Dr. Donald D. Trunkey, Renowned Trauma Surgeon and Former Chief of Surgery at SFGH, Passes Away at 81

The UCSF Naffziger Surgical Society is saddened to report the recent passing of our friend and colleague, Dr. Donald Trunkey, who passed away at the age of 81 several days ago.

Dr. Trunkey was an internationally renowned trauma surgeon and is considered the father of modern trauma systems. He served as Chief of Surgery at San Francisco General Hospital from 1978 until 1986. He was then appointed Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at the OHSU School of Medicine, a position he held until 2001. 

Following a first-year internship at the University of Oregon School of Medicine and a two-year stint in Germany as a general medical officer in the U.S. Army, Dr. Trunkey completed his general surgery training at UCSF in 1971. Dr. Trunkey returned to UCSF a year later after an NIH fellowship as a member of the faculty, pursuing a career in trauma surgery. He served as Chief of the Burn Center at San Francisco General and established a laboratory to study mechanisms of shock at the cellular level. Dr. Trunkey was a founding member of the Homeland Security Department as well as the National Foundation for Trauma Care. He served as Chair of The American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma and helped establish the Advanced Trauma Life Support Course. His dedication is to the field is captured in Dr. Trunkey: An Advocate for Injured Patients, a Legend in Trauma Care

Dr. Trunkey was a towering figure on the Trauma Service at San Francisco General. His yeoman service, innovation, and leadership at the General were memorialized by Dr. William Schechter, Professor Emeritus at UCSF, in The History of The Surgical Service at San Francisco General Hospital, “The Trunkey Years, 1978-1986”.  

Dr. Trunkey served in the first Gulf War in 1991, stationed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. His commentary in the March 1993 edition of Archives of Surgery, “Lessons Learned,” served as a model for how U.S. Department of Defense trauma personnel are trained today.

Dr. Peggy Knudson, one of Dr. Trunkey’s protégés, currently Professor of Surgery at UCSF and Medical Director for the Military Health System (MHS) Strategic-ACS Partnership, recalled his outsized influence on her career: 

“Dr. Donald Trunkey was a father figure to me in my professional life. He encouraged me to dedicate my career to the care of the injured back in the day when trauma surgery as a discipline was still in its infancy. I had the great privilege of traveling and teaching with him across Australia and again in Germany where he worked tirelessly to assure the highest care possible for injured American troops. Trunkey as a figure was larger than life and the news of his passing has saddened the trauma community around the world.” 

The UCSF Naffziger Society community has lost a great friend and colleague. Our heartfelt condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues. 

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