By retired Col. John Holcomb, MD and C. William Schwab, MDDecember 30, 2008
Trauma surgeon Maj. John Pryor was killed on Christmas day in Mosul, Iraq, of wounds from a mortar round.
As of Dec. 26, 4,823 members of the U.S. military have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. These figures are numbing, and can almost become impersonal, until someone you know is one of them. With Pryor's death, four physicians have died in this war.
Pryor completed his general surgical training at the State University of New York in 1999. He then went to the University of Pennsylvania and after his fellowship in trauma surgery and critical care he joined the faculty of the Department of Surgery and was serving as the Trauma Program director for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Pryor was regarded by all as a leader in U.S. trauma surgery. He often spoke of the emotional challenge in balancing "his dedication to family and country."
After 9/11 many talked of serving our country and others have dedicated their research efforts to improving the delivery of care of our troops. He didn't need to talk about it, he lived it.
Pryor characteristically turned words into action and soon after 9/11 joined the U.S. Army Reserve, bringing his skills as a trauma surgeon to bear for all the war wounded.
He had just started his second deployment, this time with a Forward Surgery Team. His first deployment was with the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, during 2006. During this time, many of us received patient transfers from him, and his outstanding care and surgical expertise was obvious.
After his deployment ended, he sent a report, detailing where improvements in our system of care could be made. From such a young officer, we were amazed at his insightful and thoughtful approach to very difficult problems. Many of his suggestions were implemented. Subsequently he became very active in trying to improve pre-deployment trauma training and the fruitful exchange between civilian academic and military surgery.
Pryor's feelings on serving in war were captured in a piece he wrote in 2006. His words eloquently capture the range of emotions and passion of all who have had the privilege of caring for combat casualties. Pryor's mentor, Dr. Bill Schwab, described him in the University of Pennsylvania announcement: ..."JP was a magical man, with boundless energy and goodness."
He was a devoted son, husband, father, colleague and friend. He was an outstanding physician, gifted surgeon, teacher and mentor. At his core were many great values, but his passion was for service to others and to give back something to each and every one of us, everyday.
His favorite quote, by Albert Schweitzer, hangs in his office and it captures the essence of John Pryor: "...Seek always to do some good, somewhere. Every man has to seek in his own way to realize his true worth. You must give some time to your fellow man. Even if it's a little thing, do something for those who need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you don't live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here, too."
Pryor's sudden death while serving as a physician on the battlefield is a very personal loss for the many military and civilian "brothers" who have worked side by side with him in the FST, CSH, civilian ED, ORs and ICUs.
This loss is all the more stark coming so unexpectedly in this holiday season. All of us have lost one of our "brothers."
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Godspeed, John Pryor.
(Contributed by retired Col. John B. Holcomb, MD and C. William Schwab, MD.)