American Surgical Association Transactions

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1938 - 2018

Thomas L. Wachtel, M.D., 1938 - 2018

Thomas L. Wachtel, M.D. passed away on March 6, 2018, in his home. He was dedicated to his family and leaves behind his wife Carolyn, children John, David and Julianne, 3 brothers and 10 grandchildren. Dr. Wachtel was a true renaissance man. His interests, contributions, dedication, commitment, service and compassion were evident throughout his life in everything he did. His family, friends, profession, colleagues including students and residents, patients and the community of the world are the beneficiaries of his efforts, attitude, example and accomplishments in his life.

Dr. Wachtel was born on July 25, 1938 in Mansfield, OH. He received his undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University, his medical degree from St. Louis University and completed a Masters in medical management from Tulane University. Dr. Wachtel was a trauma surgeon and medical director of trauma centers in San Diego (UCSD and Sharp), Denver, Phoenix and Scottsdale in a career that spanned over 30 years. He was a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Arizona and a retired Captain (USN) who served two tours in Vietnam and spent a total of 37 years in the service. He published two novels Melt My Wings and Vietnam, I Love You. This was in addition to 22 chapters in medical texts and more than 165 publications on trauma, burns, nutrition and surgical education.

He was a member of The American Surgical Association, American College of Surgeons, American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, The Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, Life Member, and multiple other local, national and international surgical organizations. He was President of the American Burn Association in 1990.

Professionally, he was a practicing general, trauma, burn, acute care surgeon in addition to practicing surgical critical care. He served in multiple clinical leadership positions including trauma program medical director, burn unit director as well as surgical residency program director among others. He was an excellent teacher, surgeon, mentor and carried very deeply for his patients, trainees and members of his teams. Dr. Wachtel demonstrated true respect, compassion, caring, ownership and interest in his patients and their families. He taught and led by example and positively influenced patient care provided by students, residents, nurses and all members of the team.

His dedication to his patients, trainees and team are best described by this quote:

"Dr. Wachtel was one of my mentors and greatly influenced my career and practice. I met him in 1985 as a medical student and subsequently became one of his surgical residents. To him I owe a debt that I can never repay."

In 2008, one of his former trainees was the attending trauma surgeon waiting for the helicopter arrival of a 68-year-old man involved in a motor vehicle crash who was now quadriplegic. As the trauma team performed the primary assessment, he looked at his former trainee and said, "Hi Corey". When told he would need to be intubated, Dr. Wachtel said, "Do what you have to do Corey". Dr. Wachtel subsequently underwent multiple operations and was eventually able to go home to be cared for by his wife Carolyn and others.

His attitude remained positive, and he continued to be engaged in life with his family and friends and an example of accepting, adjusting and learning to live with his spinal cord injury. He continued to write a book tentatively titled "I'm Your Patient" which he had started before his injury. His granddaughter, Sophia, is working on completing his book.

Dr. Wachtel survived almost nine years after his spinal cord injury with the help of his family and friends. The world has lost a wonderful person and member of our surgical community who has touched more lives than he will ever know.