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Dr. Jacob D. Rozbruch: Dem Bones

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Things shouldn't come down to this when so many more-dignified gauges of talent are available, but it's hard to ignore: Leo went to see Dr. Jacob D. Rozbruch after tearing his knee cartilage in a game of pickup basketball. The irony is that the soft-spoken 50-year-old doctor, born in a displaced-persons camp in Italy and raised in a blighted section of Crown Heights, has resisted the fashionable side of sports medicine for most of his career. After completing his orthopedics residency at the Hospital for Special Surgery in 1979, Rozbruch started his own small private practice instead of rushing into a boutique clinic focusing on tennis-elbow repair. Today, he sees everyone from 8-month-olds to octogenarians; he once repaired the torn ligament of a teenager in the morning and replaced a hip on the same child's grandmother that afternoon. "Jake combines all the best attributes of a surgeon -- i.e., superb technical skills -- with the best qualities of the non-operating physician, namely superb interpersonal and humanistic skills," says Dr. Allan Gibofsky, professor of medicine and public health at Cornell University. "You just can't say that about a lot of specialists." Plus, he adds, "he's exceptionally humble." Not that Rozbruch is completely unseduced by celebrity patients. His Upper East Side office is cluttered with mementos from grateful sports figures, including a hockey stick from Rod Gilbert, and during his residency, he often assisted the team doctor for the Giants. But lidocaine injections and other quick-fix procedures troubled him. "Sometimes I wondered if I was treating the owner," he says, "rather than the patient." Rozbruch prefers talking about his uncelebrated patients -- like the stooped and disfigured young woman, bones as brittle as kindling, who emerged from one of his operations with a straightened spine and a normal gait. The next time he saw her, she was wearing makeup and a spiffy new hairdo. He never realized, he recalls, "she was such a pretty kid."


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