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September 2, 2014

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G.T. SHIRES, 1925-2007

Dr. G. Thomas Shires did not have time to think about making history. He was too busy trying to repair damage done by bullets that had ripped into the flesh and organs of Texas Gov. John B. Connally Jr., and presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

But he did find the time to assess the fatal wounds of John Kennedy and tried to comfort a grieving nation by letting people know that, given the nature of the injuries, the president likely did not suffer.

"I am absolutely sure he never knew what hit him," Shires announced after the Nov. 22, 1963, tragedy in Dallas.

Thirty-six years later in Southern Nevada, Shires again distinguished himself , by conducting a study on why people commit suicide and how to prevent it, which heightened awareness statewide about the taboo subject.

George Thomas Shires, director of the Trauma Institute of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, died Oct. 19 in Henderson of gastrointestinal cancer. He was 81.

No services have been announced.

"Dr. Shires will be remembered as one of the nation's top surgeons of the 1900s," said Dr. John Fildes, chairman of the University of Nevada Trauma Department and trauma director of University Medical Center.

"He had an encyclopedic knowledge of surgery, specifically in trauma. He could always see the big picture. He was a great leader. People enjoyed working with - and learning from - him."

Fildes and Shires were co-directors of the medical school's Suicide Prevention Center, which was disbanded a few years ago upon completion of the suicide study .

The study's findings, Fildes said, urged the destigmatizing of suicide, encouraged people to talk about it openly and stressed to the public that suicide is preventable.

Shires also worked locally at improving emergency services for children and auto crash safety.

At the time of his death, Shires was working through a government grant to develop a blood-warming device to help save the lives of soldiers wounded on the battlefield.

Ground breaking work was nothing new for Shires.

He conducted research in the late 1950s that found that trauma and surgical patients benefit greatly from intravenous saltwater - saline - solution , and he helped create the largest burn treatment center in New York City in the mid-1970s.

But despite his research, Shires likely will be remembered for those fateful days in American history when he was chief of surgery at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

He was at the hospital , working on his birthday, when Kennedy was brought in after being shot by Oswald. Shires and other doctors immediately determined that efforts to save Kennedy would be futile.

Instead, Shires successfully operated on Connally, who had been in the same vehicle as Kennedy and was hit by a bullet that had passed through Kennedy's body.

Shires also operated on Oswald after Jack Ruby shot the assassin on Nov. 24, 1963, as police were transferring Oswald from a cell at the police station to the jail. Oswald's stomach wounds were massive , and he died.

Born Nov. 22, 1925, in Waco, Texas, Shires was raised in Dallas and attended the University of Texas. He graduated from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas in 1948. In 1957 Shires 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.

In 1976 Shires helped establish the burn center at what is now known as New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center - one of the nation's busiest burn centers, where victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were treated.

Shires also played an important role in the 1970s in organizing emergency medical services in New York, replacing a system of independent, noncoordinated ambulances.

He was chairman of Texas Tech University's surgery department from 1991 to 1995.

Shires trained more than 200 surgeons and wrote books on surgery and trauma.

He is survived by his wife, Robbie Jo Shires, of Henderson; a son , George Thomas Shires III of Dallas; two daughters, Donna Jacquelyn Blain and Jo Ellen Shires, both of Portland, Ore.; and three grandchildren.

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