Ohio Surgeon Who Wrote His Own Colorful Obituary Dead at 48

The family of Ohio surgeon Thomas Lee Flanigan, 48, who died last week, made public the obituary he wrote himself, self-eulogizing his “shocking and unexpected, yet fabulous, exit.”

Flanigan, who referred to himself as the “Ginger God of Surgery and Shenanigans,” wrote, “Yes, I have joined the likes of Princess Diana, John Belushi, and Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter in leaving while still at the top of my game as an iconic superhero who seemed almost too good to be true.”

The obituary made no mention of what led to the April 27 death of Flanigan, a husband and father of three, who served in combat missions on two tours for the US Army, where he earned the rank of lieutenant colonel.

However, a media representative for ProMedica health system told Medscape Medical News the family confirmed he died suddenly of “a still-undetermined medical issue.”

Flanigan, born on Halloween in 1972, worked with ProMedica Physicians Plastic Surgery in Sylvania, Ohio, and at three other locations. He specialized in hand surgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery.

ProMedica surgical residents were told after his death that Flanigan was hospitalized a few days before his death.

In his obituary, Flanigan poignantly referred to his wife, Amy, and children Joey (14), Evelyn (13), and Sylvia (10).

“Please take good care of them like the priceless treasures they are,” he wrote.

Sarah Hill, MD, a third-year surgery resident who worked with Flanigan, tweeted that the field “has lost a force of nature.”

She writes, “A source of endless barely-appropriate humor, dad jokes, honest advice, and patient advocacy, Dr. Flanigan taught us all to prioritize family, operate with confidence, place value in ourselves, and enjoy the journey.

“In his memory, we will continue to elevate new and rising members in the House of Surgery, support each other and our juniors, and create laughter when we cannot find it,” Hill writes. “A huge thank you and salute to the Ginger God of Surgery and Shenanigans. We’ll keep the church lights on.”

Hill told Medscape Medical News she didn’t know that Flanigan was hospitalized a couple of days before he died. The close-knit hospital group was told the news the morning after his death.

She said at first she was surprised he had authored his own obituary, but when she thought about it, she said, “It was very fitting.

“It doesn’t surprise me he was very particular about the way he wanted to be remembered. I don’t think the idea that someone would be writing a serious, morose, sorrowful obituary for him would have sat well with him,” she said.

He was a fierce advocate for the patients and the residents who worked with him, Hill said. He hosted a support group for his patients who were underdoing mastectomy.

“He was exceptionally protective of those patients,” she said.

His family “was his world,” she said. “Every time he talked about his kids, his eyes just lit up.”

Flanigan said his life had been “a great run.” He said credit for that went not only to his immediate family but also to Northern Michigan University, fraternity brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha, Wayne State University Medical School, from which he graduated in 2003, the Army, and “colleagues, various celebrities, random cartoon characters, people who make memes, Russians and other friends and family.”

Flanigan was “humble” and “compassionate,” Despina Walsworth, MD, with Beaumont OB/GYN Associates in Dearborn, Michigan, who was in his graduating class at Wayne State, in Detroit, Michigan, told Medscape Medical News. She said he helped her through her own personal problems in medical school.

She said he was always funny and driven, determined at first to be a trauma surgeon, then switching specialties later.

A patient commented on the obituary about his surgical skill, evidenced by her recovery after a dog attacked her years ago: “Dr. Flanigan was a miracle worker and my arm looks amazing after his work. I can never thank him enough.”

A wake is scheduled for May 6 in Toledo, Ohio, followed by a private family celebration the next day.

Flanigan left a final word to all: “Due to the unknown and cosmic nature of my next mission, this will be our last communication. It will self-destruct in five minutes.

“My whereabouts are now top secret, but let’s just say I have made some new friends by the names of Elvis and Kenny. The Church of Tom is closed for business, but please continue to worship me, light candles, and send money. You know the deal.”

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick.

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