Local surgeon retires after 40 years of service to community
JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) — A traumatic event in his own life set Dr. Ed Gallagher on a path of medical service that included time as a medic in Vietnam and spanned 40 years as a surgeon in Onslow County.
Gallagher was nine years old when he was seriously injured after being hit by a car driven by a drunk driver. Even at that young age, he knew from his experience at the hospital that he wanted to become a doctor.
“He hurt me so bad and I made the statement, ‘I want to go and be a doctor and prove it can be done without all that pain,’” Gallagher said. “I was determined I was going to be a doctor.”
It was a critical turning point in his life and Gallagher went on to graduate from the University of North Carolina Medical School. He’d started his residency there when a phone call came that would take his career in another direction: the war in Vietnam.
“I was in the operating room and the phone rang and they wanted to see if I wanted to know my draft status,” he recalled.
Gallagher, originally from Charlotte, was the first doctor from Mecklenburg County to be drafted, and he served with the Army Airborne.
Gallaher laughs when he is asked about his first patient in Vietnam — a German shepherd.
“We didn’t have veterinarians running around,” he said.
He also saw his share of action on the front lines. One battle that stood out was a firefight at Hill 875.
“This particular time American soldiers were about to get overrun but they could not land the helicopter because of the angle. The only solution they could think of at the time was — since we can’t get a helicopter in to bring them out, we’ll send the doctor in,” Gallagher recalled. “It was hostile territory and I didn’t know who was going to shoot at me but I got in the jungle and started treating people with the medical bag I had.”
After completing active duty in the Army, Gallagher arrived in Jacksonville in the mid-1970s as a partner at Onslow Surgical Clinic and continued his medical career for 40 years in Onslow County.
Dr. Timothy Patselas, who joined the group in 1998, first met Gallagher while he was a resident and on the faculty at East Carolina University and recalls conversations with Gallagher that led to him coming to Jacksonville.
“When I’d have conversations with Ed he’d say in his soft Southern style, ‘Do you know anybody who would want to come down here and do trauma?’ I’d say no and six months later he’d ask again. What I realized after about the third time it was him asking me if I’d want to come down here and do trauma.”
Patselas saw an opportunity to use his skills where they were needed; he also saw an opportunity to work with Gallagher and the surgeons at Onslow Surgical Clinic.
“Surgeons who have colleagues they can trust and work well with, I think, have a successful experience; they are more productive and healthier if they have good colleagues and that is what I saw here,” Patselas said. “It was partly because of the pathology of Onslow that I came but it was more so to join this group. I’d like to think I’m trying to carry on that tradition.”
Gallagher, 79, retired in July after spending his entire medical career in the area at Onslow Surgical.
When he arrived in Onslow County, Gallagher joined the late Dr. James D. Piver, who founded Onslow Surgical in 1952, and Dr. Edgar Batcheller, who had partnered with Piver in 1972 and has since retired. Most recently he worked with Dr. Patselas and Dr. Lennox Williams, who are the clinic’s current surgeons.
He has also had a long affiliation with Onslow Memorial Hospital.
“Dr. Gallagher has been a dedicated, founding member of our medical community and we are grateful for all that he has done for our hospital, patients, and entire community,” said OMH President and Chief Executive Officer Penney Burlingame Deal. “We celebrate with him as we reflect on his long career, and offer him our best wishes on his very well-deserved retirement.”
Gallagher said he’s never regretted his decision.
“I feel like God called me to do this,” Gallagher said. “There’s an unpleasantness to it sometimes but that is part of the job we have to do. Whatever we do, we do it by his grace.”
Gallagher’s wife, Priscilla, said his faith has always played an important role in his life.
“He has always said that God gave him the skills to do what he did,” she said.
He always said a prayer before a surgery and his faith has always been a part of his life, and he continues to join a friend each Sunday to witness to jail inmates.
Ed Gallagher said his father’s faith was a big influence.
“My dad had a heart for evangelism; he had a heart for souls,” he said.
His family members say Gallagher was always committed to his work and his patients, a dedication only matched to that to his family time.
“His second family has always been those he works with and his patients,” Priscilla Gallagher said.
His daughter, Hannah Crom, said that one thing that has always stood out to her about her dad is his work ethic.
“The biggest thing I see is someone who is not afraid of hard work and someone who has never taken any credit for himself,” she said.
Daughter Anna Brindley said her father cared about his patients and it showed.
“As his daughter, I remember feeling like I was having lunch or dinner with the mayor when we were out and about,” Brindley said. “His fan base would come to our table or wave from afar but he was always confronted with someone who had a great experience with him.”
When asked if he thinks he lived up to his pledge to be a kinder, gentler doctor, Ed Gallagher replied: “I have, very much so.”
Gallagher has five children: Ricky Gallagher of Jacksonville, Hannah Crom of Chapel Hill, Julie Hamm of Wilmington, Anna Brindley of Texas, and Duke Gallagher of Swansboro. He also has eight grandchildren: Jacob, Nathaniel, Evie, Rudy, Hawthorne, John Fisher, Arabella, and Anna Catherine.
Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or Jannette.Pippin@JDNews.com.
Information from: The Daily News, http://www.jdnews.com