Evelyn Jean Mackin, 97, of Philadelphia, a pioneer in the field of hand therapy, died Wednesday, Feb. 19, of vascular dementia at Kirkland Village retirement community in Bethlehem, Pa.
In the late 1960s, when Ms. Mackin began working as a physical therapist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, hand rehabilitation was practiced where war veterans were being treated.
As she worked in Philadelphia with surgeons James M. Hunter and Lawrence H. Schneider, caring for patients with post-operative hand injuries, Ms. Mackin saw the need for an organized approach to the care.
She met five other therapists at a national meeting who agreed. From then on, she devoted herself to organization, education, and promotion of what would become the specialty of hand therapy.
“Evelyn was a teacher and mentor during the infancy of our specialty practice, when few educational resources were available,” the American Society of Hand Therapists wrote in a Feb. 25 tribute.
In 1972, Ms. Mackin, Hunter, and Schneider founded the Hand Rehabilitation Center in Philadelphia. Now the Philadelphia Hand to Shoulder Center, it was one of the first facilities to integrate hand surgery and therapy, and it became the model for centers worldwide.
In 1974, the center organized a symposium called “Surgery and Rehabilitation of the Hand” that attracted expert speakers and an audience from around the world.
Now in its 46th year, the Philadelphia Hand Meeting, as it’s called, continues to set the standard for interdisciplinary excellence in hand-to-shoulder rehabilitation, said Anne Callahan, Ms. Mackin’s longtime friend and colleague.
The symposium led to the publication of a textbook, Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity, which is considered the bible of hand therapy. Ms. Mackin was co-editor of the first five editions.
She was also a founding member of the American Society of Hand Therapists and the first editor of the Journal of Hand Therapy, a peer-reviewed scientific publication that launched in 1987. She fought successfully to have it included in Index Medicus, a bibliography of high quality medical journals.
“That was the proudest accomplishment of her career. She worked hard for that,” Callahan said.
Ms. Mackin also served as the first president of the International Federation of Societies for Hand Therapy from 1986 to 1992. She lectured in Malaysia, France, England, the Netherlands, and Brazil.
Revered by her peers, she was often introduced at conferences as the “mother of hand therapy.” Grants, fellowships, and awards have been created in her name.
Even as she rose to prominence, Ms. Mackin remained committed to her patients in Philadelphia, those whose hands had been mangled in accidents or impaired due to disease such as rheumatoid arthritis. Her aim was to return them to active lives.
“She loved what she did; it never felt like a job,” said daughter-in-law Lynn Posbergh. “She was very giving of her time, and she wanted to help people. That’s why she went into physical therapy. She was a kind and caring woman.”
Born in Jersey City, N.J., and raised in Norristown, Ms. Mackin graduated from Norristown High School in 1940. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Physical Therapy in 1944.
She married Alexander Mackin in 1950 and had a son, Glenn. Her husband died in 1987. Her second husband, Robert T. Henry, died in 2007. Her son, a neurologist, died in 2018 at 64.
Ms. Mackin was active in promotional activities in her field until 2015. In retirement, she enjoyed travel, bridge, swimming, and golf, which she took up in her eighties. She liked spending summers with family at Beach Haven West.
She was an excellent cook. One signature dish was crab dip, and she prepared an Easter ham into her nineties. “She liked a nice glass of wine, saw the value of red lipstick, and often had a dog by her side,” her family said in a statement.
She is survived by two granddaughters and a nephew.
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, March 19, at Christ Church, 20 N. American St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19106. Burial is private.