Story by
Margaret D. Smith

Photos by
Greg Schneider

Top: Graduating from Seattle Pacific with top honors in 1977, Delamarter married Janna Racine two years later. The two had met during her first week at school. Bottom: The Delamarters like to spend their free time together with their children (left to right) Bri-Anne, Lisa Anna and Brian at home in Los Angeles.

At the Spine Institute in Santa Monica, California, there is a man about whom one patient wrote this capital endorsement: "a MASTER doctor." He is Rick Delamarter, M.D., one of the world's top orthopedic surgeons.

Seattle Pacific University recently named Delamarter, Class of 1977, the 2002 Alumnus of the Year. He was chosen for the University's highest honor because of his achievements as a surgeon and as the medical director of a technologically advanced clinical and research institute for the spine. "On top of that, Rick is a business leader," says Alumni Director Doug Taylor. "He's a dynamic person, an expert in more than one field, and a man with a deep and meaningful faith."

SPU President Philip Eaton describes Delamarter as "one of our truly distinguished alumni. He represents what we hope for in our graduates: extraordinary professional competence as well as faith, character and wisdom. I consider him a good friend and value his partnership with Seattle Pacific and our vision. He is testimony that our vision is alive and well."

"The Seattle Pacific University Alumnus of the Year award, given in recent years to such individuals as Gaylord Gunhus, the Army's chief of chaplains, and David Wong, a key developer of Prozac, makes Rick Delamarter feel a mix of pride and humility. "There's a responsibility that goes along with this award that I'm humbled by," he says. "I'm not sure I'm deserving, but I'm proud to represent Seattle Pacific. Proud, because it gave me a great start for the world I'm in now."

Growing up in Pendleton, Oregon, Delamarter received an early education in health care. "My family has been in the long-term-care, nursing-home business for a while," he says. "Even when I was young, I spent a lot of time taking care of residents in long-term facilities. I got a feel for helping people out and found I enjoyed that."

Delamarter not only earned All-Conference honors in football during his senior year at Pendleton High School, but also maintained a 4.0 GPA. He loved to study the sciences, especially chemistry and biology. It seemed natural, then, to double-major in chemistry and biology at Seattle Pacific, where more than 20 of his relatives had attended, including both of his parents.

At SPU, Delamarter joined a pre-med club. "I believe that he was a pre-med student the day he set foot on campus," recalls Professor Emeritus Wes Lingren, one of Delamarter's chemistry instructors. "Rick was an outstanding student."

Professor of Chemistry Paul Lepse also remembers Delamarter as an avid scholar. "Rick developed good diagnostic skills in identifying unknown samples in the laboratory," says Lepse. "He was not one of those students who took chemistry because he had to, but because he really liked it. I'm pleased, but not surprised, that he went on to have such a successful career in medicine."

Although Delamarter recalls his days at Seattle Pacific as a period when he "pretty much focused on studies," he still had time to meet and court his future wife, Janna Racine. Graduating first in his class of 600 with another 4.0 GPA, Delamarter received the President's Citation, SPU's top academic award, for 1977.

After earning his M.D. at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center in Portland, Oregon, he went on to a surgical internship and orthopedic surgery residency at UCLA Medical Center. At this point he decided to specialize.

"I was fascinated with anatomy," says Delamarter, "especially spine research." When he started, many of the techniques had been done for 30 to 40 years without solving common spine problems. "I felt spine research was an area with a lot of room for innovation."

After a spine fellowship at Case Western in Cleveland, Ohio, he participated in a second spine fellowship in Paris, France, where he studied innovative techniques not yet accepted in America.

From 1989 to 1999, Delamarter directed the Comprehensive Spine Center at UCLA. Nearly two years ago, he moved the entire spine program to Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica. The facility consists of a 25-bed ward exclusively for spine patients, two operating rooms and an outpatient clinic for the treatment of spinal disorders. As both medical director and research director, Delamarter steers the groundbreaking work of the Spine Institute.

"By having the Spine Institute at Saint John's," says Delamarter, "we can be a little more focused than we could be at a major university. Now under one roof we have all the components for a state-of-the-art institute, including research." Some of this research is done by Delamarter himself, who holds patents on advanced technological tools such as titanium screws that help fuse patients' injured spines. Through the years, his personal research has focused on two areas. The first is basic science research, which today consists of gene therapy and experiments with cell cultures, including adult stem cells. The second is clinical research, which includes Food and Drug Administration trials on artificial disc replacements and the perfecting of surgical techniques.

