American Surgical Association Transactions

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1937 - 2019

Donald Dean Trunkey, MD, YEAR

Donald D. Trunkey was a truly unique individual, in many ways a "free spirit" but grounded by lofty ideals and laudable principles. Growing up in "farm country" in Eastern Washington instilled him with the work ethic, persistence and integrity needed to be the future successful leader he became. Don was a large person and, in many ways was larger than life. Don believed in leadership through service and he followed this tenet throughout his career and numerous leadership positions, including his Presidency of the American Surgical Association. He instilled confidence on first meeting and garnered the respect of all for his equanimity, integrity and his unwavering commitment to his ideals and "what was right". His coy smile and warm upbeat personality along with his true love and appreciation for his fellow human was always present and freely shared with old and new friends around the world. Don was a true friend and mentor for an entire generation of trauma surgeons.

Don Trunkey was born in Oakesdale, WA and he later went on to graduate from Washington State University in Pullman, WA. He earned his M.D. degree from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1963. Following medical training, he completed a rotating internship at the University of Orgon, under the direction of Dr. J. Englebert Dunphy, who inspired him to become a surgeon. After his internship, Dr. Trunkey joined the US Army and served in Bamberg, Germany for two years. He was then recruited by Dr. Dunphy, whom had moved to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as the Chair. During his residency his rotations at the San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) under the mentorship of Dr. F. William Blaisdell led to his interest in a career in trauma. After his residency he spent a year at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas involved in trauma research on cellular function in shock with Drs. Shires, Carrico and Canizaro. He returned to SFGH in 1972 going on to become Chief in 1978. After serving for eight years he accepted the Chair of Surgery at OHSU and became the Mackenzie Professor in 1986, which he held for 15 years.

Dr. Trunkey achieved national and international stature as a trauma surgeon due to his research, publications and larger-than-life persona. However, Don had a chronic problem. Don was unable to accept the unacceptable. He was driven to improve the prevailing standard of care of the injured. And, to rectify the inadequacies and inefficiencies, he became a change agent despite any existing resistance and potential for personal repercussions. On his own strength of character and conviction, he has led to numerous paradigm shifts and improved the care of thousands of injured. While at SFGH, he published a seminal study comparing the disparity in preventable deaths due to trauma in Southern California compared to the organized system of care provided at SFGH in 1979. His recognition of need for consistent high-quality care in standard-driven trauma centers as regional resources for an overall systematic approach to trauma care led to the current modern trauma centers and systems of care.

During his tenure on the Committee on Trauma (COT) of the American College of Surgeons (ACS, where he served as Chair form 1982 to 1986), Dr. Trunkey and a group of his contemporaries established the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course, which has become the world-wide standard for the initial care of the injured patient. Later, he virtually single handedly created the Trauma Center Verification process within the COT, a process that has been and continues to be utilized to confirm trauma center level of function and improve care and outcomes from trauma throughout the United States. Don and a group of international colleagues then created the Definitive Surgery for Trauma Care course that focuses on operative care training following the initial resuscitation defined by ATLS and has been provided to thousands of surgeons around the world and adaptable to low resource economic settings.

Demonstrating a deep commitment to our wounded warriors and military medicine throughout his career, Dr. Trunkey was activated to serve in Desert Storm as commander of the U.S. Army hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After his experiences in Desert Storm, he wrote a commentary, "Lessons Learned" that called out the weaknesses in the military surgical readiness and argued for a major restructuring of training and maintenance of competence in military medicine. His proposals are now encoded in federal legislation as an expectation for our wounded warriors. And for these and so many other advances in trauma care he has become known as the "Father of Modern Trauma Care Systems". In 2010, he was recognized for his life long career of advancing the care of the injured by his election to the Presidency of the American Surgical Association the American College of surgeons honored him with the ACS Distinguished Service Award in 2005 and, in 2018, as an "Icon in Surgery". During his career, he served as a Director of the American Board of Surgery, President of the Society of University Surgeons, and President of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

Don was a great friend personally and to numerous other colleagues, a trusted confidant and life-long mentor. He was always available, always willing to provide insight and advice and to support my career and that of so many other beneficiaries of his willing mentorship. A great personal honor was being given the Jane and Donald D. Trunkey Chair in Trauma at the University of Washington as Chief of Surgery at Harborview Medical Center. An honor and a challenge for me to always work and strive to make Harborview the highest quality trauma center possible and worthy of his gift and his ideals.

At home, Don was recognizable as the one with a parrot habitually on his shoulder. But above all Don's highest priority was family. A dedicated father and husband for nearly 61 years to his life-long love, Jane. Jane was the omnipresent support and sanity throughout Don's far flung career. Our love and prayers reach out to Jane in this time of great loss –one shared by the thousands he touched in so many, many ways. His tireless devotion to his high ideals and drive for the improvement in care of the injured will live on in the multitude of survivors of severe injury that have benefited from his impact on their care.

Additional information on the life and achievements of Dr. Trunkey here.