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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Surgeon founded residency program

Dr. John C. Kelleher, Sr., a Toledo plastic surgeon who was nationally renowned in his field and who founded a local residency program for plastic surgeons, died Monday in the Arbors of Toledo rehabilitation center. He was 84.

Dr. Kelleher died of complications from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago, relatives said.

While plastic surgery often is equated with cosmetic procedures, reconstructive surgery dominated Dr. Kelleher's life work, said Dr. George Baibak, his professional partner for 35 years. His patients often were victims of vehicle crashes or industrial accidents.

In 1953, he organized several orthodontists, a prosthodontist, a general dentist, and a speech therapist to form a rehabilitation unit for children with cleft palates, a genetic defect.

“He was a pioneer in both plastic surgery and hand surgery,” Dr. Baibak said.

Dr. Kelleher wrote many papers, gave presentations, and even made instructional films to teach aspiring plastic surgeons. In 1968, he instituted the residency training program in plastic surgery in conjunction with the then St. Vincent Medical Center and the Medical College of Ohio, and 1977 established the Hand Rehabilitation Center at St. Vincent.

“He was absolutely, dead-set committed to education,” said his son, Robert.

Born in Youngstown, Dr. Kelleher graduated in 1940 from Notre Dame University and in 1944 from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia. At Notre Dame, he was a football quarterback and kicker who, in 1939, kicked a game-winning field goal against Purdue.

After serving as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps at a hospital in Goose Bay, Nfld., during World War II, Dr. Kelleher worked his residency at hospitals in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Detroit. It was during residency that he became fascinated with plastic surgery, his son said, and decided to make it his specialty.

Dr. Kelleher established his practice in Toledo because no other plastic surgeon worked here, the son said. In those days, he said, the relative lack of safety devices in vehicles and factories led to a higher rate of disfiguring injuries than occur today, so there was no lack of patients for the city's only reconstructive specialist.

“He was on call all the time,” Robert Kelleher said.

Dr. Kelleher eventually established a partnership with Dr. Baibak and Dr. James G. Sullivan that continues today as Arrowhead Plastic Surgeons. Even after his surgical practice began to slow, Dr. Baibak said, Dr. Kelleher continued teaching into his 70s.

“He was a workaholic - he worked many, many hours,” Dr. Baibak said. “And he was a superb teacher.”

Along with setting up the local plastic surgery residency program, in 1968 Dr. Kelleher helped establish St. Vincent's burn unit, the fourth such facility in the nation. He was president of the Academy of Medicine of Toledo and Lucas County in 1974 and a member of the board of directors of the American Board of Plastic Surgery from 1972 through 1978. He had hospital affiliations throughout metropolitan Toledo and academic appointments to St. Vincent, MCO, and Bowling Green State University.

Surviving are his wife, Rose Mary Kelleher, to whom he was married nearly 63 years; sons, Michael, Robert, Kevin, David, and John C. Kelleher, Jr.; daughters Kathy Scalzo, Mary Arnold, Chrissey Wong, and Rosemary Albery; 20 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

The body will be in the Coyle Funeral Home, 1770 South Reynolds Rd., after 7 p.m. tomorrow, with a Scripture service at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Gesu Church. The family suggests tributes to the John C. Kelleher, Sr., Memorial Fund at St. Francis de Sales High School or to the Monogram Club of Notre Dame University.



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