BY STEVE BIGHAM
MIDDLEBURY — Longtime resident and pioneering orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kristaps Keggi died unexpectedly Tuesday. He was 88.
Keggi’s colleague, Dr. Michael Kaplan, called Keggi an “orthopedic giant” and an “American hero” whose techniques in treating the wounded during the Vietnam War are still being used today.
Kaplan said the 6-foot-3 Keggi was an imposing figure, but he practiced medicine with a gentle touch, using his tactile and technical expertise. Keggi was more concerned about patient outcomes than credibility and financial reimbursement, Kaplan noted.
“He was a tremendous humanitarian, and put orthopedics on the map in Waterbury and Connecticut,” he said. “He turned Waterbury into an orthopedics powerhouse.”
Keggi was the first doctor in Connecticut to perform a total knee replacement.
First Selectman Edward B. St. John called Keggi an icon in the orthopedic world, especially with his anterior approach to hip replacement.
Keggi’s storied life was chronicled in his autobiography, “My Century: A Memoir of War, Peace and Pioneering in the Operating Room,” published in 2022. In it, he described his early years as a boy growing up in Latvia during World War II, his family having to dodge both Soviet communist and German Nazi invaders, eventually escaping to America on a refugee ship.
After arriving in New York City, Keggi worked hard to achieve the American dream, according to his book. He went to high schools in both Brooklyn, N.Y., and Greenwich before moving on to Yale College at age 16. He graduated from Yale Medical School and, in 1965, served as a surgeon in the Army’s first MASH unit of the Vietnam War.
In 1989, Keggi became a clinical professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Yale University.
In 2008, he was elected full professor in the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at Yale, and two years later, was named Elihu Professor of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation.
He served as senior research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine, and director of Yale New Haven Hospital’s Joint Replacement Center and of Waterbury Hospital’s Orthopedic Center for Joint Reconstruction.
He practiced orthopedic surgery at both Saint Mary’s and Waterbury hospitals from 1969 to 2018.
His reputation as one of the world’s top orthopedic surgeons took him to countries around the world, serving as a teacher and mentor to generations of medical school students as well as hundreds of fellows from Russia and other Eastern European countries, both before and after the fall of communism.
Keggi was the recipient of multiple national and international awards, and four honorary doctorates. He is one of only two non-Russians inducted into the Russian Academy of Sciences for his prowess in medicine. Keggi spoke six languages fluently, was captain of the Yale fencing team and ran six marathons.
Keggi was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years, Julie. The couple first met on the steps of Buckingham Palace in London during a tour of Europe in the 1950s. They moved to Middlebury in 1969. They were the parents of three daughters, Catherine, Mara and Caroline. Mara competed in rowing at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, while Caroline once competed in LPGA Tour golf tournaments.