Dallas colon and rectal surgeon Don R. Read, MD, the 151st president of the Texas Medical Association, died March 21 after a short battle with cancer. He was 77.
Dr. Read led a life of service – to his country, to his community, to his family, to physicians in Texas and around the world, and to the patients they care for.
“[He believed that] if you really want to make an impact for your patients, it’s not just seeing them in the clinics, it’s helping to change the structure of a hospital or getting involved with local organized medicine,” said Dallas interventional cardiologist Rick Snyder, MD, who worked with Dr. Read at Medical City Dallas. “He really opened my eyes about the impact I could have as a physician-advocate.”
Dr. Read cheated death 14 years earlier, when he contracted neuroinvasive West Nile virus in 2005, with encephalitis, meningitis, and polio-like paralysis.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. When you’re that sick, you realize how dependent you are on the people taking care of you. And you find out how much you need a patient advocate,” Dr. Read told TMA in 2016. “I gained a new appreciation of the need for advocacy from the individual patient’s standpoint.”
He created the West Nile Support Group in Dallas in 2006 – one of the few in the country – which boasts 200 members and meets regularly to discuss managing West Nile symptoms, as well as those from other mosquito-borne illnesses, like the Zika virus. He also volunteered his time helping and supporting patients diagnosed with West Nile.
Dr. Read was born Jan. 17, 1942, in Fort Worth, grew up in Dallas, and graduated high school in Glendale, Calif., where he was co-captain and quarterback of the football team, and where he earned the rank of Eagle Scout.
Upon graduating from Austin College in 1964, Dr. Read received his medical degree in 1968 from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
He served an externship with doctors in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), helping deliver medical care in remote and primitive conditions. He also served as a U.S. Navy surgeon in a mobile surgical hospital unit in Vietnam, earning the rank of lieutenant commander and a Bronze Star.
After leaving military service, he completed his residency in Chicago, and was named director of surgical education at Cook County Hospital.
He returned to Dallas and co-founded Texas Colon and Rectal Specialists in Dallas, which grew to become one of the largest colorectal practices in the United States, with 18 surgeons in 11 offices.
Throughout his career, Dr. Read was president or head of 17 hospital and medical society organizations, held nine medical society memberships, was appointed to the staffs of 11 hospitals, and published 10 professional papers.
In addition to serving as TMA president from 2016-17, Dr. Read was chair of the TMA Board of Trustees, the founding chair of the TMA PracticeEdge Board of Managers, and chair of TMA's Patient-Physician Advocacy Committee. Dr. Read also was president of the Dallas County Medical Society and the Texas Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.
Carlos Cardenas, MD, the Edinburg gastroenterologist who took over from Dr. Read as TMA president in 2017, said his colleague was soft-spoken, but people paid close attention when he talked because of his deep understanding of organized medicine.
“He was always a person you could look to on what direction [TMA] should be moving on,” Dr. Cardenas said. “If you needed a gut check, you needed to talk to Don.”
Dr. Read sang in the choir at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church and had been a member of the Downtown Dallas Rotary Club for more than 30 years. His family established a memorial fund in his name to underwrite one or more pieces of commissioned choral music. (Dr. Don Read Fund for Commissioned Choral Music, Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, 9800 Preston Rd., Dallas, TX 75230.)
He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Roberta, a nurse at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas; daughters Alison and Sarah Read Gehrenbeck; grandchildren Henry Read and Theo Don Gehrenbeck; and his brother, Nat (Linda) Read.
Visitation is scheduled for Friday evening, March 29 at Restland Funeral Home, 13005 Greenville Ave., Dallas. Services will be at 10 am on Saturday, March 30 at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church.