Professor Donald Trunkey MD FACS FRACS(Hon)
Trauma Surgeon

Donald D Trunkey would be regarded by many as the founder of modern trauma care. His “Two Counties” paper published in 1979 convincingly showed that where a trauma system existed the mortality was substantially lower than where it did not. It was this paper, more than any other in the contemporary literature, which led to the drive to systematised trauma care everywhere around the world.

Professor Trunkey was born in Eastern Washington and went to medical school at the University of Washington. He served in the US Army in the mid 60s in Germany and completed his surgical training in San Francisco. In 1986, he was recruited back to Oregon Health Science University where he served as the Mackenzie Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery from 1986 – 2001.

Don was a giant on the US trauma stage but also a frequent traveller who spread his knowledge and influence around the world. Apart from his Honorary FRACS (1998)  he was also an honorary fellow of the surgical colleges of England, Ireland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, South Africa and Brazil. He first came to Australasia in 1982 for meetings in Brisbane and Auckland. In that year he also spent some time in Dunedin interacting with local clinicians and spreading the trauma system message. He was a highly sought-after speaker at conferences around the world and over the years spoke many times in Australasia and taught on a number of Definitive Surgical Trauma Care courses. His last visit was as energetic as his first, flying from Portland to Perth to contribute to a Definitive Surgical Trauma Care course and speak at the annual conference of the Australasian Trauma Society.

Don and his wife Jane enjoyed wine and spent many wonderful times visiting vineyards in California, the Granite Belt in Queensland, the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, the Barossa and McLaren Vale in South Australia and the Margaret River in Western Australia. He was even an expert on the Tokaji wines of Hungary and had his own label Pinot Noir from grapes grown in Washington State. He was also an excellent cook.

Don was inspirational, enigmatic, friendly and forceful all at the same time. He had a great sense of humour. If ever anyone has made and left a mark on trauma management, it was Don Trunkey. He influenced generations of young doctors, in surgery and in other disciplines, to improve trauma outcomes and contribute to the teaching and delivery of optimal trauma care.

Donald Trunkey was a legend in every aspect of the word and the trauma community will be much poorer with his passing. His legacy however, of improved trauma systems, trauma care and trauma outcomes is very much alive, and society as a whole will be grateful for the career-long contribution of this trauma giant.


Obituary provided by Ian Civil, FRACS, Past President