I first met Dr. Trunkey when he was on a T.V. show on Lifeline in 1978. I was a resident, I was thinking of going into trauma and seeing him being followed around the hospital at San Francisco General and actualize the job, talk about coordination of care to the patient, get after people that weren’t doing their job, and generally be a model of leadership created a distinction that I had not seen in my residency and modeled what I had been thinking about.
Dr. Trunkey was a surgeons’ surgeon. He was big – yet jovial, he was charismatic – yet kind, and he called it like he saw it. He championed things and pushed for things, even when they created controversy. Those of us following in his footsteps saw that as a model for how to implement a program that would challenge the very fabric of health care delivery. His leadership affected hospital-based systems, prehospital care, the American College of Surgeons, and essentially everything he touched. He was certainly no man’s fool but tolerated people whose heart was in the right place in working toward the ultimate goal.
My next encounter with Dr. Trunkey was again when I was a resident, I had decided to go into trauma and ATLS was being offered. We put on a course at the University of California which was led by Norm McSwain and Skip Collicott. Don Trunkey and Frank Lewis came out of the North at San Francisco General, both as leadership icons and participated in our course. Again, rather than as many trauma leaders at the time did, he did not dismiss ATLS but saw it as an opportunity for creating a common language. He threw himself into the course in all respects and we all had a great time getting to know him and following his leadership.
Above all I recall his emblematic commitment to the trauma patient and their care. He led this through his positive influence perhaps more than can be currently measured. He did it with a sense of fun, a sense of purpose, and a devotion to the intellect and history that made things the reason to proceed. One seldom meets a person who when you mention their name gets the same reaction. For Dr. Turnkey it is immediate respect and a broad smile showing his friendly nature and his ‘never take yourself too seriously’ attitude. America trauma is different, as is trauma around the world because of his major contributions over forty years.