Penn surgeon dies in Iraq on Christmas

December 26, 2008 8:40:56 PM PST
Friends and family mourn the loss of University of Pennsylvania surgeon. There was to have been a Christmas morning phone call between the doctor's family in South Jersey and the doctor in Mosul.

The phone call never came.

His wife has learned there had been a casualty in Mosul on Christmas Day. She thought her husband was probably in the operating room trying to save a life.

Only later when the Army came to her front door did she learn that the casualty was indeed her husband, Dr. John Pryor.

"Apparently he was coming back from Mass on Christmas morning and heading back to the barracks, their sleeping quarters, when lone mortar round came through the trailer that he was in and exploded; my understanding is that he died instantly," Dr. Richard Pryor, the brother, said.

Inside the Burlington County home, friends and family mourned the loss of Dr. John Pryor today.

Pryor was married with three children.

They say his family came first, but after that, the native New Yorker was dedicated to being the best surgeon he can be to save lives.

On September 11th, he rushed to New York to Ground Zero to help firefighters.

With the Iraq War, the middle-aged doctor decided to enlist.

"He felt that with this conflict going on in Iraq, our soldiers deserve the best trauma care that could be possibly given to them; he was one of the best," Richard said.

Among the casualties of the war, John, 42, dealt with were the Iraqi children.

His boss at Penn said that was one of the reasons John, a Major in the Army, learned to speak Arabic.

"John learned that language so he could relate to those people and talk to them; he forced himself to do it because he didn't want a translator to be at the bedside with him when he took care of those children," Dr. William Schwab said.

Pryor joined the hospital in 1999 after graduating medical school at the State University of New York in Buffalo, Schwab said.

He described Pryor as a "star" who quickly rose through the hospital ranks to become director of its trauma program.

Pryor deployed Dec. 6 for his second tour of duty in Iraq as a combat medic with the Army Reserves, and was due to come home in April, Schwab said.

Pryor wrote of his experiences as a surgeon confronting violence in Iraq and inner-city Philadelphia in articles published in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

"As a trauma surgeon, every death I have is painful; every one takes a little out of me," he wrote in a 2006 article in the Inquirer. "Losing these kids here in Iraq rips a hole through my soul so large that it's hard for me to continue breathing.

"If I could say something to this Marine's parents, it would be this: I am so sorry that you have lost your son. We, more than almost everyone else, know he was a true American hero."

The Associated Press' Samantha Henry contributed to this article.

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