David T. Pitkethly, MD
David T. Pitkethly, MD

David was born in 1936 and his early years were spent in the small dairy farming town of Roxbury, NY, in the middle of the Catskill Mountains. His grandfather owned the “Corner Store” which was the main grocery store in Roxbury. His father worked in the Corner Store after returning from WW II, but it was a frugal existence. In 11th grade David’s father, mother and brother decided to move to San Diego in a home-made trailer. After many adventures along the way the family settled in San Antonio, Texas, where his father rejoined the U.S. Army, and David completed his last two years of high school at Thomas Jefferson High School.

At Thomas Jefferson each student was required to choose either ROTC or a sport. Not wanting to do ROTC, David chose basketball. When he did not make the basketball team, he tried out for the track team. He found his calling in distance running and won most of his races at 800 yards and the mile in competition with other high schools in San Antonio.

David’s college career began at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1954. His major was Biology, but his passion was running cross country and track. His winning ways continued and in 1956 he was entered in the NCAA Cross Country Championship held at Michigan State University in November. Despite frost bitten ears, he placed 15th and was awarded a place on the NCAA All-American Team for 1956. Later that academic year he married and soon after, started a family.

On October 3, 1957, David entered Duke University School of Medicine. After graduation from Duke in June 1961 David joined the US Army Medical Corps and did an internship at Fitzsimons General Hospital in Denver, CO. Following internship, David was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Ft. Bragg, N.C. for one year and made 12 parachute jumps. It was an exciting time to be with the 82nd Airborne Division. In late September, 1962 the Division rushed to Memphis, TN for back-up in support of the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. In October the Division was on full alert for a parachute assault into Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In June 1963 David entered the Neurosurgery Residency Program at Walter Reed under the chairmanship of Col. George Hayes. In 1965 the chairman became Col. Ludwig Kempe and in June 1968 David graduated from the residency program.

His first assignment as a fully trained neurosurgeon was to Madigan Army Hospital at Ft. Lewis, Washington for 2 years. Then he was assigned to U.S. Army Japan for support of the Viet Nam War. Japan was a staging center for wounded soldiers evacuated from field hospitals in the war zone. Many were in critical condition and needed to be stabilized before the long flight home to hospitals in the United States. David was assigned to the Army Hospital at Camp Zama for most of his 18-month tour of duty. At the peak of the war, he was the only fully trained neurosurgeon in charge of 100 beds, usually all occupied.

When the war in Viet Nam was almost over, David was reassigned to Madigan Hospital. After one year at Madigan (January 1, 1973) he resigned his active commission to become US Army Reserve and moved his family and his neurosurgical practice to Overlake and Evergreen Hospitals. He was the first neurosurgeon to practice on the Eastside of Seattle and Lake Washington. In 1989 David joined the Western Neurosurgical Society and married Mara, an RN whom he had met at Overlake Hospital.

In December 1989 David’s Army Reserve Hospital unit was activated for the Gulf War. In January his hospital was integrated with the National Military Hospital of Saudi Arabia in Riyad and there he treated Saudi civilians, US Army soldiers, and Iraqi soldiers. Due to a shortage of nurses, Mara was recruited by the hospital and they both remained together in Riyad for the duration of the War.

In 1997 he retired from his neurosurgical private practice in Bellevue and Kirkland. Less than two years later a call came from Dick Winn at the University of Washington Department of Neurological Surgery with an invitation to join the faculty. David did so gladly and started work at Harborview. In 2006 David retired from active patient care and surgery and remains as UW Professor Emeritus with the Department of Neurological Surgery.

One of David and Mara’s most rewarding adventures was their volunteer work in East Africa. Through the auspices of FIENS (Foundation for International Education in Neurological Surgery), David rolled up his sleeves and returned to the operating room, neurosurgery clinic, patient rounds and gave lectures. They spent time in Kenya in 2012, Ethiopia in 2013 and Tanzania in 2014. David’s last operation in Tanzania was the successful clipping of an ACom Aneurysm. Mara did important nursing work with AIDS patients in Kenya and teaching in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Now life is more relaxed with golf one or two days a week, zoom conferences at UW, children nearing retirement age, four grand kids in mid to late 20s, and a wonderful love affair with his wife, Mara.

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