Orthopedic Surgery Legend Dr. Lawrence Rinsky Retires

Sometimes, legends are born. And sometimes people become legends by making life better for others with positive actions, words, and attitudes each and every day. Of these, Lawrence Rinsky, MD, retiring pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, is the latter.

Dr. Rinsky

Fifty-two years ago, Dr. Rinsky began his orthopedic surgical residency at Stanford and never looked back. He jests that he stayed at Stanford because of his love for the area’s good dim sum but admits that the real reason was the culture at Stanford.

“It was, and still is, much lower-key than other places in the country. That doesn’t mean it’s less rigorous, but it has less formalized hierarchies in medicine. I was astounded that as an intern I could speak with the attendings,” says Dr. Rinsky.

Enriching a supportive culture at Stanford Children’s orthopedics

Through the years, Dr. Rinsky not only maintained but fostered the friendly, more open culture that he observed at Stanford. He carried it over to Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, where he’s known among the younger orthopedic surgeons as “Papa Lar,” in reference to his first name—Larry—and his enduring guiding force within orthopedics.

“Doing complex surgeries on children has the potential to be stressful. There is a lot at stake. Larry modeled taking the work seriously and approaching it with reverence, but not taking himself or others too seriously,” says John Vorhies, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanford and a mentee of Dr. Rinsky’s. “He is one of the people we will reference for generations within our Children’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center care team.”

Dr. Vorhies met Dr. Rinsky during his orthopedic rotation during residency. Working under him was one reason Dr. Vorhies chose orthopedics as a specialty.

“People liked to work with him because he had such a calming effect in the room. He brought humor to everything, and he’s kind,” Dr. Vorhies says.

Thanks to Dr. Rinsky and James Gamble, MD, another early influencer of the orthopedic surgery department, Stanford’s welcoming culture is known across the nation and world. When visiting professors come, they are surprised by the positive energy and the endless laughter.

“That’s the Rinsky influence,” Dr. Vorhies adds.

A long and lustrous career

Dr. Rinsky was hired as an orthopedic surgery faculty member in 1976 at Stanford University’s Department of Orthopedic Medicine. He acted as chief pediatric surgeon for 30 years and department chair for three years at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. During that time, his research was featured in more than 60 publications.

When Dr. Rinsky started, orthopedists didn’t specialize in kids or adults—surgeons simply cared for both. As chief, he helped grow the pediatric specialty at Stanford Children’s from three pediatric orthopedic surgeons in the early 1980s to 12 today. One of the first was Dr. Gamble, who became a longtime colleague, research partner, and companion on volunteer missions.

“When I first met Dr. Rinsky in the late 1970s, it was apparent right away that he was a special person. He was open, generous, and happy, and you don’t always find that in surgeons,” Dr. Gamble says. “Our relationship was based on mutual respect for each other and for our residents and fellows.”

Dr. Rinsky is an exceptionally skilled spine surgeon who is known as an innovator across the nation and world. He has been considered a top expert in scoliosis surgery in the Bay Area for decades. In the 1980s, he introduced a new technique to Stanford for segmental spinal instrumentation, which helped patients get moving more quickly after spinal fusions. He also ushered in nerve monitoring during scoliosis surgeries, which made them safer.

Dr. Rinsky performed simple to very complex reconstructive surgeries, including removing tumors, salvaging limbs, and correcting spinal deformities.

“We have very specialized areas of orthopedics today, but Larry did everything,” Dr. Vorhies says.

Dr. Rinsky helped establish the Bone & Soft Tissue Tumors Program at Stanford Children’s and advised the creation of the Motion & Gait Analysis laboratory.

“His incredible surgical skill is one of his biggest legacies,” Dr. Gamble says. “But how much he is cared for by his patients, students, colleagues, and family is his biggest legacy.”

Passing on top surgical skills to the next generation

Dr. Rinsky says training new doctors is his biggest career accomplishment. The feelings were mutual because he was often voted best teacher by the residents.

“There’s a quote from the Talmud that says, ‘I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and most from my students.’ I have had the privilege of mentoring a couple hundred orthopedic residents in my career,” Dr. Rinsky says.

“Our entire team has been trained by him. He’s a huge influence on our current orthopedic care team. Together, we will carry forward his exceptional technical methods and warm, open approach,” Dr. Vorhies says.

