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Subject: Dr. Robert McClelland, Who Tried to Save President Kennedy

Dies at 89.
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Date Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 07:02:18pm
In reply to: Dead at 89 's message, "bert McClelland, Surgeon who tried to save JFK" on Saturday, September 14, 03:09:32pm


Dr. Robert McClelland, a surgeon who tried to help revive a mortally wounded President John F. Kennedy in 1963 after he was shot in Dallas, died on Sept. 10 in an assisted living facility in that city. He was 89.

His granddaughter Megan Moss said the cause was kidney failure.

Dr. McClelland was in an operating room at Parkland Memorial Hospital on Nov. 22, 1963, showing surgical residents a film about hernia repair when a colleague, Dr. Charles Crenshaw, knocked on the door to tell him that Kennedy had been shot.

As the two men rushed to the emergency room, they saw Secret Service agents, nurses, doctors, reporters and other people crowded there shoulder to shoulder.

“I’d never seen anything like this before, and just as I stood there and took it in, the crowd spontaneously parted and made a little corridor down to the emergency operating rooms,” he told the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in 2013 during a joint interview with Dr. Ronald Jones, another former member of the trauma team. “There, sitting outside Trauma Room 1, on a folding chair, was Mrs. Kennedy, in her bloody clothing.”

Inside, as doctors began lifesaving measures, it was clear that Kennedy’s condition was grave. His face was swollen, his skin bluish-black and his eyes protuberant, suggesting great pressure on his brain, Dr. McClelland told the Warren Commission in 1964 during its investigation of the assassination.

The lead surgeon, Dr. Malcolm O. Perry II, asked Dr. McClelland to assist in an emergency tracheotomy, and Dr. McClelland inserted a retractor into the incision that Dr. Perry had made in Kennedy’s neck to help accommodate a breathing tube.

Dr. McClelland’s position at the head of the gurney on which Kennedy lay gave him a close look at the severe wound at the back of the president’s head that had been caused by a second bullet.

The “posterior portion of the skull had been extremely blasted,” he told the commission. About a third of the president’s brain tissue was gone, he said.

At 1 p.m. Central time, Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Two days later, Dr. McClelland returned to Parkland, where he tried to save the life of Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald, under arrest as the president’s assassin, was gunned down in the basement of a Dallas police station by the nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The bullet struck Oswald’s aorta and a large torso vein known as the inferior vena cava, Dr. McClelland said, causing extensive blood loss.

Dr. Perry opened Oswald’s chest, and he and Dr. McClelland massaged his heart.

“You pumped Oswald’s heart?” a medical student asked Dr. McClelland in a meeting described by the Dallas magazine D in 2008. (Dr. Perry died in 2009.)

“We took turns, each going until we got tired,” he said. “We went for, oh, about 40 minutes.”

Robert Nelson McClelland was born on Nov. 20, 1929, in the East Texas city of Gilmer. His father, Robert, was a butcher, and his mother, Verna (Nelson) McClelland, was a federal relief agent.

Dr. McClelland graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, and received his medical degree from its medical branch in Galveston in 1954. He did his internship at the University of Kansas Medical Center and served as a medical officer in the Air Force for two years.

He returned to Texas in 1957 to become a surgical resident at Parkland and entered private practice two years later. But soon after, he went back to Parkland to complete his training and in 1962 joined what is now called the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Its doctors and surgeons staff Parkland.

The Kennedy assassination occurred early in Dr. McClelland’s career as a general surgeon; his specialty was liver resections. He was also a professor and scholar of medicine who helped train hundreds of surgeons at the University of Texas Southwestern.

For about 30 years starting in the 1970s, he self-published “Selected Readings in General Surgery,” a regular compendium of journal articles — accompanied by his critiques — that had as many as 5,000 subscriber

“They were classic articles and new ones in the literature, often arranged around a topic, that almost every surgical resident in the United States used for their surgical boards,” Dr. Robert Rege, a professor of surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern, said in a phone interview. “And surgeons with experience read it as part of their continuing medical education.”

In addition to Ms. Moss, Dr. McClelland is survived by his wife, Connie (Logan) McClelland, who was the head nurse at Parkland when they met; his daughters, Alison McClelland and Julie Barrett; his son, Chris; and six other grandchildren.

In the decades after the Warren Commission concluded that Oswald had been the lone gunman, Dr. McClelland became a skeptic. In interviews, he said that the location of Kennedy’s head wound suggested that the bullet had come from the grassy knoll in front of the presidential motorcade, not from Oswald’s perch on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, high above and behind Kennedy.

Then, more than a decade later, Dr. McClelland watched the 8-millimeter film of the assassination shot by Abraham Zapruder, a dress manufacturer. The film showed Kennedy’s head being thrown back violently and to his left. Dr. McClelland said the film validated the possibility that a second gunman had shot Kennedy from the grassy knoll as the president’s open limousine approached.

“Did I see an entrance wound consistent with that big wound?” he said in the Sixth Floor Museum interview. “I did not.”

He said that the entrance wound for the fatal shot might have been hidden by blood and Kennedy’s hairline, an area, he said, that the trauma team did not inspect as it tried to save the president’s life.

Through the years Dr. McClelland kept the shirt, stained with Kennedy’s blood, that he had worn that afternoon in the Parkland trauma room.

He came to believe that Kennedy’s death had resulted from a conspiracy, but he did not subscribe to wild assassination theories. He told a television station in Philadelphia in 2013 that he had once heard from a group that asked him to test the DNA of the blood on his preserved shirt to prove that it was not Kennedy who had been shot.

“I didn’t even respond to them after that,” he said.

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