IMLACH email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-05-03 published
Leafs trusted their doctor
Talented M.D. specialized in hand surgery. 'He had a unique technical approach. That's what made him different from other surgeons.'
By Carol COOPER Special to The Globe and Mail Saturday, May 3, 2003 - Page F10
Nothing about Jim MURRAY's hands indicated that he was a surgeon. Large and gnarled with undulating fingernails, those hands played bagpipes, patched up Toronto Maple Leafs and Team Canada players and restored form and function to other hands.
Dr. MURRAY, a plastic surgeon who was the first Canadian doctor to devote his practice to hand surgery, died last month at the age of 82.
"His hands looked more like those of a prize fighter than a surgeon. His fingers were bent, "said Robert McFARLANE, a retired plastic surgeon with a special interest in hands and a close friend of Dr. MURRAY. "It didn't seem to make a difference. He had tremendous skill."
In 1983, Dr. MURRAY brought together plastic and orthopedic surgeons to form a hand unit at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Science Centre, the city's first. "His concept was to pull together the expertise of different surgeons, "said Paul BINHAMMER, once a student of Dr. MURRAY and now a plastic surgeon at the hospital, now part of the Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre.
Dr. MURRAY assembled a highly skilled team. Among them were orthopedic surgeon Robert McMURTRY, who went on to become dean of medicine at the University of Western Ontario, and plastic surgeon and nerve expert Susan MacKINNON, who is now a professor in the United States.
But before rising to prominence in the field of hand surgery, Dr. MURRAY gained fame in hockey circles. Serving as one of the Toronto Maple Leafs team doctors from 1948 to 1964, he was greatly trusted by players. When cut during games on the road, they left their wounds unstitched until he could tend to them at home.
"He'd come at you with those fingers and they were just so big, you'd wonder how he was ever able to stitch as neat as he did," said former Leaf defenceman Bobby BAUN, who played professional hockey for 17 years.
Mr. BAUN estimates that Dr. MURRAY put in half of his 143 career stitches.
Under instructions from Leaf owner Conn SMYTHE, injured players were not to be rushed back into the lineup, according to Hugh SMYTHE, another Leaf doctor and Mr. SMYTHE's son. "This was a heavy and not always popular role, "he said.
During the 1964 Stanley Cup finals, it became especially challenging.
Entering Game 6, the Detroit Red Wings led the series against the Leafs 3-2. Playing in Detroit on April 23, with the scored tied at 3-3 in the third period, Mr. BAUN first was hit on his right leg by a slapshot from Gordie HOWE and then, after a faceoff, spun on the leg, which gave way.
X-rays delayed at Mr. BAUN's insistence showed a small broken bone, just above the ankle. He spent six weeks in a cast.
But that came after the series ended. During its sixth game, Mr. BAUN was tended to by Dr. MURRAY and other team doctors. After being carried off the ice, he asked Dr. MURRAY if he could hurt his leg any more. The doctor replied no. "Having someone like Jim tell me that, I could believe him, "Mr. BAUN said.
With his leg taped and frozen, Mr. BAUN continued playing. Within the first two minutes of the first overtime period, he scored the winning goal and kept the Leafs in the series.
Mr. BAUN didn't miss a shift during Game 7, and neither did teammate Red KELLY, who had torn knee ligaments during the previous game. The Leafs won the seventh game 4-0 and the Stanley Cup, their third in a row and their fifth during Dr. MURRAY's time with the team.
That year, Dr. MURRAY resigned and 20 years later joked to The Toronto Star that it was he who had led them to the five Stanley Cups.
If he took the connection between his presence and the Leafs' wins lightly, Punch IMLACH, then the team's coach, did not. Mr. IMLACH had become convinced that Dr. MURRAY brought the team good luck, the doctor told the Star in a 1972 story.
The newspaper was interviewing Dr. MURRAY about his appointment as a doctor to Team Canada for the Canada-Russia hockey series. In the article headlined "Good luck charm for Team Canada, " he recalled how during the 1967 Stanley Cup playoffs, Mr. IMLACH invited him to a Leaf game in Chicago, believing that he would bring the team good luck.
"If it had been anybody else but Punch, I'd have dismissed it as a joke. But he really needed to win and he honestly believed my presence would make a difference, "Dr. MURRAY was quoted as saying.
The Leafs won not only that game, but, with Dr. MURRAY in attendance for the remainder of the series, the Stanley Cup. The Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup since.
And the Star's headline proved prophetic. Team Canada won the Canada-Russia series when Paul HENDERSON scored with 34 seconds left in the eighth game.
