August 1, 2022
C. Thomas “Tommy” Thompson, MD, FACS, Past-Chair of the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma (ACS COT) and recipient of the ACS Distinguished Service Award, passed away in his Tulsa, OK, home June 17, at age 97.
A renowned figure in the surgical community, Dr. Thompson transformed the provision of trauma care in the US while personally caring for tens of thousands of patients, saving countless lives, and training generations of young physicians.
Tommy Thompson was born February 2, 1925, in Brookhaven, MS. His parents, C. Tatman and Margaret (Johnson) Thompson, both were educators, and he enjoyed a bucolic childhood in Estherwood, LA. He graduated from Estherwood High School in 1941 at age 16, then briefly attended Louisiana State Normal College, Natchitoches, on a baseball scholarship before enlisting in the US Navy and serving for 18 months as a hospital corpsman. Upon his return to civilian life, he attended the University of Mississippi, Oxford, then Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, from which he graduated at the top of the class in 1948.
After medical school, Dr. Thompson completed a surgery residency under Alton Ochsner, MD, FACS, at Charity Hospital, New Orleans, LA. During that time, he also served as a flight surgeon with the Second Bomb Wing of the US Air Force Strategic Air Command at various Royal Air Force bases in England. He then served in the Korean War as a surgeon with a US Marine Corps mobile combat hospital operating on wounded soldiers near the front lines, where he was a member of the 38th Parallel Medical Society of Korea.
In 1956, Dr. Thompson moved to Tulsa, OK, and began a busy private general surgery practice. When construction began on Saint Francis Hospital, its founder, W.K. Warren, MD, tasked him with identifying the medical programs that Tulsa needed and that would serve as the nucleus of a modern medical center, recruiting specialists from across the country and organizing various medical programs of excellence for that hospital.
In 1966, Dr. Thompson founded the Surgical Associates of Tulsa, which played a defining role in the enormous progress of Saint Francis Hospital. He served both as chair of the Saint Francis medical executive committee, overseeing the hospital’s medical staff, and on the board of directors’ executive committee for more than 25 years. After retiring from surgery in 1996, Dr. Thompson was appointed interim chief executive officer (CEO) of Saint Francis Hospital, a position he held for a number of years until a permanent CEO was installed. He then served as chief medical officer of the newly created Saint Francis Health System.
Throughout his medical career, Dr. Thompson’s true passion was trauma care, a field in which he achieved national distinction. A Fellow of the ACS since 1958, he was appointed Chairman of the Oklahoma COT in 1966, and held the position until 1974. One of his many accomplishments in that role was to organize and implement the first burn treatment center in Oklahoma at Hillcrest Medical Center. He also spearheaded the organization and creation of Tulsa’s first citywide ambulance service and a training program for first responders.
Dr. Thompson was chosen as one of two initial recipients of the Meritorious Achievement Award at the 50th Annual COT Meeting in 1972 for his work on the Regional COT Committees. He subsequently became Chair of the Subcommittee on Regional Committees in 1974, and Chair of the COT in 1978.
During his time as COT Chair, the Military COT Region was established in 1980 with Norman M. Rich, MD, FACS, COL, MC, USA(Ret), named as the initial Region Chief.
Dr. Thompson also presided over initial phases of the development of the Capital Program, established following the assassination attempt on President Reagan, to provide lists of available trauma providers to offer care for high-profile members of the government.
A watershed moment for the COT came when Dr. Thompson invited Paul E. “Skip” Collicott, MD, FACS, to the 1980 Annual COT Meeting in Houston, TX. At that meeting, Dr. Collicott presented the idea of an Advanced Trauma Life Support® (ATLS®) program. The courses were to be expanded nationally in 1980 and adopted as an ACS-sponsored project by the Board of Regents, with Region Chiefs comprising the initial national faculty. From this point forward, the number of ATLS courses grew exponentially and were organized across the country by state COT Chairs in the Regional Committees.
The first revision of the initial “Optimal Hospital Resources for Care of the Seriously Injured” Bulletin article published in 1976 was completed during Dr. Thompson’s time as Chair. This revision changed the focus from “optimal resources” to “optimal care,” thereby placing the emphasis on the trauma patient.
This change in focus necessitated a title change to Hospital Resources for the Optimal Care of the Injured Patient. Released in 1979, the updated publication was used to develop a verification program for hospitals with plans that included onsite visits to view the trauma programs.
In presenting Dr. Thompson with the 1983 Distinguished Service Award—the College’s highest honor presented annually—the ACS cited his “continuing, constructive participation in surgical organizations at the city, state, national, and international levels, where his achievement of high office reflects the esteem of his colleagues.”
A clinical professor of surgery for the University of Oklahoma Tulsa Medical College, Dr. Thompson helped establish and served on the Board of Directors of the Tulsa Medical Education Foundation, which coordinates Tulsa’s residency training programs. He also served as a visiting professor of surgery at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine in Knoxville.
Dr. Thompson delivered the Robert H. Kennedy Lecture in Emergency Medicine for the University Association for Emergency Medicine and the Scudder Oration on Trauma for the ACS at its Clinical Congress. He received the Surgeons’ Award for Distinguished Service to Safety awarded jointly by the ACS, the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma (AAST), and the National Safety Council.
He also served as President of the Oklahoma Surgical Association, the Oklahoma Chapter of the ACS, the Oklahoma Trauma Research Society, the Tulane Surgical Society, and the Alton Ochsner Surgical Society. He was a Fellow of the AAST and the Southern Surgical Association and a member of the American Trauma Society, the American Surgical Association, and the International Society of Surgery.
Dr. Thompson’s commitment to trauma was deeply rooted in his appreciation of the vulnerability of its victims and the awesome responsibility of those who provide care to them, as was reflected in his maxim, “We speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves.”
In his retirement, Dr. Thompson enjoyed spending time with family, traveling with friends, telling stories, and playing bridge.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 38 years, Anna Rebecca Parsons, and his sisters Margaret Holmes and Geraldine Melancon. He is survived by his children, Christopher Thompson, MD (Lynne), Elizabeth Kennedy (Dr. Tom), John Thompson (Kathy Bogart), Jane Tillotson, and Steven Simcoe (Shannon); grandchildren Thomas Kennedy Jr. (Hayden), Joseph Kennedy, MD (Sarah), Joshua Speer (Nicole), Kyra Kennedy, Summer Thompson, and Nashua, Campbell, and Gage Tillotson; and great-grandchildren Graham, Brody, Julia, and Iris Kennedy.
In both his professional and personal life, Tommy Thompson always exhibited genuine kindness, down-to-earth congeniality, and gentle humor that left an enduring impression on everyone who knew him. His absence will be acutely felt by his profession, colleagues, friends, and family.