Submariner who assisted in first sub surgery dies at 86

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Dr. Franz P. Hoskins, who acted as anesthesiologist without training in the first appendectomy ever done in a submerged submarine, has died of cancer at age 86.

Hoskins, who used three pints of ether in the operation aboard the Seadragon on Sept. 11, 1942, died Nov. 8 in Kingsport, Tenn., and was buried Wednesday in Greeneville, Tenn.

Hoskins, who attended the University of Washington before the war, later became a submarine commander. He returned to the university in 1946, earned a medical degree and worked as a family physician for more than 40 years in the Tacoma area. He retired six years ago.

A report on the surgery that saved the life of Darrell Dean Rector, 19 at the time, won the Pulitzer Prize for battlefront news writing for George Weller of the Chicago Daily News and was adapted for television in the late 1950s.

More than 55 years later, Hoskins gave his own account in an article posted on the Internet.

When Rector was stricken with appendicitis, the Seadragon was behind Japanese lines, about 2,000 miles and at least eight days from the nearest Allied port, Port Darwin, Australia.

The only crew member with any medical training, Wheeler Lipes, a pharmacist’s mate first class, talked with Capt. William Farrell and was given approval to try to save Rector’s life.

Lipes picked his surgical team, assigning duties with the aid of the U.S. Navy Pharmacist’s Medical Handbook. Years later, after becoming a hospital president in Corpus Christi, Texas, he said he chose Hoskins because "I thought he could follow my instructions."

Operating on a mess table, the team used bent spoons for retractors, scalpel blades held with a hemostat and pajamas sterilized with alcohol as surgical gowns.

Hoskins administered ether through a makeshift mask made from gauze and a large tea strainer. During the two-hour, 36-minute operation, the fumes were so thick that everyone in the room became groggy.

"One thing I learned," Hoskins said in The Times interview, "You can do an appendectomy with 3 ounces of ether. I used three pints."

Rector recovered without complications but died two years later on another sub when one of its torpedoes circled back and blew up the ship.

Hoskins is survived by a daughter, Nancy Hoskins, and a son, Franz Hoskins Jr., an anesthesiologist and medical director of an outpatient surgery center in Arcadia, Calif.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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