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Elton Strauss, MD

In Memoriam: Elton Straus, MD

His many former orthopedic residents will remember his compassion, encouragement and high standards: “Never a shortcut. Never leave a problem for somebody else.”

Elton Strauss, MD (1948-2017)

By Mike Kelly, Omaha World-Herald

Long before his nearly three decades as chief of orthopedic trauma and adult reconstruction at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, surgeon Elton Strauss grew up in Brooklyn tinkering with trains, tools and machinery.

His father, the late Dr. Carl Strauss, encouraged young Elton to take things apart and figure out how to put them back together.

“It served him well when he chose his medical specialty,” said son Eric M. Strauss, an ABC News magazine producer. “Orthopedics deals with physics and with a lot of hardware and tools at challenging angles.”

Dr. Strauss, who died Saturday at 69 after suffering two years from T-cell lymphoma, gained a reputation at Mount Sinai for taking the most complex cases.

Dr. Darwin Chen, one of more than 100 orthopedic residents who trained under him, said Strauss was legendary among his “alumni” for their days and nights with him doing fracture and joint replacement surgery.

“Elton was always the attending surgeon you could count on to do the right thing for the patient,” Dr. Chen said, “regardless of the time of day, insurance status or social standing. He set the standard for us not only on how to behave as orthopedic surgeons, but also how to act as human beings.”

Dr. Evan L. Flatow, another Mount Sinai surgeon, said Dr. Strauss was always available to help students, residents and colleagues or to volunteer for educational events, and did so “with a smile and a bounce in his gait.”

During his more than 30 years in practice, Dr. Strauss dedicated himself to the treatment of the most difficult cases involving fractures and arthritis, and joint replacement. Many surgeons in the tri-state area referred their complicated cases to his service. He also worked with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and in 2009 he was one of 40 physicians selected for an elite team of trauma specialists assigned to deal with any emergencies that might arise during the inauguration ceremonies for President Barack Obama.

Elton Strauss spent weekends of his youth playing stickball and riding the New York subway system. Besides his model trains, he had a special love of animals and during college worked at the old Gimbels department store pet shop.

In recent years, he has battled medical issues, including spinal surgery that ironically ended his own operating career. Despite that and a recurrence of T-cell lymphoma last year, Dr. Strauss continued to spearhead the Mount Sinai clinic, helping the poor.

He met his future wife, Karen, on a blind date when she was 16 and he was 17. She grew up in a middle-class family in Lynbrook, Nassau County, but that night enjoyed shrimp cocktail and lobster and then bon bons at Radio City Music Hall.

That led to an oft-repeated story over the years in which Dr. Strauss recalled thinking, “I like this girl, but how am I gonna afford to date her?”

After he graduated from Long Island University-C.W. Post campus, he married  Karen, a harpist,  in 1971. He graduated from medical school in Guadalajara, Mexico.

They raised two children in Roslyn, Long Island—broadcast journalist Eric, now 44, and Elisa, 41, proprietor of Confetti Cakes, a New York bakery with a celebrity following that specializes in custom-designed cakes, She has written instructional cookbooks and has appeared on network TV shows.

A professor of orthopedic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center, Dr. Strauss published more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and lectured nationally and internationally.  He was a keynote speaker at a convention of the American Geriatric Society, and served as chairman of the Committee on Aging for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

He specialized in fracture repairs as well as hip and knee replacement surgery, and was skilled in modern surgical advances for computer- and robotic-assisted technology.

In recent years, he has battled medical issues, including spinal surgery that ironically ended his own operating career. Despite that and a recurrence of T-cell lymphoma last year, Dr. Strauss continued to spearhead the Mount Sinai clinic, helping the poor.

A lifelong New Yorker, he was a fan of the Jets, the Mets, the Islanders and the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and was an avid weekend player on tennis courts and softball fields.  Friends and colleagues knew of his devotion to his Labradoodle, Joey, whom he sometimes brought to the hospital as a trained service dog.

An effusive personality, Dr. Strauss might greet an acquaintance with an enthusiastic, “Hey, Baby!” He was not averse to giving men he knew well a hug and a peck on the cheek.

He made daily calls to his self-sufficient mother in Brooklyn, Shirley Strauss, 90. She named him Elton, she said, because she knew he was destined to make sick people better and she liked the ring of Dr. Elton Strauss.

In 2003, he and his wife achieved her lifelong dream of a modest oceanfront cottage, which they bought in the Fire Island community of Saltaire. Though the summer house survived Superstorm Sandy, in the aftermath, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took the home through eminent domain as part of a plan to reinforce the barrier island.

The Strausses publicly fought the Corps, and in 2015 Dr. Strauss told Newsday: “My personality is one where I’m going to fight until the last bulldozer comes. My dog and I will be sitting on the deck, and they can come and get me.”

He lost the battle without a bulldozer confrontation and received compensation at the home’s appraised value.

In recent years, Dr. Strauss was a hands-on grandfather, helping with feedings and diaper changes, showing the grandkids his elaborate model-train set and allowing them to face-paint “Grampsie.”

Besides his wife, mother and adult children, Dr. Elton Strauss is survived by daughter-in-law Bridget Kelly and grandson Joshua Carl Strauss; son-in-law Marc Ricks and grandchildren Sophie, Margot and Caleb Ricks; and his sister, Bonnie Strauss Carroll.

There will be a small gathering for the immediate family and a larger celebration of his life in the near future. Memorials are suggested to the Lymphoma Research Foundation and the Good Dog Foundation.

His many former orthopedic residents will remember his compassion, encouragement and high standards: “Never a shortcut. Never leave a problem for somebody else.”

Dr. Joshua Langford, who helped save lives after the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shootings and is an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Orlando Health in Florida, wrote to Dr. Strauss on Friday:

“I‘m sitting in the Dominican Republic on a mission trip putting to use all the skills you taught me. I never would have gone down this path if it hadn't been for you. Whatever comes after this crazy world, I know there’s a great place reserved for you.”

Dr. Strauss’s family will remember his boundless affection.

“If he loved you,” daughter-in-law Kelly said, “he thought you were the most amazing, awesome person and would say how wonderful you were. He always saw possibilities and thought you could do anything.”

Said her husband, Eric Strauss: “He never gave up on me. He kept encouraging me and pushing me. He taught me to never ever give up—ever.”

The family followed Strauss’ request and played “We Are the Champions” by Queen at a private family service held July 16.