Your Impact

Gators Rally to Thank a UF Medical Pioneer

Dr. Bill Petty templates an x-ray in preparation for knee surgery. Improving elements in patient care that lead to maximally successful surgical outcomes has been a stated driving force throughout his career and was the motivation for his founding of Exactech.

A plethora of gifts name UF post for Dr. Bill Petty.

In 1969, Dr. Bill Petty, a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon fresh out of medical school, was concerned about his wife, Betty. She was having knee surgery that would keep her in the hospital for several days. Bill stayed by her side, day and night.

Throughout the ordeal, Bill talked with Betty’s doctors and quickly became fascinated with their newly emerging field of medicine – orthopaedics. As Betty began to heal, her surgeon allowed Bill to follow him and his residents on their hospital rounds.

That event, which some call a coincidence, led Bill to refocus his work, train under one of the country’s foremost experts in hip replacement surgery, seek a University of Florida orthopaedic surgery post, lead his department to renowned status, start a joint replacement manufacturing business and, ultimately, help make knee, hip and shoulder replacement surgeries safe and commonplace.

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They wanted to make a difference in the quality of care patients received. There’s no nobler purpose than that.

— Dr. Mark Scarborough, on Dr. Bill Petty and Exactech —

Now, 50 years after Betty’s knee surgery, more than 65 friends, family members and colleagues have collectively given UF $1.5 million to endow an orthopaedics post in Bill’s name to commemorate his contributions as one of the all-time greats in his field.

The prestigious professorship will allow the department to recruit top surgeons and expand its services to people in need of joint repair or replacement. It will also ensure future generations never forget Bill’s tremendous contributions.

An “Honest, Open Guy”

Colleagues describe Bill Petty as a quiet and reserved, yet brilliant, visionary who values hard work.

Before his orthopaedic career, Dr. Bill Petty was a U.S. Air Force flight surgeon. He began his rise to lead UF College of Medicine’s Department of Orthopaedics by teaching hip and knee surgery at UF Health Shands Hospital and the VA hospital, then later throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia. In one hospital in China, he taught surgeons to perform their first total knee arthroplasty (replacement).

“He’d out-work anyone around him,” said Dr. Tom Wright, who was an orthopaedics resident when he first met then-department chair Petty. “He isn’t a talkative man. Rather, he walked the walk. He brought transparency to everything we did. He’s just a very honest, open guy who set examples at the top and created a culture of going above and beyond. And he brought the department a long way.”

Dr. Mark Scarborough, the current UF Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation chair, said “a long way” is right. When Petty joined UF’s College of Medicine, it had no surgeons who specialized in knee, hip and shoulder replacements. Now UF has eight full-time specialists and is ranked the 45th best orthopaedics team in the nation.

“Petty developed a full program on this type of surgery,” Scarborough said. “In the total joint arthroplasty world he’s a giant.”

Since then, Petty literally wrote the book (it’s called “Total Joint Replacement”) that is still considered the orthopaedic surgeon’s bible. He published it just 22 years after his mentor performed the first total hip replacement operation in the U.S.

Phase One, Complete

As if those contributions weren’t enough, Bill Petty saw a need for better replacement joints. He partnered with UF biomedical engineer Gary Miller, and together – at Bill and Betty’s kitchen table – they designed an innovative new cemented hip implant that could minimize hip pain by shifting weight-bearing loads. With Betty driving their staffing and administrative needs, the trio launched Exactech, a joint replacement manufacturing company, in the mid-1980s.

“They wanted to make a difference in the quality of care patients received,” Scarborough said. “There’s no nobler purpose than that.”

Today, Exactech is among Alachua County’s largest private employers and one of the world’s largest distributors of total joint replacement implants, instruments and software. The company name adorns UF’s athletics arena and its private gifts have funded a host of UF improvements and programs.

“They’ve been so supportive of this community, in Florida, in Alachua County and at UF,” said Scarborough. “We’re very appreciative.”

Good Deeds, Rewarded

It took just six years for Exactech to become solidly profitable and 11 years before the Pettys and Miller decided to take it public in 1996. In that time, and since, thousands of people in need of joint replacement have reaped the benefits of the Pettys’ and Miller’s hard work.

While the Pettys recently retired from their company, their influence across UF and the field of orthopaedics remains stronger than ever. UF leaders say this new professorship is proof.

“It’s rare for so many people to come together to fund such an important professorship,” said Scarborough, adding that a named post is the highest honor the college can bestow on a member of its faculty.

“But it’s really no surprise to see Gators rally around honoring Bill Petty like this,” he said. “Without Bill’s vision, support and perseverance, this department, this college, this university and, really, this community, would not have grown into what it is today.”

In his company’s early days, Dr. Bill Petty (right) and his colleague, biomedical engineer Dr. Gary Miller (left), discuss a computer model of their design of a hip implant device created to solve a previously unmet clinical need.