Improving the lives of thousands of patients through the years

Dr. Rinsky was known for always putting patients first. He was never without a toy in his pocket for a nervous child. He had a true desire to connect with his patients and put them at ease.

“Some patients called him ‘Uncle Larry’ because they didn’t think of him as a doctor. He wasn’t intimidating. He was friendly, funny, and emotionally there, always wanting to help. All of his patients loved him,” Dr. Gamble says. 

Not many people can say they improved the lives of thousands of people in their career, but Dr. Rinsky can. He fixed rare bone deformities and saved the lives of children with bone cancer, sometimes involving complex surgeries that took 14 to 16 hours. And he treated entire generations of families for genetic bone conditions. One of them was the Navarro family.

“Dr. Rinsky is without a doubt a very respected and admired man, but mostly he is kindhearted and beautiful. The whole world would benefit from more Dr. Rinskys,” says Dave Navarro, a Salinas, California, resident.

Throughout his life, Navarro received three surgeries from Dr. Rinsky, the first at age 14 for a hereditary condition called osteochondromatosis, which results in benign yet painful bone tumors.  

“As a teen, I had tremendous faith. I knew a miracle was going to happen, and Dr. Rinsky was that angel that was sent to help me and my family,” Navarro says.

The chance of passing on osteochondromatosis is high, and one of Navarro’s two daughters inherited it. His daughter received several complex surgeries from Dr. Rinsky over the years. Today, she is living an active life.  

“I told Dr. Rinsky he couldn’t retire until my daughter was done having surgeries. He kept that promise. My family and I will be forever thankful for his compassionate, knowledgeable care,” Navarro says.

Taking his talents abroad

Throughout his career, Dr. Rinsky went on more than 30 international medical missions and performed close to 1,000 surgeries that changed the trajectory of kids’ lives. He traveled to Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and several areas in China.

“It made me a better surgeon because we were often performing surgeries for birth defects, trauma, chronic infection, and scoliosis with less resources than we have in the United States,” Dr. Rinsky says.

Dr. Gamble accompanied him on nearly all of those missions. He recalls a time in rural China when the two needed to put a child in a body cast, which required bars to connect his legs to the cast. The clinic didn’t have anything that resembled a bar or even a wooden dowel.

“Instead, the doctor reached out the open window and grabbed a branch of a tree. That’s what we used and it worked perfectly. We still laugh about that,” Dr. Gamble says.

Dr. Vorhies and others on the orthopedic surgery team are carrying on Dr. Rinsky’s dedication to helping children around the world by continuing medical missions. A group of three plan to go to Guatemala in October.

A warm sendoff from those who know him best

During retirement, Dr. Rinsky looks forward to traveling with his wife, Susan, and spending time with his family, including his three sons and six grandchildren. The couple has a tradition of taking each of their grandchildren on an overseas trip after their bar mitzvah. The first, they took to Paris. This fall, they will take the latest to London. They have no plans to move from their house of 33 years.

“One of my residents who is now a friend says the secret to a healthy, productive life is two things—one house and one wife. I agree,” Dr. Rinsky quips.

Dr. Vorhies jokes that the department should make a giant cutout of Dr. Rinsky and place it in the office, so when they need to work out a tough case, they can consult with him.

“Everyone values his opinion,” Dr. Vorhies says. “When we have a tough case, we ask ourselves, ‘What would Rinsky do in this situation?’ Generations of caregivers think that way.”

Dr. Gamble, whose own retirement is not too terribly far off, finds it hard to watch his longtime friend, colleague, and surgery partner retire first.

“Watching Larry retire breaks my heart,” Dr. Gamble says. “It’s hard to imagine life in orthopedics without him.”


12 Responses to “Orthopedic Surgery Legend Dr. Lawrence Rinsky Retires”


    Thank you Dr. Rinsky for taking such good care of our daughter Kimberly. You are truly on of a kind.

