. He always saw a silver lining and he had unlimited compassion for people," Gary Hunter said.

Edward Cook, Dr. Hunter's son-in-law, noted his passion for jazz and skill on the bass.

Cook said Dr. Hunter would work for 10 or more hours in surgery, "grab a little food and grab his hand fellows . . . and he would go the haunts around Philadelphia and play with all the great jazz hands.

"He would be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning and be right back at it," Cook said.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Hunter is survived by a son, Jeffrey; a daughter, Kimberly Hunter; three grandchildren; and a sister.

A "Celebration of Life Memorial" is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Christ Church, 20 N. American St., Philadelphia.

Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

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