Healing Hands: Patrick J. Kelly, M.D.


Patrick J. Kelly, MD

Patrick J. Kelly, MD

Failure can motivate you.
– Patrick J. Kelly, MD, A Hand to Guide Me

Dr. Patrick J. Kelly has an impressive professional vita and an international reputation for innovation that you would expect for the retired chairman of the department of neurological surgery at New York University School of Medicine.

When he was a boy, his healing hands were fighting fists.  He experienced indifference and abuse at home where disagreements were settled with fists rather than hugs.

This all changed for 11 year old Patrick after he witnessed a vicious fight between his buddies.  Mr. Whitney at the Boys Club in East Aurora, New York, taught him the healing power of a hug.  He walked calmly toward the boys.  He didn’t say anything.  He just stared at them with more sadness than anger.  He put his arms around both fighters and hugged them.  It was a hug of genuine affection.  Both boys calmed down and shook hands.

Patrick spent many of his teen years in a Polish orphanage after he and his siblings were removed from their abusive home.

Patrick joined the U.S. Navy to fund medical school.  He volunteered for Vietnam because, “Hippocrates said that all those who wanted to be a surgeon should go to war.”

At a Marine helicopter base, he was brutally introduced to triage following battle.  Twenty to thirty new patients would be brought in at a time.  Each was horribly mangled and screaming in pain.  Patrick had no specialized surgical training when he was introduced to his first patient, a “man who was late tossing a grenade” which blew off his left arm and both legs.

The chief of surgery at the Naval Support Activity Hospital in Da Nang was Vern Fitchett, who noticed Patrick was traumatized.  He motivated Patrick to do his best, “war’s not pretty ~ now get your ass in gear.”  Patrick lost patients, but he also learned the importance of doing the best you can.

Dr. Kelly treats police officers who need surgery for free to thank them for intervening in his parents’ domestic violence.  He pioneered a minimally invasive technique to remove brain tumors.  And, you know I’ve got to love a guy who invented a way to map brain tumors based on his boat’s navigational system.

We’re all very fortunate that Mr. Whitney at the Boys Club, the police officers, the nuns, and Dr. Fitchett formed a protection circle around Patrick Kelly, nurtured, and guided him from being a traumatized boy into a world-renowned neurosurgeon.

Source:  “More Flies with Honey” by Patrick J. Kelly, A Hand to Guide Me, Meredith Books, 2006, pages 130-3.  (This book may be available only via used book stores.)

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6 responses to “Healing Hands: Patrick J. Kelly, M.D.

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