In memoriam: Renowned trauma surgeon and former COT Chair, Erwin Thal, MD, FACS

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Dr. Thal

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Dr. Thal with Donald D. Trunkey, MD, FACS, in the 2014 edition of photos they posed for annually at the Trauma Dinner.

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Dr. Thal with Donald D. Trunkey, MD, FACS, in the 2014 edition of photos they posed for annually at the Trauma Dinner.

Erwin R. Thal, MD, FACS, 78, a world-renowned trauma surgeon, and a dedicated Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) for more than 43 years, died of heart failure December 13 at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, University of Texas, Dallas. Dr. Thal chaired the ACS Committee on Trauma (1986–1990), served as President of the ACS North Texas Chapter (1990–1991), and as a member of the ACS Board of Governors (1998–2004).

He led the surgical emergency department of Parkland Health and Hospital System, Dallas (1970–1994), and was appointed medical director of Parkland’s day surgery unit in 1995. He chaired the surgical postgraduate course for the department (1981–2001) and was coordinator of surgical continuing medical education (1993–2002).

Dr. Thal received his undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus, in 1958 and his doctor of medicine degree from the OSU College of Medicine in 1962.

Dr. Thal completed his general surgery residency at Parkland Hospital in 1969, interrupted by two years of service in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) as a flight medical officer. He was awarded the USAF Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service.

After completing his residency, Dr. Thal joined the faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (UTSMS), Dallas, as an instructor of surgery and was promoted to professor in 1982. From 1988 until his death, Dr. Thal served as the director of the UTSMS’ Willed Body Program. Dr. Thal was also a researcher who studied lead poisoning from retained bullet wounds and techniques to explore the abdominal cavities of trauma patients.

In the course of a 21-year relationship with the Dallas Fire Department, Dr. Thal developed the basic emergency management technician and advanced paramedic course for the metropolitan area. He was the recipient of many honors throughout his career, including an honorary fire chief appointment in 1985, a place on the Giants of Parkland Surgery wall, the 2000 Minnie Stevens Piper Professor award given to outstanding Texas college professors, an honorary fellowship in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 2009, and numerous Excellence in Teaching Awards from UTSMS.

An avid OSU alumni who flew back for every Buckeyes home football game over the past 25 years, Dr. Thal often told friends and family members that he wanted the OSU marching band to play at his funeral. After one of his friends extended that invitation to the OSU band, 10 brass players traveled to Dallas from Columbus to perform three songs at the funeral of the lifelong fan. The Thal family covered the band members’ travel and other expenses.

Dr. Thal’s survivors include his son, James G. Thal, and his wife Rhonda; daughter Barbara Potts and her husband Steven W. Potts; daughter-in-law Kathy D. Thal; and seven grandchildren. His wife of 37 years, Carolyn, and his son, Jeffrey, preceded him in death.

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