Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Dr. James G. Sullivan, 1922-2012: Surgeon a founder of St. V’s burn unit

Dr. James G. Sullivan, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who was a founder and former medical director of the burn unit at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center, died Monday in Ebeid Hospice Residence, Sylvania. He was 89.

He suffered a stroke Oct. 17, his daughter, Kathleen, said. He and his late wife, Estelle, moved south in retirement and lived about 12 years in South Carolina and then for about a decade in North Carolina. His wife died in July, 2010, and he returned to Toledo in May, 2011.

Dr. Sullivan came to Toledo in 1956 at the invitation of Dr. John C. Kelleher, Sr., who had established his practice several years earlier because no other plastic surgeon worked in the city. They and Dr. George Baibak were partners in a group, Northwest Ohio Plastic Surgeons. They also ran a training program in plastic surgery affiliated with the Medical College of Ohio and St. Vincent.

Dr. Sullivan worked with burn patients and did reconstructive surgery to help patients whose conditions were congenital and those injured in auto, farm, and industrial accidents. “He was very well regarded. He was loved by his patients,” Dr. Baibak said. “He was an independent thinker and latched onto new things.”

He and his colleagues treated the burns and other traumatic injuries suffered by survivors of the Oct. 29, 1960, crash at Toledo Express Airport of the plane carrying the California State Polytechnic College football team that killed 22 people.

The next year, several people were injured and four firefighters died when a gasoline tanker truck crashed on the Anthony Wayne Trail, burned, and then exploded. That incident “demonstrated the unpreparedness in the community for such a catastrophe,” wrote Dr. Edward F. Ockuly in The History of St. Vincent Medical Center, 1857-1995.

St. Vincent vowed to fill the void, and the plastic surgery department was in charge of organizing a special unit for burns. The St. Vincent burn unit opened in late 1967. “My dad was a very modest man,” daughter Kathleen said, “but that was one of his big prides.”

He made time for charitable work. He spent two months in 1969 with the hospital ship SS Hope, treating patients in Tunisia. After Dr. Sullivan retired, he went on medical missions to Peru. Six of his eight daughters became nurses. “He had a big influence on us,” daughter Gail said.

He was born Nov. 24, 1922, in South Amboy, N.J. He attended Seton Hall and Rutgers universities. He was a 1948 graduate of the Georgetown University school of medicine. He and his wife married Nov. 6, 1948. He served stateside in the Army Medical Corps during the Korean War.

He learned to sail in childhood. He became an early member of the North Cape Yacht Club in LaSalle, Mich., and he liked to race, including the annual Mills Race, and to cruise the lakes.

Surviving are his daughters, Mary Alice Hernandez, Gail Bocian, Kathleen Fuller, Estelle Parker, Jeanne Sullivan, Patricia Johnson, Michelle Niklas, and Christine Callaghan; sons, George, James, and Raymond; many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Visitation will be from 2-9 p.m. today in the Bersticker-Scott Funeral Home, with a Rosary service at 7 p.m. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Friday in Gesu Church, where he’d been a member. The family suggests tributes to the Burn Care and Reconstructive Center at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.

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