F. William Blaisdell, founder of modern trauma care and former UC Davis surgery department chair, dies at 92

F. William Blaisdell, founder of modern trauma care and former UC Davis surgery department chair, dies at 92


F. William Blaisdell, chair of the UC Davis Department of Surgery from 1978 through 1995, died April 18 of natural causes. He was 92 years old.

F. William Blaisdell
F. William Blaisdell

Blaisdell led the department in its formative years and is widely considered the founder of trauma care as a surgical specialty. At UC Davis, he established the comprehensive trauma center that is still the region’s only level I trauma center. He was board certified in general, thoracic, vascular and critical care surgery.

Under his direction, his UC Davis department became nationally recognized for innovative treatment approaches and research productivity. He launched a unique surgical education program to train military and civilian surgical residents side-by-side. He advanced principles of post-surgical treatment that revolutionized patient care nationwide. He also diversified the field of surgery by welcoming, training and advancing women.

Because of Blaisdell’s dedication to medical education, the health sciences library on UC Davis’ Sacramento campus is named in his honor as the F. William Blaisdell, M.D., Medical Library. His extensive personal papers and research are available in the library’s archives and special collections, and his personal collection on Civil War medicine is available by appointment.

“We are deeply grateful for Dr. Blaisdell’s vision and lasting legacy,” said Allison Brashear, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. “His passion for training world-class doctors and finding new, innovative ways to save and improve patients’ lives is central to our ongoing mission.”

A career dedicated to world-class patient care and physician training 

Blaisdell was born in 1927 in Santa Barbara and raised in Watsonville, Calif. He earned bachelor’s and medical degrees from Stanford University, where his grandfather, father and an uncle earned medical degrees as well. 

His training included two years of service as a medical officer in the Korean War and a fellowship in cardiovascular surgery at Baylor University, where he worked with world-renowned heart surgeon Michael DeBakey. These experiences gave him expertise in bleeding control that is key in trauma care and inspired him to advance trauma as a unique surgical specialty. He did so to fill the growing need to treat injuries due to accidents, gun shots, riots and substance use that became more common in the 1960s. He established the nation’s first dedicated, 24/7 trauma program at San Francisco General Hospital before doing the same at UC Davis Medical Center.

Blaisdell set new standards in surgery and critical care medicine that improved wound and fracture treatment and reduced post-surgical infection, lung failure and DVT risk. He also invented new approaches for cardiac compression, liver and kidney trauma, and bypass procedures.

Dr. Blaisdell and his trainees
One of Dr. Blaisdell's enduring legacies is the surgical careers he inspired. Above are some of his former trainees and colleagues, who gathered to recognize him in 2006. All are wearing bow ties, one of his trademarks. Click for larger photo.

His leadership extended throughout his field and includes serving as president of the Society for Vascular Surgery, American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Michael E. DeBakey International Surgical Society and Uniformed Services Medical School Surgical Society. He published hundreds of research papers, books and book chapters. He has been recognized with several awards, including distinguished service awards from the American College of Surgeons and State of California, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from Stanford University. 

“Our field has lost one of its leading spirits and minds who was known as much for his warmth as he was for his expertise,” said Diana Farmer, current chair of the surgery department at UC Davis. “One of the reasons I wanted to lead the surgical team at UC Davis was because of the program Dr. Blaisdell started here, the incredible doctors he trained and inspired, and his focus on putting patients before all else.”

In addition to his time at UC Davis, Blaisdell held surgery leadership positions at two Northern California VA hospitals and San Francisco General Hospital.

Blaisdell is preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn, and survived by their six children. A public service is not planned, however donations can be made in Blaisdell’s honor to a medical student scholarship fund named for him.