Tuesday, May 19, 2009 | 2 a.m.
When Dr. Joseph Rojas arrived at Nellis Air Force Base, his plan was to return with his family to his native Louisiana to start a private obstetrics and gynecology practice when his hitch was up.
But the young captain developed a fondness for this desert community and its people, who were sorely in need of his medical talents.
So after leaving his position as deputy commander at the base hospital, Rojas started a local private practice, opening his first office on East Sahara Avenue in 1972, spending the next quarter of a century providing health care for thousands of Las Vegas women and training a generation of local OB-GYNs.
Dr. Joseph A. Rojas, longtime chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the Nevada School of Medicine and the 2001-02 Clark County Medical Society’s Physician of the Year, died Sunday at his Las Vegas home. He was 75.
His family said the cause was heart failure. Rojas has spent the past few years on dialysis after the failure of the transplanted kidney he received 10 years ago, his family said.
During his storied career, Rojas served as chief of obstetrics and gynecology for University Medical Center, where he established the school’s OB-GYN residency program. He also served as chief of staff at Women’s Hospital, Sunrise Hospital, UMC and Valley Hospital. He was the first chief of staff at Summerlin Hospital.
Dr. Paul Wilkes, a Las Vegas perinatologist (high-risk pregnancy physician), said he learned a lasting lesson in how to treat patients from Rojas, his mentor.
“The one thing I carry with me from Dr. Rojas is to treat every patient with dignity, respect and compassion, regardless of their position in life,” Wilkes said. “To Dr. Rojas, it did not matter whether he was treating patients whose names appeared on the Strip marquees or women who had no money. He had a fundamental respect for humanity and cared for all of his patients the same.”
Dr. Don Roberts, a local OB-GYN for 16 years, said Rojas was a pioneer in Southern Nevada obstetrics and gynecology, becoming one of the area’s first board certified OB-GYNs and one of the first gynecology oncology surgeons.
“He taught other doctors on a personal and individual basis. He was firm but fair with his trainees,” said Roberts, a former student of Rojas’.
Tom Rojas, the third eldest of Rojas’ six children, said that after his family, Dr. Rojas “had three loves — medicine, his patients and teaching other doctors.
“Because he had decided to stay here after he got out of the service, my father had a passion for trying to keep the doctors he had trained here to build a good, strong source of qualified physicians to serve his community,” Tom Rojas said.
In 2002 that large source of local doctors was threatened by skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs that caused a number of doctors, particularly OB-GYNs, to pull up stakes and start over in other states.
Rojas was among the veteran physicians to speak out in an attempt to stem the number of doctors leaving Nevada. Those efforts helped spur state lawmakers and the governor to step in with measures aimed at reducing the cost of malpractice insurance.
Born Dec. 9, 1933, in Alexandria, La., to Joseph Edward Rojas and his wife, Carroll Buehler, Rojas graduated at age 16 from New Orleans’ Jesuit High School. He attended Loyola University of the South and the Louisiana State University School of Medicine, where he earned a medical degree in 1957.
Rojas completed his obstetrics and gynecology residency at Tulane University and joined the Air Force. At Nellis he served as chief of obstetrics and gynecology from 1965 to 1972.
Rojas was a practicing physician until 1997 and was in charge of the Nevada School of Medicine’s OB-GYN department until his retirement two years ago.
On June 12, 2001, in a ceremony at Caesars Palace, the Clark County Medical Society presented Rojas the Harold Lee Feikes Physician of the Year Award for serving the community with excellent care. He also was a past recipient of the Nevada State Medical Association Distinguished Physician Award.
Rojas was a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, founder and past president of the Clark County OB/GYN Society and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He also was a member of the Bohemian Club of San Francisco and a world traveler, who long visited Paris at least once a year, his family said.
Services for the Las Vegas resident of 46 years will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church, 1811 Pueblo Vista Drive. Visitation will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday at that church.
Rojas is survived by his wife, Mona Marie Rojas; four sons, Dr. Joseph A. Rojas II and his wife, Kirsten, Michael Rojas and his wife, Lorie, Thomas Rojas and John Rojas; two daughters, Lisa Tobin-Rojas and Caryl Rojas; a brother, George Rojas, and his wife, Joy; a sister, Joanne Feigler; and eight grandchildren, Joseph Rojas III, Adriana Rojas, Alexandria Rojas, Aubrey Rojas, Alexander Rojas, Juliette Rojas, Taylor Tobin and Nicholas Tobin.