During World War II, Perry was a physical therapist for the U.S. Army, where she treated patients stricken by polio. But she wanted to “make my own decisions,” she said later, and went to medical school to become not just a doctor, but an orthopedic surgeon. “Most doctors go into medicine to save lives,” she said. “I’m more interested in getting handicapped persons functioning again.” In 1955 she joined the staff of the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif., where she and Dr. Vernon Nickel developed a new device to help those getting spinal surgery: the “halo” — a metal ring screwed into the skull to keep the head in line, which is still in use today. The surgeries she and Dr. Nickel developed helped paralyzed polio patients regain mobility.
Years later, when polio patients had continuing trouble — “post-polio syndrome” — Dr. Perry threw herself back into study and became one of the world’s leading experts on the syndrome, and wrote the definitive textbook on the subject. “She was a giant, a revered figure in her field,” said Greg Waskul, executive director of the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. “Most of the great doctors have one specialty, but she came up with many new theories and exercises to keep people moving.” For instance, after a stroke she was unable to do surgery anymore, so in 1968 she founded Rancho’s Pathokinesiology Laboratory to study gait analysis — the simple, yet complex, task of walking, and how to help patients who have difficulty doing it. More recently, Dr. Perry developed Parkinson’s disease, but kept practicing medicine at “Rancho” until her death. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never worked,” she once said. “I do what I like to do.” She died at her home on March 11, at 94.