Discoveries Magazine


The Art of Medicine

Robert C. Klapper, MD, is a bit of a zealot when  it comes to Michelangelo. His red and white Manhattan Beach studio is chock full of Renaissance art books and,  with no prompting, he will provide an anatomy lesson using  a photo of Michelangelo’s “David” as a guide. “Look at his right hand and you see the veins. Look at my right hand;  you see the veins. Why? Because my hand is below my heart. Michelangelo sculpted ‘David’ in 1504! More than 100 years before the doctors, he understood circulation.”

A celebrated orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Group and accomplished sculptor in his own right, Dr. Klapper can be found beachside carving life into stone on Thursday and Saturday afternoons (he takes his longboard out afterward, rinsing the marble dust off him in the surf). Sculpture and surgery belong together for him, arts of perfection requiring vigor and precision in equal measure.

“My passions inform each other,” he says. “The symmetry that we strive for is actually an illusion; that’s the lesson  I learn from sculpture as well as from each and every one  of my surgeries.” Tenacious and inexhaustible, the director of the Joint Replacement Program at Cedars-Sinai sees perhaps 80 patients a day. “But I’m not tired after a day of surgery, or after sculpting. They give me the same Zen energy.”

Joint surgeon to eminent Angelenos like the late NBA basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain, go-to sports injury expert for ESPN, and holder of six patents for specialized surgical tools, Dr. Klapper exudes an undeniable joie de vivre. “I’m at the coolest stage of my life at 54.” Thanks to his years in the operating room and the studio, he says: “With my fingers, I feel like I can see through the skin. I can see the nerve and the artery behind the bone. People might look at the blocks of marble and wonder how it’s possible to see through the stone to the figure. It requires that same kind  of three-dimensional imagination.”

This happy marriage of art and medicine has shaped Dr. Klapper’s worldview. “Thousands of years from now,  who knows if computers, books, or movies will still be around … but I bet those stone carvings will remain,” he muses. “Art is permanent where surgery is transient. In this way, they are opposites, but both enhance the human condition.” —SSL

Parentage Mother: Nurse. Father: Carpenter. “I was genetically programmed to be an orthopedic surgeon.”

Surgeries performed 12,000, give or take

Personal hero Mad magazine’s Mort Drucker, world-famous caricaturist

Second job Radio show host for ESPN’s “Weekend Warrior”: “I translate medicine so people can understand the gobbledygook.”

Owes it all to Much adored wife, Ellen Klapper, MD, director of Transfusion Medicine at Cedars-Sinai

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