  2. Deborah L Hernandez

    Happy retirement Dr. Rinsky! Before LPCH opened, all surgeons booked surgeries at 300P and cases had to be called into our O.R Scheduling Office. As an operating room surgery scheduler since 1989, I remember booking many cases for Dr. Rinsky and Dr. Gamble. When I had a chance to run into him in the OR lounge or in the hallway he always had a smile on his face and was so pleasant. Wishing you well on your next adventure! Deb

  3. William Mangione, M.D.

    I’ve had the privilege of knowing Dr. Rinsky since the time we were residents together. Your article captures the spirit of a physician with a rare combination of wisdom, skill, and humanity. The comment of Dr. Vorhies especially resonated with me: Larry took his work and his patients’ problems very seriously but did not take himself seriously.
    Bill Mangione, M.D.

  4. Linda Bell

    He and I began working together when he finished his residency and began as Assistant Chief. He’s a rare human being and I loved every minute of the ten years we were at CH@S. I had the fortune to see him (and Jim Gamble) just a few years ago. Such a lovely human being.

  5. Dawn Thomas

    Dr. Rinsky was my savior way back in 1988 when I learned from another ortho doctor that I had a Parosteal Osteosarcoma. I was 21 at the time, and thought I had the world by the tail. Hearing, “You have bone cancer and it’s serious” was the last thing on my mind. The original resection was a very long surgery. There were a few follow-up surgeries later (bone graph as the first surgery took out a great deal of my femur and my fibula). He and his entire staff were amazing throughout! I am celebrating my 35th year as a Cancer Thriver, because yes I survived, but I choose to thrive thanks to Dr. Rinsky and his amazing care! CONGRATULATIONS on your retirement! You’ve made such an impact on so many people and lives!

  6. Eileen Cullinane

    Thank you for operating on my daughter Loretta’s osteo sarcoma almost 30 yrs ago.
    She’s had a wonderful, healthy life and stayed in California (an East Coast transplant). Your talent as a surgeon was enjoyed by so many.
    Now it’s time for you to rest and enjoy your own family. May you be showered with blessings for giving of yourself to others.

  7. Elaine L Pico, MD

    It was a pleasure working with you Larry. Our patients were always in good hands with your care. I hope you will review for the Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation from time to time during your retirement. All the best!

  8. Loretta Gallegos

    At 29 and about to start a new job, I did not expect a visit to a chiropractor for “knee” pain to result in a diagnosis of a rare type of bone cancer that normally occurs in children. The stars aligned for me as Dr. Rinsky had returned from a conference and could see me right away & operate quickly too.
    The care & calm patience he took with my many questions (even suggesting a second opinion to ensure I felt comfortable with the plan) throughout 10 years of follow-up, set the bar high for all doctors I’ve seen since. I saw that same care & patience with the many interns who were part of my case. The medical
    profession will benefit for years from his work – as will I. Thank you, Dr. Rinsky, for the passion, dedication and heart you brought to your work and patients, as well as your amazing surgical skills. You will be missed. Enjoy your much deserved retirement!

  9. Dorothy Wortham

    I am the mother of Ann Marie McGlynn (died 2015), who was one of your many patients. You were so wonderful to her in many ways, her numerous surgeries among them.
    Thank you for all you did to make her life a better one.

    I wish you many happy, wonderful days in your retirement. Enjoy!!!

    Dorothy Wortham

  10. Kathy Otis

    I hope your retirement is full of sunny happy days that allow you to enjoy many relaxing and joyful experiences with those sweet grand children, sons and your lovely wife. I am the other of one of your more challenging patients with the personality of a lemon and behavior that made the nursing staff wince whenever her name was mentioned. Thankyou for taking her on, you have the patience of a great horned owl.

  11. Thomas L. DeLay

    Dr. R. and his team did a 16 hour scoliosis surgery on me, as an adult, in January 1994.

    Dr. R was always a pleasure to see on his rounds. He was such fun! We are all so fortunate to have crossed paths with Fr. R’s healing ways. Have a wonderful retirement Dr. R. You saved me from a debilitating disorder.

  12. John Steinberg

    Dear Dr. Rinksy, you performed spinal fusion surgery on my daughter, Lauren Steinberg when she was 13. She was born with arthrogryposis. Today she is 38 and is a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. She walks better now than she did before her surgery, despite the opinions of other surgeons that she would likely not be able to walk beyond adolescence. She also swims. You were the kindest, most compassionate of all her many surgeons when she was a child. You kissed her goodbye when she left the hospital, and said, “I’ll miss you.” I remember thinking, “They don’t teach that in medical school.”


    John Steinberg


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