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Surgeon-novelist stays true to Iowa roots

BY MADISON BENNETT | OCTOBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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The first thing Lawrence Dorr says when people talk about his success is, "Well, I'm an Iowa boy."

The 70-year-old Los Angeles-based orthopedic surgeon has replaced more than 8,000 knees and hips, sat as president on three different associations, and has penned his first novel, Die Once Live Twice. Still, he said, he is convinced working from dawn until sunset on his family farm in Cherokee County, Iowa, keeps him going.

"In Iowa, you were just expected to work hard," said Dorr, a graduate of the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 1967. "There were people smarter than me, but if you didn't work hard, you got bypassed."

That hard work led to the publishing of his first novel — a story that details the history of medicine using real doctors woven together with fictional characters. Completing the book is something he said is one of his greatest accomplishments.

"The history of medicine is so rich," he said. "It's kind of how the Wild West was won — except it wasn't cowboys and Indians. It was doctors and patients."

Dorr graduated from DesMoines Roosevelt High School, then attended Cornell College and the UI for medical school.

But what brought him to Los Angelos where he still lives with his wife in the suburb of La Canada, was what he experienced while serving as a doctor in the Marines during the Vietnam War.

"There were about 20 of us from my class that wanted to learn about trauma," he said."So we all came out to LA County to do our internships."

Recently, Dorr has been making waves for his robotics research project. He and two doctors from Mayo Clinic and one from New York are working on a robot that will aid surgeons through total hip-replacement surgeries.

"It overcomes those human judgment errors that surgeons make, just because they're human," he said.

Overcoming those judgments is one of the major premises of the book: watching the evolution of the hesitancy to accept new discoveries in medicine, which has been prevalent all throughout the history of medicine.

Die Once Live Twice examines the development of medicine beginning at the Civil War and ending with the eve of World War II.

Dorr gave a synopsis of his novel and took questions at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., on Sept. 30.

At the reading, Dorr paid for a spread of food and drinks as a treat for whomever wanted to learn more about his novel, said Lindsay Park, a Prairie Lights employee who introduced Dorr at the reading.

The audience was scattered with people who knew Dorr personally, Park said.

"[Dorr] was jovial, fun, funny, and seemed to be having a good time," he said. "And we sold a ton of books — around 80 percent of what we had on hand."

In fact, having people and products that originated in Iowa makes readings more appealing, said UI junior Moe Amro.

"It's a better tie to the town and to Iowa City than some random authors," Amro said. "It gives you a sense that successful people who leave Iowa City still have roots here and can come back and reflect on being from Iowa."

A portion of the author's proceeds from Die Once Live Twice will go toward Dorr's nonprofit organization, Operation Walk, which provides pro bono surgeries and training to help relieve joint diseases in developing nations.

"There's so much failure, mixed with some success, because you don't have answers," he said. "That's what makes a story about medicine fun to read. It's just the complexity to be able to solve medical mysteries."


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