Pa. Doctor Killed In Iraq

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Friends and family are mourning the death of a prominent Pennsylvania doctor in Iraq. Maj. John Pryor served in the Army Reserve and was the head of the trauma team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He was killed on Christmas Day.


Now we're going to hear about a trauma surgeon who was killed in Iraq on Christmas Day. Major John Pryor wrote and spoke eloquently about his work in Iraq and in Philadelphia. He was killed near Mosul where he was stationed with an army medical detachment. From Philadelphia, Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: John Pryor wasn't one to hide from a tough job. On September 11th, he rushed from Philadelphia to Manhattan to help treat the injured. A major in the army reserves, Pryor was serving his second tour of duty with a surgical unit in Iraq when he was killed by shrapnel from a mortar round. As he told NPR's Michel Martin last year, Pryor saw clear parallels between saving lives in Iraq and on a different battlefield.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Doctor JOHN PRYOR (Major, U.S. Army Reserves): Sometimes I can't tell whether I'm in Iraq or if I'm in West Philadelphia. Listen, I have to look at the ceiling and see if it's a tent above me or a solid ceiling. And, you know, unfortunately, what we've learned how to take care of people in Iraq, we really learned on the streets of America taking care of the civilian casualties over the last 20 or 30 years.

ROSE: As trauma program director at the hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Pryor treated hundreds of gunshot victims and it troubled him that those casualties never got as much attention as Americans killed in Iraq.

Dr. PRYOR: There's always thousands and thousands of kids being killed every year. But of course, we get used to that fact, and we have, you know, a lot of other things that we need to worry about, international events, and sometimes it gets off our radar screen. But now the violence seems to be getting worse again, and that's why I think it's back again.

ROSE: John Pryor did everything he could to put the violence at home back on the national radar screen contributing op-ed articles to the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. There's a war at home raging every day, he wrote in an article last year for the Post, filling our trauma centers with so many wounded children that it sometimes makes Baghdad seem like a quiet city in Iowa.

Doctor BILL SCHWAB (Chief, Division of Traumatology and Surgical Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania): This guys lived and breathed this creed of service and honor and duty. It just - all over his life, no matter what phase of his life you looked at.

ROSE: Bill Schwab is chief of trauma care at the University of Pennsylvania where he was Pryor's teacher and mentor. He says Pryor was a brilliant surgeon with big, gentle hands and tremendous devotion to his patients.

Dr. SCHWAB: My sadness is that we don't have John personally, but we don't have John as the next generation of leaders in American medicine. I think we've lost a great, great contributor for the future.

ROSE: Pryor also served as chief medical adviser to the Red Cross of southeastern Pennsylvania, which after, CEO Tom Foley says, Pryor knew he was signing up for a dangerous assignment in Iraq.

Mr. TOM FOLEY (CEO, Southeastern Pennyslvania Chapter, Red Cross): He was very aware that he was in harm's way, that just is the way this guy was from the time he was a young teenager.

ROSE: Pryor was certified in CPR by the time he was 14. He leaves behind a wife and three young children. As Pryor told NPR in 2007, he'd seen many families try to cope with the loss of a loved one from the other side.

(Soundbite of phone call)

Dr. PRYOR: It's 50 or 60 times a year I have to walk into that emergency room and tell somebody that their son is dead and that is the motivation for us to work harder.

ROSE: Funeral services for John Pryor are scheduled for Monday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia, which has hosted funerals for some of the city's most revered citizens. For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose in Philadelphia.

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