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Saturday, July 27, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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C. James Carrico, 1935-2002: Doctor was 1st to tend JFK, played key Harborview role

Seattle Times staff reporter

C. James Carrico, the first doctor to examine a mortally wounded President Kennedy in a Dallas emergency room and the prime mover behind Harborview Medical Center's regional trauma center, died of colon cancer Thursday (July 25) at a family home in Greenbank on Whidbey Island.

Dr. Carrico, 67, came to Seattle in 1974 and became chief of surgery at Harborview.

"Under his leadership, Harborview went from being a county teaching hospital to a Level 1 trauma center, virtually overnight," said Dr. Ron Maier, who followed Dr. Carrico as head of surgery.

"He recruited faculty and developed the infrastructure that we still enjoy here today — and that patients rely on to survive. This place is him."

Dr. Michael Copass, Harborview's director of emergency services, said Dr. Carrico's reputation helped attract money and talent to Harborview.

"People wanted to work for him and liked working with him," he said. "No matter how stressful the situation, he could always be counted on to be cheerful."

Dr. Carrico became chairman of the University of Washington Medical School's surgery department in 1983 but stepped down in 1990 to take a similar job at his alma mater, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

He retired in 2000 and was honored in February with a chair in his name at the medical school, only the second endowment in the United States in support of trauma and critical care.

For all of his medical accomplishments, Dr. Carrico could not escape the fact that his greatest claim to fame came on Nov. 22, 1963, as a 28-year-old, first-year surgical resident at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. He was the first physician there to see Kennedy. As part of the care, Dr. Carrico inserted a tube into the president's trachea to aid his faint breathing. He remained at the president's side for 25 minutes until a colleague pronounced Kennedy dead.

Although Dr. Carrico was modest about his role in history — the family-written death notice doesn't mention it — he testified before the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination. Commission members asked Dr. Carrico why Parkland's emergency doctors did not further examine the president after he died.

"We felt certainly that complete examination would be carried out — and no one had the heart, I believe, to examine him then," he responded.

During the testimony, Dr. Carrico revealed he had written a letter to his children, to be read by them when they got older, about how he felt that day. He told the commission it was "just a little homespun philosophy. I just said that there was a lot of extremism both in Dallas and in the nation as a whole, and in an attitude of extremism, a warped mind can flourish much better than in a more stable atmosphere."

Dr. Carrico's professional honors were numerous. They included: top graduate in the 1961 class of UT Southwestern; twice-named distinguished alumnus of the University of North Texas, which he attended as an undergraduate; former chairman of the American Board of Surgery; and former president of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma.

He was president-elect of the American College of Surgeons at the time of his death.

"During his career, Jim trained hundreds of surgeons and influenced many more," said Dr. Robert Rege, who succeeded Dr. Carrico as UT Southwestern's chairman of surgery.

"He was a role model for young physicians, teaching them to balance their busy careers with their family lives."

Dr. Carrico is survived by his wife, Sue; two daughters, Ellen Telaneus of Denton, Texas, and Amy Molloy of Portland; a son, Christopher, of Hampshire, England; two siblings; and six grandchildren.

Graveside services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Sunnyside Cemetery in Coupeville on Whidbey Island. A memorial service is planned later in the week in Dallas.

The family requests memorials be made to First Presbyterian Church, 408 Park Ave., Dallas, TX 75201; Parkland Foundation — Greater Dallas Injury Prevention Center, 5000 Harry Hines Blvd., Dallas, TX 75235; or the Southwestern Medical Foundation, 2305 Cedar Springs Road, Suite 150, Dallas, TX 75201.

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com.

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