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Orthopedic Surgeons Tickle the Funny Bone

Livonia Observer: Orthopedic Surgeons Tickle the Funny BonePatients find it hard to keep a straight face as they wait to see the doctor at Mendelson Orthopedics in the Marian Professional Building at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia. The question is which of the three brothers and father will be replacing their joints or fixing fractures. All of the orthopedic surgeons devote themselves to giving the best medical care along with a little something to tickle the funny bone.

On one recent late Friday afternoon, the upbeat atmosphere was contagious. Dr. Jeffrey Mendelson ribbed his brother Dr. David. A few moments later, their sister, Dr. Diane Levine, and brother Dr. Stephen joined in the good-natured kidding. The family of physicians had completed another week of healing and soon would assemble for Sabbath dinner at their father Herbert’s home where they’ll discuss cases of broken bones and trauma.

Herbert Mendelson considers his and wife Phyllis’ four children the major accomplishment of his life. Several times a week David, 45, Jeffrey, 41, and Stephen, 35, share the operating room with their father at St. Mary Mercy Hospital. Diane, 47, is director of medical education at Wayne State University School of Medicine. All are noted surgeons in the field of orthopedics, each with a love and admiration for their father. They will tell you he is the reason they not only became orthopedic surgeons but live within several blocks of each other in Huntington Woods. Medicine is a family affair especially for Herbert Mendelson who’s been in practice for 42 years, 41 of them in Livonia.

“He’s the kind of guy who stops on the side of the road when it’s an accident,” said Diane Levine. “They even had one man covered up and he came along and spotted a puff of air. He was still alive.”

Learning from the best

Levine and her three brothers learned early that being a doctor was more than just treating bodies. Stephen learned to do CPR at age 9 and used it to save someone’s life at age 17. At age 5, Diane was already accompanying her father to the hospital. Today, her 21-year-old daughter, Miriam, is following in all of their footsteps by applying to medical school at the University of Michigan. More Mendelson grandchildren could decide to become doctors as they get older. That could add up to several more family practices. Each of the sons have two children, Diane has four.

“I’ve seen the parents of a 2-year-old run over by a lawn mower wait two to three hours just see him,” said Levine, who’s married to Dr. Donald Levine, chief of general medicine at Wayne State University.

“My father taught us that no matter what you do a patient should feel better when you leave the room. He taught the most important thing is humor.”

Mendelson is a man of few words, but when he speaks it’s usually to deliver a one-liner. Even his signature gets laughs as he quickly draws a happy skull and cross bones below it.

“St. Mary’s put all of my kids through medical school and for that I’m grateful,” said the 71-year old Mendelson, who sees irony in the fact that he attended the University of Michigan while all four of his children went to Wayne State University.

At home, Mendelson’s strict rules were less than funny. He prohibited all four children from riding motorcycles and skateboards, and participating in skiing, football or any sport that could cause broken bones, but that didn’t stop them from recently honoring their father with a scholarship in his name at where else – Wayne State University School of Medicine.

“The family is mainly the way it is because of Herb and Phyllis. Life is interesting around here,” said Alice Mendelson, Stephen’s wife. Originally from Israel, Alice is also an orthopedic surgeon in the family practice.

“He still makes house calls and he’ll hijack us. He’s still a tough role model to live up to,” added David.

Cool dad

“Ever since I can remember I wanted to be my dad. An orthopedic surgeon was cool. At age 5 or 6, I was running around with my dad to Highland Park General, St. Francis where he would see a patient with a broken wrist. I would help hold the arm while dad would work his magic and then they could move it after being deformed.”

Even though Dr. Martin Kornblum isn’t related to Mendelson, he respects the man who took him in as a partner five years ago. And of course, there is a family connection. Kornblum’s wife, Sarah, went to high school with Stephen.

“Working with Herbert has been like a second fellowship for me. The art of medicine you learn in your training, but the art of running a medical practice is on the job training,” said Kornblum, an orthopedic spine surgeon.

“Herb has been a mentor, helping me in learning the skills of dealing with patients. It’s interesting working with an entire family of orthopedic surgeons, having Friday night dinner at the Mendelson house. Although all my partners are family members, each is unique with Herbert being the father figure.”

Of course, Phyllis can’t say enough about her husband of 49 years. She began dating him at age 14 after meeting him when she was just 5 years old.

“He’s a man of integrity, the most devoted physician – and a competent physician.”


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