Born in Toronto on May 14, 1920, James Findlay MURRAY was the youngest of three children. His father ran a store at Yonge and Queen Streets in downtown Toronto and died before the birth of his third child.
Dr. MURRAY attributed his curvy fingernails to his mother's malnutrition when she was pregnant with him, said his youngest son Hugh. Within a few years, she had remarried, and his stepfather helped to raise him.
An avid athlete, Dr. MURRAY played football during his high school and university days, so much so that once, when forbidden by his mother to play for his high-school team because he had had pneumonia, he practised and played in secret.
That lasted until his picture appeared in the Star running for a touchdown. He was immediately placed on the disabled list.
Awarded the George Biggs trophy for sportsmanship, leadership and scholarship, Dr. MURRAY graduated from medical school in 1943 and spent two years in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps, finishing as a captain.
After a year of general practice in Belleville, Ontario, he trained in plastic surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto with A. W. FARMER, whom many consider to be the father of Canadian hand surgery.
A humble man, who drove less-than-fancy cars, Dr. MURRAY was known for his ability to relate to everyone. "He was a doctor and an esteemed member of society, but it didn't matter to him," Hugh MURRAY said. "He considered himself an everyday person. He was as comfortable, if not more comfortable, dealing with just working guys."
In 1953, Dr. MURRAY joined the Toronto East General and Orthopedic Hospital as head of plastic surgery and organized a specialized hand clinic, according to Bernd NEU, another former student of Dr. MURRAY and now a plastic surgeon at North York General Hospital.
"It's because the hand is such an important part of the body, not just physically, but aesthetically, "Dr. MURRAY, a specialist in soft tissue and the reconstruction of flexor tendons, said in 1984 to explain the dedication of hand surgeons.
In 1983, Dr. MURRAY left Toronto East General, where he had been surgeon-in-chief since 1976, to head the hand unit at Sunnybrook Medical Centre, taking a cut in pay to do so.
At the time, plastic surgeons could earn $2,000 for a face-lift and $106.50 for a carpal-tunnel release.
Dr. MURRAY derived great satisfaction from the help his hands gave others. Once in a clinic at Toronto East General, he and Dr. NEU came upon a patient with only a thumb and little finger on one hand.
"This is a wonderful hand, "he told Dr. NEU. " Look at how dirty and callused it is."
After several surgeries, Dr. MURRAY had restored the worker's hand to the point where the man could use it once again to earn a living.
"What to other people would look like a devastating loss, to Dr. MURRAY and the patient, this was a hand to be proud of, Dr. NEU said.
As a hand consultant beginning in 1974 at the Downsview Rehabilitation Centre of the Workers' Compensation Board, Dr. MURRAY treated those injured in industrial accidents, often surmounting language barriers to do so.
"He could speak to them [the patients] in basic English, so they could understand how seriously he took their problems, and how everything was being done that could be done for them, "Dr. NEU said.
In a 1996 letter to Dr. MURRAY, another of his former residents recalled how once on rounds, the doctor lifted the sheets to examine a paraplegic patient, only to find the man soiled. Instead of calling for hospital staff to clean the man, Dr. MURRAY performed the task himself.
"That little lesson reminded me that being a doctor is not just being a cutter, "the physician wrote.
Not only did he have a natural way with people, Dr. MURRAY was a gifted surgeon.
"He was a talented person with original ways of doing things," Dr. McFARLANE said. "He had a unique technical approach. That's what made him different from other surgeons."
Appointed a lecturer at the University of Toronto in 1953, Dr. MURRAY was first an assistant and associate professor, becoming a full professor in 1979. He developed the first hand surgery fellowship training program in Canada in 1981, Dr. NEU said.
As well as teaching at the university, Dr. MURRAY trained surgeons during two trips to Southeast Asia as a volunteer with Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere, Inc. Medico and led a group of hand surgeons to study techniques in micro-surgery in China during the late 1970s.
At the medical meetings Dr. MURRAY often attended, he impressed Dr. McFARLANE with his ability to discuss surgery. "He had a very common-sense approach to a surgical problem, and when everyone had something to say about a problem, he would get up and clarify it very nicely, "Dr. McFARLANE said.
A founder of MANUS Canada, a society of hand surgeons, once a president of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, Dr. MURRAY was honoured by the U.S. society at "Murray Day" in 1990 with tributes from past presidents.
Stricken with Alzheimer's disease toward the end of his life, Dr. MURRAY died in Collingwood, Ontario, on April 4. He leaves his wife of 57 years, Shirley, and his children, John, Bill, Claire and Hugh.
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