Thursday, November 1, 2007

Dr. G. Tom Shires Dead at 81


Dr. G. Tom Shires, a nationally acclaimed surgeon who operated on the Texas governor wounded in the same attack that killed President Kennedy in 1963 and whose research altered the treatment of trauma, surgical and burn patients in the United States, has died. He was 81.

Shires, who attended to Gov. John B. Connally in addition to Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, died of gastrointestinal cancer Oct. 18 at his home in Henderson, Nev., said his daughter Jacquelyn Blain.

For the last 10 years Shires had been professor of surgery and director of the University of Nevada School of Medicine's Trauma Institute in Las Vegas.

"Dr. Shires was more than just an outstanding doctor," John McDonald, dean of the school, said in a statement. He "cared deeply about his students, patients and profession."

In the 1960s, Shires' research led to the now common practice of giving saline solution to surgical and trauma patients. Shires and a colleague found that saltwater helps blood cells maintain their shape, enabling them to effectively transport oxygen throughout the body. The development helped lower the mortality rate for such patients.

By 1963, Shires had become chief of surgical services at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. On Nov. 22, the day Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade through that city, Shires was in Galveston, Texas, giving a talk at a meeting of the Western Surgical Assn. It was also Shires' birthday.

Texas rangers found Shires at the meeting and put him on a plane to Dallas.

"He got there just as they were wheeling President Kennedy out," Blain said.

Shires operated on Connally who, along with his wife, had been riding in the same car as the president and first lady.

Connally survived and went on to serve two more terms as governor.

One colleague wrote a book about the Kennedy assassination, but for Shires, "it was one of those things he just never liked to talk about," Blain said.

Born in Waco, Texas, in 1925, Shires graduated from the University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in 1944. Four years later he earned a medical degree at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School at Dallas.

Shires served two tours of active duty in the Navy, first as a research investigator at the Naval Medical Research Institute, National Naval Medical Center, then as associate surgeon on the U.S. Naval Hospital Ship Haven.

For 10 years beginning in 1965 Shires was consultant to the surgeon general of the Army. In 1975, after heading the surgery departments of the University of Texas and University of Washington medical schools, he moved to New York. There he served as dean of the medical college at Cornell University and surgeon in chief at New York Hospital.

Shires helped to establish major burn centers at Parkland, Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical College.

Last year, Shires received a federal grant to develop technology that would allow doctors working on wounded soldiers to give faster blood transfusions and prevent hypothermia. Shires was the principal investigator.

"It's incredible the amount of people that he's touched without people knowing who he is," Blain said.

In addition to Blain, Shires is survived by his wife, Dr. Robbie Jo Martin; another daughter, Jo Ellen Shires of Portland, Ore.; and a son, George Thomas III of Dallas.

Information about memorial donations will be posted at