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May 25, 2004 > A Big Idea - Washington Hospital Originals Reunion

A Big Idea - Washington Hospital Originals Reunion

The year was 1958. In the midst of orchards and open fields, a new hospital opened its doors to serve the needs of 30,000 Washington Township residents and the explosive population growth to follow. Auntie Mame, Gigi, The Big Country and Vertigo were playing on the "big screen" and The Bridge on the River Kwai captured the Oscar for Best Picture. Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over a country rocked by civil rights struggles in the Deep South, the U.S. initiated Project Mercury to put a man in space within two years and Krushchev became Premier of the Soviet Union. French President Charles de Gaulle and Tennis Phenomenon Althea Gibson, were prominent in the news. The Yankees won the World Series, Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army, the laser was invented and the European Common Market was founded.

The cities of Newark and Fremont had recently incorporated and Union City was soon to follow. The new hospital was a welcome addition to the area and literally saved lives by providing, immediate access to surgery and emergency treatment Farm and industrial accident victims, who before were transported to San Jose, Oakland or Alameda, were the initial beneficiaries of the new facility. The burgeoning traffic flow also became a factor for increased medical service needs. In fact, the first emergency surgical case that rushed through the doors of Washington Hospital was a motorist who had been impaled on a wooden girder of the Dumbarton Bridge (he survived!).As the East Bay opened to more traffic and population growth, the hospital expanded, adding more specialized services.

Local physicians formed the first medical staff and each, no matter what the specialty, was an "on call" emergency physician in rotation. A close camaraderie developed between the doctors. Dr. James Gearhart says, "We felt like the roots of a tree that we hoped would blossom over the years." That statement was prophetic as the building on Santos Road (now called Mowry Avenue) developed into a major, first class medical facility of the Bay Area. Instead of spending hours on the road visiting distant hospitals, physicians could travel to their new 150 bed hospital in the heart of their community, maximizing time for patient consultations. Area physicians frequently consulted with each other to capitalize on their collective knowledge. This willingness to share their expertise resulted in high quality medical care in the Tri-Cities which easily transferred to the new hospital.

The subsequent forty-six years have scattered the pioneer physicians as they matured and many lost track of each other. On a visit to his medical school alma mater for a reunion, Dr. Gearhart considered a reunion of a different sort. It was time for the Washington Hospital "Originals" to gather again; to share friendships, stories and marvel at the growth of the community and the facility they helped nurture in its infancy. On Wednesday, April 28, 2004, many of the original physicians of Washington Hospital gathered to reminisce and celebrate their accomplishment. Those attending included Ralph Alperin, M.D.; Conrad Anderson, M.D.; Richard Delfs, M.D.; Thomas Evernden, M.D.; Robert Fisher, M.D.; James Gearhart, M.D.; Robert Landucci, M.D.; Edward Mayer, M.D.; John O'Connor, M.D.; Holger Rasmussen, M.D.; Robert L. Singer, M.D.; and Edward Whalen, M.D. Unable to attend were Walter Hartzell, M.D.; Charles Ruth, M.D. and Desmond Surfleet, M.D.

Of the original physicians, the following are remembered fondly and missed by all who knew them in life: Edward Bauer, M.D.; Franco Beretta, M.D.; Lyle Buehler, M.D.; Merle Buehler, M.D.; Gene Gran, M.D.; Robert Hansen, M.D.; Frank McMahon, M.D.; Len Ortega, M.D.; Gary Romito, M.D.; James Sylvester, M.D.; J. Trant, M.D.

The Tri-Cities owe a debt of gratitude to those with the vision to create Washington Hospital and the "originals" that provided the framework for generations of medical professionals who followed.

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