Winter 2019

Remembering Edward Nalebuff, A49, M53

The hand surgery pioneer was also a clinical professor emeritus at the School of Medicine.

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Courtesy of the Nalebuff Family

Edward Nalebuff, A49, M53, a pioneer in hand surgery and clinical professor emeritus at the School of Medicine, died on July 8 in Sarasota, Florida. He was eighty-nine.

Nalebuff was born in Newark, New Jersey, thirty minutes ahead of his identical twin, Donald. The brothers grew up in the largely immigrant community of Bloomfield, and played varsity basketball together, confusing many opposing teams. Later, they were roommates at Tufts.

After graduating from Tufts School of Medicine, Nalebuff interned at Grace-New Haven Hospital, then joined the Air Force, requesting orthopedics. The Air Force assigned him to Biloxi, Mississippi, to do obstetrics, where he delivered 430 babies. After his military service, he came to Boston in 1956 to start his residency in orthopedic surgery at Tufts, Boston City Hospital, Robert Breck Brigham Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and the Boston VA Hospital.

He arrived with a list of three women to meet. Marcia Silver was the first. Although she had sworn off blind dates, she relented based on his offer of two tickets to Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge in July 1956. That Thanksgiving, Edward proposed. They were together for sixty-two years and a day after that first date.

After a three-year residency at Tufts, Nalebuff started an orthopedic practice in Belmont and Boston. At the Robert Breck Brigham Hospital, he saw hundreds of patients with crippling rheumatoid arthritis. “I was told it was possible to make hands look better, but there was no way to make them work better,” he said later. “I didn’t believe that.” At age 38, he decided to focus on hand surgery. He completed fellowships with Claude Verdan in Switzerland and Guy Pulvertaft in England, and when he returned, he was the first doctor in Boston to specialize in hand surgery.

As the city’s leading hand surgeon, he treated many prominent residents, though he was often oblivious to their fame. When asked by one patient if he would be able to continue playing the violin, Nalebuff provided his standard reply: “After I’m done, you’ll be able to play in Carnegie Hall.” The patient, then concertmaster at the Boston Symphony Orchestra, replied that he had already done so. And he did so again, postsurgery.

Nalebuff practiced at Massachusetts General Hospital before becoming a clinical professor at the School of Medicine and chief of hand surgery at the New England Baptist Hospital. “Dr. Nalebuff was widely considered a pioneer of hand surgery in New England and served as an important mentor to generations of hand surgeons through the Tufts Combined Hand Surgery Fellowship,” said School of Medicine Dean Harris Berman. “In his day, he was considered one of the world’s experts on rheumatoid hand surgery. He cowrote some of the seminal articles in hand surgery and the book chapter, ‘Surgical Treatment of the Rheumatoid Hand.’”

Nalebuff founded a club for Tufts orthopedic alumni known as the Arthur A. Thibodeau Group, in honor of his former professor. He and his wife also established the Edward A. Nalebuff Scholarship Fund thirty-five years ago to help deserving students. “He was passionate about his profession as a doctor and about life,” Berman said.

The Nalebuff Family requests that donations be made to the Edward A. Nalebuff Scholarship at Tufts University School of Medicine (136 Harrison Ave., Boston, MA 02111, or giving.tufts.edu/med).

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