Appearing occasionally on television news programs, Delamarter is a spokesperson to the public about the latest back and neck treatment breakthroughs. One of these breakthroughs, called Kyphoplasty, is a minimally invasive procedure for people with spinal compression fractures. Surgeons are now able to inflate tiny balloons to pump up a compressed spinal fracture, filling space in the vertebrae with special bone cement. Patients give the procedure rave reviews, and many are able to walk virtually pain-free within hours.

In addition to his roles at the Spine Institute, Delamarter holds the position of associate clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at UCLA. Medical students often accompany him on his rounds and in surgery. And in 1991, he became chairman of the board of directors for Prestige Care, Inc., the chain of nursing homes run by the Delamarter family for four generations.

Delamarter's achievements have earned him high honors, and he lectures worldwide about the treatment of spine injuries. His articles and chapters in medical journals and books number in the hundreds. But he is still learning daily.

To create a comprehensive spine institute, Rick Delamarter has assembled a team of experts, including researchers and orthopedic surgeons.

"I face new challenges every time we operate," he says. "Whether it's a herniated disc or a fracture, every case needs a thought process that's a little different." For this, he draws on what he has learned from medical publications and past experience.

In such a high-stress line of work, Delamarter also draws on his faith, which was nurtured at Seattle Pacific. "Having a Christian education," he believes, "allows one the freedom to analyze a situation in an unbiased way, whether with a patient or in a research lab."

This is particularly important in research, he says. "To advance in science or technology requires a wide-open, out-of-the-box mindset. Being grounded in the Christian faith, keeping our ethics intact, means there is no reason for any hidden agenda. We have the confidence to proceed in a rapidly changing world, having no reason to be afraid of what we'll find."

Delamarter is open with his medical colleagues about his faith. And, he says, "I hope that through the content of what I say and do every day, people understand where I'm coming from."

Despite Delamarter's demanding schedule, he stays current with the affairs of his alma mater. In recent years, he has served as a member of the Seattle Pacific University Board of Trustees, and on presidential and vice presidential search committees. Former Board Chair V. O. "Bud" McDole says about Delamarter: "Even though he's an internationally recognized surgeon, in demand throughout the profession, he's been humble and steadfast in his allegiance to SPU. He's got sterling qualities that I admire.

"Not the least of which is," McDole continues, "that he can drive a golf ball 275 yards."

In his spare time, and it is spare, Delamarter likes to spend time with Janna and their three children, ages 18, 15 and 12.

"We met during my first week of school," Janna remembers. "And it's been 26 years since then. What's always attracted me is his incredible academic focus, and yet he's kind and humble."

Brian, 12, says about his dad, "He takes me on really cool trips, like two summers ago, when we went jet skiing in the Mediterranean. My favorite time was when we went hunting in Oregon. I shot two gophers in one shot with a .22 — Dad was surprised."

There are many hard things about his work, Delamarter says, but the time spent away from his home in Los Angeles is the most difficult. "If I could change one thing," he says, "it would be to make surgeries happen at predictable hours, between nine and five. But people get injured at odd hours, so that's when the surgeries need to be done."

All in all, Delamarter says he is happy with his life. For the future, he simply wants more of the same. "My wife and I want to watch our kids grow up and enjoy life with them. I want to continue to help people. There's nothing more satisfying for a surgeon than bringing health and happiness back to a patient's life."

He adds with a smile, "I'd also like to kick a dent in the research field of spine surgery."

Top: Graduating from Seattle Pacific with top honors in 1977, Delamarter married Janna Racine two years later. The two had met during her first week at school. Bottom: The Delamarters like to spend their free time together with their children (left to right) Bri-Anne, Lisa Anna and Brian at home in Los Angeles.

Top left and right: To create a comprehensive spine institute, Rick Delamarter has assembled a team of experts, including researchers and orthopedic surgeons. Bottom left: Delamarter says that his four years at Seattle Pacific "provided an excellent education in the sciences. It gave me the confidence that I could learn anything, understanding it within a Christian framework."

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