News your connection to The Boston Globe

Dr. G. Tom Shires; expert on trauma treated JFK; 81


NEW YORK - Dr. G. Tom Shires, a leading surgeon and expert on trauma who carried out path-breaking research, helped create the largest burn center in New York City, and trained two generations of surgical leaders, died Thursday in Henderson, Nev. He was 81.

The cause was gastrointestinal cancer, said his son, George Thomas Shires III of Dallas.

At his death, Dr. Shires was director of the Trauma Institute of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, in Las Vegas. Previously, he headed the surgery department at several institutions, and was dean at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Earlier in his career, he was chief of surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, when President John F. Kennedy was taken there after being shot by Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 22, 1963. Although efforts to save Kennedy were futile, Dr. Shires successfully operated on Governor John B. Connally Jr. of Texas, who was wounded in the shooting.

It was Dr. Shires who issued a statement that evening saying, "Medically, it was apparent the president was not alive when he was brought in."

He added later: "I am absolutely sure he never knew what hit him."

In the late 1950s and '60s, Dr. Shires carried out research on the cellular physiology of shock that led to the recognition that trauma and surgical patients need to be given intravenous salt water solution, a practice followed today.

In New York in 1976, he helped establish the burn center at what is now known as NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. It is one of the nation's busiest burn centers and treated victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Dr. Roger W. Yurt, its director, said the burn center had treated more than 30,000 patients and now admits 1,000 a year.

Dr. Shires also played an important role in the 1970s in organizing the Emergency Medical Services in New York City to replace a system of independent ambulances.

George Thomas Shires was born in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1925, and grew up in Dallas. He attended the University of Texas, and graduated from UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1948. He served his residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital.

In 1957, he joined the faculty at the Southwestern Medical School and became chairman of the surgery department in 1961 at age 35. He was chairman of the surgery department at the University of Washington School of Medicine in 1974 and 1975 before joining Cornell University Medical College as chairman of the department of surgery, a post he held from 1975 to 1991; from 1987 to 1991 he was dean and provost for medical affairs. He was chairman of the department of surgery at Texas Tech University from 1991 to 1995.

Over the years, Dr. Shires trained more than 200 surgeons, and a number became chief surgeons or chairmen of surgery departments, said Dr. Philip S. Barie, professor of surgery at Cornell. He also published extensively.

In addition to his son, Dr. Shires leaves his wife of 58 years, Robbie Jo, of Henderson, Nev.; two daughters, Donna Jacquelyn Blain and Jo Ellen, both of Portland, Ore.; and three grandchildren.

More from