Orthodontic community remembers Dr. Stephen Tracey
ORANGE, Calif., USA: The orthodontic profession mourns the loss of one its most beloved clinicians, innovators and educators, Dr. Stephen Tracey, who had been in private practice in Upland, Calif., for 30 years. On April 30, 2016, he succumbed to an illness that he had been fighting for the past year; he was 57 years old.*
An innovator par excellence, Tracey continually pioneered the use of advanced technologies to benefit patients and clinical treatment, including the early use of lasers for soft-tissue contouring with proficiency certification in both diode and Er:TAG lasers. He was an early adopter of temporary skeletal anchorage, CBCT and digital orthodontics combined with 3-D appliance fabrication.
He was also a forerunner in utilizing sleep apnea therapies. Having recognized national trends in plastic surgery that translated to orthodontics as early as the 1990s, he made aesthetics the cornerstone of his practice.
“We will all remember his energy, his desire to delve into new ideas, and the ingenious ways he used and leveraged new technologies to help serve patients for better outcomes and lives,” said Patrik Eriksson, president of Ormco Corp. “Given that his practice was close to Ormco, he graciously made himself available to treat Ormco employees and their families in his practice and in the Kavo Kerr Group Learning Center. By conducting a myriad of clinical evaluations for Ormco, he provided insightful feedback on existing and developing products including Inspire ICE, Insignia Advanced Smile Design and most notably, the VectorTAS miniscrew system, where he was integral in the system’s development and doctor education program. Orthodontics has lost a great pioneer and leader, leaving thousands of colleagues and friends bereft all over the world.”
Tracey was known as an adventurer, and his personal exploits included shark diving in the Bahamas, swimming from Alcatraz to San Francisco, a 110-mile hike in the jungles of the Amazon, summiting Mt. Rainier and competing in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii.
“Getting into the Ironman competition was one of Steve’s proudest achievements,” remembers Dr. Jim Hilgers, of Mission Viejo, Calif. “He was a decent runner, a good biker, but a terrible swimmer. He had to learn how to swim efficiently to get his time down enough to qualify, and that was Steve. Never say never!”
Tracey earned his DDS in 1983 and his MS in orthodontics in 1986 from Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, where he served as assistant professor for many years. He published over 30 articles in various professional journals, including the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics, the Mediterranean Journal of Orthodontics and Clinical Impressions. He also coauthored six chapters in three different textbooks, including what is arguably the world’s most widely used orthodontic textbook, “Orthodontics: Current Principles and Techniques.”
A visiting professor at Ferrara University, Ferarra, Italy, Tracey had served on the editorial advisory board of Orthodontic Products. He was also known for his marketing prowess, both locally and nationally, on such radio and television shows as “The Doctors,” “Best of LA,” “Evening Edition,” “It’s Your Call” and “Heartbeat of the City.”
An international speaker who had lectured in 23 countries on six continents, Tracey was known for his riveting teaching and presentation skills, the likes of which the orthodontic profession may never see again. As Dr. John R. “Bob” Smith, of Winter Springs, Fla., remembers, “The first time I heard Steve speak, he burst from behind the curtains with pounding music, artificial fog and strobing lights. This incredibly fit man hit the stage like Tony Robbins, boom headset microphone and all. His resonant, enthusiastic voice and powerful body language had never been seen before in an orthodontic speaker. At that moment, I knew he was destined to be a leader in our profession.”
Dr. Jeff Kozlowski, of Lyme, Conn., underscored that idea, commenting, “One of the many things I loved about Steve is the way he lived. He was larger than life in every way—in his laugh, in his knowledge, in his passion for the field of orthodontics. He was one of two doctors who when I was in my residency made a huge impact on how I saw the profession.”
“What most people know best about Steve was his whimsical, childlike side — a side most of us lose, Jim Hilgers reminisced. “His gifts to me were never usual — no watches — always something playful — a drone, taking a parachute jump and a ride in a bi-plane. He also liked to shock and delight. Once, when we were giving our ‘Adventures in Orthodontics’ courses, Steve filmed then showed a video of every detail of our morning routine — showering, shaving, brushing our teeth, doing sit-ups. The participants loved this silliness. He always added an Easter egg (an unsuspected digital message — an inside joke) in our teaching CDs. One was of him walking out of an outhouse with tissue paper trailing from his loafer. That cracked me up."
“But the most beautiful thing about Steve was his emotional maturity,” Hilgers continued.” What people really liked, what made him so approachable was that he was humble about his faults and even open about admitting them. He actively worked on them. And he never judged other people’s faults. It was like watching perfection softened by the kind glow of humility.”
Dr. Stuart Frost, of Mesa, Ariz., confirmed the dual sides of Tracey’s nature. “As a thank you for a favor I’d done for him, Steve sent me the ‘Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse’ and a book, ‘The Go-Giver.’ These gifts reflect who Steve was. The first — that crazy guide — was typical Steve, something playful and unexpected, silly and fun. The basic premise of ‘The Go-Giver’ is that to be successful in any aspect of life — your relationships, your practice — what you give must always be greater in value than what you receive. Working from this premise, your relationships will be fuller, your finances will improve. Steve was incredibly charitable, living the premise of this book. He was all about serving other people — right up to the end of his life. We will all miss him terribly and feel blessed how he shared his knowledge and passion — for orthodontics and for life.”
Tracey is survived by his wife of five years, Dar; his daughters, Laura Tracey and Jennifer Jackson, her husband, Mark and their children, Rusiana, Levi and Marigold; his step-daughter, Chazlyn Macias, and step-sons, Drew Macias, Vincent Macias and Lorenzo Macias and Lorenzo’s wife, Stephanie Macias, and their children, Ronen, Addison and Sydney.
Tracey was a devoted family man and was known to spoil his beloved grandchildren. Tracey was comforted in his last days when Dr. Jeremy Hoff, of Riverside, Calif., a close family friend, stepped in to take over his practice. A memorial service was held Saturday, May 14, at Life Bible Fellowship Church in Upland, Calif. Charitable gifts can be made to the Life Bible Fellowship Church, which he dearly loved.