In Memoriam: Dr. F. William Blaisdell, former chair of UCDMC Surgery Department

In Memoriam: Dr. F. William Blaisdell, former chair of UCDMC Surgery Department

Photo Credits: F. William Blaisdell served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the UC Davis Medical School and as Chief of Surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center and was regarded as the father of modern trauma care.

Founder of trauma care as a surgical speciality passes at age 92

Dr. F. William Blaisdell, “widely considered the founder of trauma care as a surgical speciality,” passed away on April 18 at the age of 92 from natural causes, according to the UC Davis Health website.

“He was one of the most remarkable human beings that I have ever met,” said Dr. Kathrin Troppmann, a surgeon with UC Davis Health. “There are many reasons for that. From a professional perspective, he was the ideal version of a surgical leader. That relates to his skills and his commitment to teaching, research, and clinical care of a patient.” 

Before serving as chair of the Department of Surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center from 1979 to 1995, Blaisdell established the “nation’s first dedicated, 24-hours-a-day, seven-day-a-week trauma program,” at San Francisco General Hospital, according to UC Davis Dateline

“The way he accomplished this was because of his persona as a surgeon,” Troppmann said. “Professionally, he expected the same from his trainees and faculty as he would expect from himself. He was a very patient teacher.” 

The Trauma Surgery service at San Francisco General Hospital, launched by Blaisdell, became “the model for urban trauma surgery systems worldwide,” according to the UC San Francisco website

Applying his expertise and experience, Blaisdell was able to transform the trauma program at UC Davis Medical Center.

“He came to UC Davis and applied the lessons he had learned in San Francisco in a very organized fashion,” Troppman said. 

According to the UC Davis Health website, the American College of Surgeons verified UC Davis Medical Center as a level I trauma center and a level I pediatric trauma center. UC Davis Health is one of less than 20 Level 1 trauma centers verified for both adults and pediatrics.

In addition to revolutionizing these two trauma programs, Blaisdell “set new standards in surgery and critical care medicine that improved wound and fracture treatment and reduced post-surgical infection, lung failure and DVT risk,” according to the UC Davis Health newsroom

“In clinical care, he was exceptional,” Troppmann said. “Not only was he competent in the knowledge of surgery, but he was very well studied. His knowledge-base was extraordinary. He also took care of patients as though they were his own family. I witnessed this on numerous occasions where he was very compassionate, honest, respectful, and professional in how he interacted with patients. He treated every patient exactly the same.” 

He also devised novel approaches for cardiac compression, liver and kidney trauma and bypass procedures. 

“Just to work side-by-side with him for two to three months was an incredible privilege and honor,” Troppman said. “I could see all aspects of his character that made him an icon in surgery.”

Blaisdell also spearheaded a “unique surgical education program to train military and civilian surgical residents side-by-side,” according to the UC Davis Health website. 

In December of 2006, Blaisdell’s dedication to medical education was recognized in the naming of the health sciences library on UC Davis’ Sacramento campus as “F. William Blaisdell, M.D., Medical Library.”

There is also a medical student scholarship fund named for Blaisdell, to “honor [him] and his impact on surgical education and training for an entire generation of physicians,” according to UC Davis Giving’s website. 

Blaisdell was also at the forefront of diversifying the field of surgery, by including women in surgery.

“As long as we were hardworking, competent and dedicated to the care of the patients, he wanted to teach us everything we knew,” Troppmann said. “In my intern class, in 1992, five of the six categorical residents were women, and that was at a time when it was lucky if other programs took their one token female. He hired women based on their qualifications, and at that time that wasn’t the case around the country. It didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman.”

In addition to his contributions to the UC Davis Medical Center, Blaisdell served as president for the following organizations: Society for Vascular Surgery, American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society and Uniformed Services Medical School Surgical Society.

He was awarded with the distinguished service awards from the American College of Surgeons and State of California. Additionally, he was recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award from Stanford University. 

Troppmann said Blaisdell was “kind and witty” — he “knew everybody’s name” — and he “became an icon in surgery.”

“Many of us saw the way he practiced as a surgeon, [and consider him] as a role model,” Troppmann said. “He worked harder than anybody else, and we all wanted to be like him.”

Written by: Aarya Gupta — campus@theaggie.org