Mt. Pleasant native is surgeon to the stars
In the world of professional sports, star athletes who suffer injuries regularly find themselves in the care of Mt. Pleasant native Neal S. ElAttrache, a renowned surgeon at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles.
The facility uses the historic spelling of orthopedic.
While ElAttrache — who later dropped a hyphen from his name — has forged a noteworthy career far from his hometown, he said he always credits the unique work ethic he learned while growing up locally for much of the success he has experienced, particularly from his father, the late Dr. Selim F. El-Attrache.
“That work ethic ... it never leaves you; it's in your DNA just as much as your eye color,” said ElAttrache, a 1977 Mt. Pleasant Area graduate. “I carry a huge part of that around in me. If you stop working hard, everything's going to go away, and you never forget that. It made me who I am, and it makes me better able to take care of people.”
In recent years, ElAttrache's high-profile medical clientele has included three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady of the National Football League's New England Patriots and five-time National Basketball Association champion Kobe Bryant, a shooting guard with the Los Angeles Lakers.
He is also the team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers of Major League Baseball, and he is an orthopedic consultant to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League, the NFL's St. Louis Rams, the Lakers and the PGA Tour.
In addition, he appears periodically as a medical consultant on NFL Today on CBS.
“That's why they call him the ‘Doctor to the Stars' out there; he takes care of everybody,” said Jim Bradley, an orthopedic surgeon and team physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who has been a friend and colleague of ElAttrache for three decades.
“People look at him now, and they think ‘Isn't that great?,'” he said. “But it took 25 to 30 years of training to be able to do all of that.”
Path to professional excellence
Today, ElAttrache is a member of the Kerlan-Jobe clinic's board of directors, and he also serves as chairman of the board of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Foundation and program director for the Kerlan-Jobe Fellowship.
Upon graduating high school, ElAttrache earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
After completing his studies at Notre Dame, he earned his medical doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh, where he also completed his orthopedic surgical residency before becoming a sports medicine fellow at Kerlan-Jobe.
“After my residency in Pittsburgh, this is where I came to train,” ElAttrache said.
During his fellowship, ElAttrache was mentored by surgeons Robert K. Kerlan, who passed away in 1996, and Frank W. Jobe.
“Kerlan and Jobe were the fathers of sports medicine. I was in the right place at the right time, and I worked hard, so they asked me to stay and help take care of the Dodgers,” said ElAttrache, who also served as team physician for the former L.A. Rams of the NFL.
Over that time, ElAttrache performed various types of arthroscopic surgeries for knee, shoulder and elbow reconstruction which since have become widely used, he said.
“It turned out to be a very productive early few years here operating, researching and publishing,” ElAttrache said.
Jobe taught ElAttrache how to perform the Tommy John operation, a surgical reconstruction of elbow ligaments, often torn in baseball pitchers. Jobe invented the surgery named after a former Dodgers pitcher, he said.
“I evolved that surgery, along with rotator cuff and knee ligament surgeries,” ElAttrache said. “I ended up being in a place very early in my career where I was getting noticed much earlier than anywhere else because of visibility of the group. There are a lot of talented people out there whose work isn't noticed as much. I was put in position to do these things.”
Practicing at the pinnacle
In addition to his status as a prolific author of professional literature and a frequent lecturer at industry conferences, ElAttrache occasionally appears on the NFL Today pregame show on CBS television network to offer his perspective on the status of injured players.
He is active in a number of professional organizations, including American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, American Shoulder and Elbow Surgeons, NFL Physicians Society, National Orthopedic Education Society, Notre Dame Orthopedic Society, Herdicus Sports Medicine Honor Society, American Orthopaedic Association and American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine.
A peer shares his perspective
Bradley, a Johnstown native who preceded ElAttrache as a fellow at Kerlan-Jobe as the first from the University of Pittsburgh, recommended ElAttrache to the facility.
“He (Bradley) was the reason I came to Kerlan-Jobe,” ElAttrache said.
Bradley agreed with ElAttrache that the values and work ethic he learned growing up in the area have served him well.
“People here are very proud of the work that they do. They see their jobs as an extension of themselves. That blue collar work ethic is instilled in all of us,” Bradley said.
Of ElAttrache, Bradley said the surgeon possesses a mix of skills that make him an exemplary leader in his chosen field.
“Neal is extremely talented surgeon. He's got the whole package, the demeanor to be a sports guy and the communication abilities. You very rarely get the whole package,” Bradley said.
ElAttrache said his approach is to treat his famous patients how he would like to be treated.
“If you maintain a sincere, confident and professional approach, they see that because they've been around the block,” he said. “I've been very fortunate to have some great relationships.”
A sad journey home
Over the summer, ElAttrache returned home to mourn the loss of his father.
Selim F. El-Attrache, 85, of Mt. Pleasant, died Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in UPMC Montefiore Hospital, Pittsburgh.
“He certainly loved (Mt. Pleasant),” said ElAttrache of his father, who was a renowned surgeon locally. “Of course, my father came to this country with nothing, put himself through school and earned what he got. The only thing he could expect is that we worked hard, so we did.”
The elder El-Attrache shared the work ethic of his children, as he donated his services for the Mt. Pleasant Area football team, a squad which one of his other sons, quarterback Dean El-Attrache, led to the 1986 WPIAL title.
“He offered his help on a volunteer basis as a physician on the sideline,” said Robert Gumbita, the district's school board president, whose son, Robert Jr., was a member of that team and is the squad's current defensive coordinator.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.