~ April 16, 2020
Virchel E. Wood ’60 passed away April 16, 2020.
Dr. Wood hailed from Leominster, Massachusetts, with a heritage linked to the Wampanoag Indians that greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth. He came out west to the College of Medical Evangelists and graduated in the class of 1960. He went back east to Worcester, Massachusetts, for residency in orthopedic surgery and then started a hand fellowship (1966) with Dr. Robert Carroll at Columbia Presbyterian (Harlem Hospital), New York, New York. This was interrupted by the Vietnam War and a call to the U.S. Army, where he cared for a multitude of war injuries at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, as chief of the orthopedic service (1967-1969). He completed a second fellowship in hand surgery (1969) with Dr. Adrian Flatt, University of Iowa, Iowa City. To further his knowledge in congenital hand surgery, Dr. Wood then spent time in Hamburg, Germany, with Dr. Buck-Gramcko learning the art of pollicization. He later spent time in Paris, France, with Alain Gilbert, studying brachial plexus treatment.
Loma Linda University School of Medicine was privileged to have Dr. Wood join the Department of Orthopedic Surgery in 1971. He served as chief of Hand Service and fellowship director until 2007. The current Hand Fellowship program is named in his honor: The Virchel E. Wood Hand Fellowship. He cast a larger-than-life influence over 76 hand fellows and 190 orthopedic residents as well as an untold number of medical students. He is recognized as having 121 peer-reviewed full length articles and 14 book chapters published. He had 11 scientific exhibits and completed 110 oral presentations. He was recognized and honored with over 26 academic awards. He received his highest award in 2010 where he was recognized as Pioneer in Hand Surgery from the International Federation of Societies for Surgery of the Hand. He is the most cited author from congenital hand literature for the last 50 years.
M. Daniel Wongworawat ’96, current chief of hand surgery at LLU, reflects that Dr. Wood modeled the utmost commitment to patients, his learners, and his church community. “He was someone who studied to extreme depths, never being satisfied with learning something halfway. He became an expert in so many areas. In addition to hand surgery, he curated one of the biggest gemstone sphere collections in the world. He is a published poet. And every time I saw him, he had his Bible with him, ready to resume in-depth study.”
Arthur E. Thiel ’79-B recalls his first memory of Dr. Wood was as a medical student being fascinated by his lecture subject: upper extremity anatomy and anomalies. “I caught his love of the topic and his love of educating the next generation. Now at times, that love was tough love, as he quizzed us from a bottomless trove of photocopied journal articles at pre-op conferences. But he emphasized over and over being a complete physician, not a surgical technician: we should be operating internists! Woe to the unprepared resident who did not know and understand the association of our body’s biochemistry and pathophysiology and variations in anatomy as it related to the surgical topic on hand. His admonitions were always in the goal of teaching best possible patient care.”
Wesley Phipatanakul ’98 observes that Dr. Wood is definitely on the Mount Rushmore of LLU Orthopedics. He was a pioneer of congenital hand surgery nationally, and literally wrote the book on this subject. On top of his academic success, he was a very humble, committed Adventist. He was one of the founding members of the Heralds of Hope singing group. Dr. Phipatanakul states, “When I reflect on Dr. Wood, I think of the closing line in the movie ‘Troy’ about the story of Achilles: ‘If they ever tell my story, let them say that I walked with giants. These names will never die.’ Let them say I lived in the time of Dr. Wood. Rest in peace until I see you and we sing again together with the heavenly choir.”
Dr. Wood is remembered as a loving husband and father to his wife, Esther; their five children, Tamarin, Laurel, Gary, Darrell, and Victoria; and six grandchildren.
(Source: School of Medicine Report)