Dr. Derek Cooke: lifelong passion for research and unique dedication to the COF

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation

Dr. Derek Cooke is passionate about orthopaedic research. A semi-retired orthopaedic surgeon living near Perth, Ontario, Dr. Cooke continues to be active in research, and to support the COF’s research program in a unique way. Many years ago, Dr. Cooke purchased a life insurance policy with the COF as its beneficiary. It’s an innovative way to make a substantial donation to a charity of choice. OrthoLink caught up with Dr. Cooke recently to talk about his passion and what motivates him to be a COF supporter.

OrthoLink (OL): Dr. Cooke, can you tell us a bit about your orthopaedic background?

Derek Cooke (DC): I qualified at Cambridge in the UK and did a house job in Orthopedics at Barts, then moved to Canada, where I had to requalify. As a rotating intern at Victoria Hospital in London, ON, I became exposed to the orthopaedic exchange program in Vancouver which had a year as senior resident in London (Western did not have a complete Ortho program at that time). We moved to BC to enroll in that program. I was deeply influenced by Dr. Frank Patterson, the chief who had a special interest in rheumatology. I was drawn to his approach to resident education and musculoskeletal care. What he was offering was an EDUCATIONAL opportunity in musculoskeletal care, of which orthopedics was a major part. Frank Patterson encouraged us to learn all about musculoskeletal system – how things worked and why, and the rationale for surgery was based on this knowledge. This appealed to me. I’ve always wanted to understand the basis of the clinical problem and what could be done to fix it.

OL: It sounds like you were attracted immediately to research.

DC: Well not initially. But I had done very well in the UBC program and was interested in academic orthopedics. Dr. Patterson suggested a research background as a need for an academic position. I returned to London for the final year in Orthopedics and obtained my FRCS(C). I was recruited to the new program at McMaster; I applied for and was awarded a McLaughlin foundation fellowship to S. W. Medical School in Dallas, Texas, working in a rheumatology lab doing immunology research on arthritis. The work was quite basic but we were very fortunate to make some crucial discoveries about inflammatory arthritis that explained the failures of synovectomy and success of joint arthroplasty in Rheumatoid Arthritis. That research helped transformed surgery for arthritis patients and I became committed to research for the long term.

OL: You returned to Canada. Where did you go next? Were you able to find another research lab?

DC: I was at Mac for 2 years and then recruited to Queen’s University with an MRC Development grant. That grant was used to set up a connective tissue (Arthritis) research lab and subsequently led to the creation of the Clinical Mechanics Group. This was one of the very first multidisciplinary research groups (Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Engineers) in Canada with a major focus on Orthopaedics. Orthopaedic research in Canada was quite different from research in the US; there just wasn’t funding available in Canada. Orthopaedic research was taking off in the US, making the US a world leader, while Canada was trailing. But Canada has always had great talent in MSK research. But the means to foster it were very limited then.

OL: Is this why you became involved with the COF?

DC: Yes, but first it led me to be involved with the CORS. While research was very limited in those days there was great interest and potential. In my years on the executive we saw the development of the CORS as a separate entity; we developed links with the ORS in the US and later the international research community. We introduced the opportunity for non-surgeon scientists to join CORS on an equal footing as surgeon members in order to foster multidisciplinary research. And, importantly we initiated awards; but for the awards we needed the support of the COF.

OL: How was the COF operating then?

DC: The COF was established as the charitable base for the COA but had very limited resources, both in people and charitable business capacity. It was also spread quite thinly with shared commitments to support Orthopaedic Overseas as well as research and education.

OL: How did things at the COF change?

DC: Slowly but steadily forwards. We all wanted to see Canadian orthopaedic researchers get the encouragement and funds they needed. We especially wished to support opportunities for young surgeons during their residency education; this was important to give Canada a role on the world stage. The Foundation was very responsive and a number of awards were created, but the funds available were very limited.

OL: How do you see the COF role now?

DC: The Foundation continues to play a critical role in advancing orthopaedic research by Canadian orthopaedic surgeons. This is important because as surgeons we are enabled routinely to see the living pathology of bones and joints that are problematic. We actually get to ‘fix’ them. This gives us a unique dimension in leading innovation and discovery. I have always believed that surgeons must be in the forefront of orthopaedic research. With its ties to the COA the COF helps CORS and ensures that those surgeons and scientists in Canada continue to be so.

OL: We understand that your passion for research and education took you far outside of Canada. Can you tell us about the 11 years you spent in Saudi Arabia?

DC: I was chief of Orthopaedics at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, KSA. There, we created support and development in residency programs and provided a liaison for residents for further education in Canadian based Fellowships. There were, and continue to be, many Canadian surgeons providing education in other countries. We can all be proud of the depth of education we provide around the world. The time in KSA also provided opportunities for my growing research interests focusing more and more on the mechanics of limb alignment and knee OA.

OL: What a tremendous experience for you. And now you’re back in Canada, semi-retired (at least from surgery) but still actively involved in research.

DC: It was a great experience. I continue clinical consulting and my academic ties with Queens. I am actively involved in Knee OA programs aimed to improve our care and optimize surgery. I am absolutely as committed to research as I have always been.

OL:  What about family?

DC: My wife Jean is the reason for me being here. We met when I was visiting Canada as a 2nd year med student from Cambridge. We were married later that year, and came back to Canada after I qualified in the UK. We have 5 children, 14 grand kids and 2 great Kids. Our lives centre around family and where we live on Bobs Lake north of Kingston and a half hour from my office in Perth. Jean has been a CORS and COF supporter from the beginning.

OL: The COF is certainly a beneficiary of your commitment and your financial support is both appreciated and unique. Your life insurance policy names the COF as its beneficiary. It’s a very unique way of planning for the future.

DC: I see this as a way that I can leave a significant gift in a form that will make a difference when I die. A difference about which I’m passionate, and it’s a legacy that grows each year. I encourage others to think about this way of supporting the COF. I am very grateful to be part of the COA community and its core support organisation, the foundation and for the opportunity it provides me to directly support orthopaedic research in Canada.


Dr. Cooke is a Foundation Builder of the COF, one of our valued contributors. We thank Dr. Cooke for his generosity and are pleased to recognize him on our website at

For information about contributing to the COF through life insurance visit