Life Flight pioneer and celebrated Texas surgeon Duke dies at 86

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 25, 2015 11:38 PM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - James "Red" Duke, a celebrated Texas surgeon who helped develop the Life Flight helicopter emergency service and played a medical role during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, died on Tuesday at the age of 86, officials said.

Duke, known for his Texas twang and thick mustache, was one of the best-known surgeons in the state who brought changes to emergency medicine that influenced the field globally, said the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where Duke had worked.

"Dr Duke was a true pioneer – a talented and tireless surgeon, a dedicated and inspiring educator, and a friend and mentor to everyone he met," said Giuseppe Colasurdo, president of UTHealth and dean of UTHealth Medical School.

He earned his medical degree in 1960 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and was one of the doctors working at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas the day Kennedy was shot on Nov. 22, 1963.

When he arrived in the trauma room, he saw physicians working on Kennedy and he feared for the worst after seeing his wounds, he told media.

He was then asked to attend to a man shot in the attack, who was in the car with Kennedy. It was then Texas Governor John Connally, who survived.

In 1970, Duke moved to Afghanistan as a visiting professor and chairman of surgery at Nangarhar University School of Medicine. About two years later, he was back in Texas to work as a surgeon, UTHealth said.

He was also the host of a nationally syndicated TV show called "Texas Health Reports" where he gave down-home advice on topics ranging from cancer to the common cold.

Over the past few years, Duke worked with the U.S. military to improve battlefield medical techniques, it said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Robert Birsel)