Dr. Morton Woolley


(Dr. Don Nakayama, Saving Lifetimes)

Dr. Morton Woolley died December 11, 2019. He was a Charter Member of APSA and served as APSA President 1978-1979.

Woolley served as surgeon-in-chief at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) from 1975-1990. Under his leadership, CHLA developed into an international referral center for all specialties in surgery, and a leading training program in the field. He succeeded William Snyder, founding director of the training program at CHLA, for one year in 1969-1970, then resumed the responsibility five years later when he was named surgeon-in-chief. During his tenure 19 pediatric surgeons trained under him, several of them future leaders in surgery and pediatric surgery, including APSA president Michael Harrison, Richard Andrassy, Thomas Whalen, Kevin Lally, and Walter Chwals.
Born in Atlanta in 1924, young Mort moved with the family to seek a more commodious climate in Denver for his ailing father, only to suffer his death when the boy was only seven. The family moved to Worthington, OH, then on the northern outskirts of Columbus, where he became a star on the high school basketball team. With the country at war, he entered the V7 Program of the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School and flight training. At war’s end he returned home to complete his baccalaureate at nearby Otterbein College in 1946. He entered the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, CA (today’s Loma Linda University School of Medicine), and graduated as class president in 1951. He trained in surgery at the Los Angeles County Hospital, where he met his wife Jane, who was doing her intern year there.
Drawn to children’s surgery, Woolley saw that coverage of pediatric surgery at the county hospital was “a little thin.” He won a position as resident at the Children’s Medical Center in Boston under Robert Gross from 1957-1959, with Jane completing her anesthesiology training at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. They returned to Los Angeles in 1960 where Woolley divided his time between CHLA and the White Memorial Hospital, the primary teaching hospital for Loma Linda located just east of downtown Los Angeles. Initially part of the Loma Linda surgical faculty, Woolley practice gradually shifted over to CHLA and became fulltime when he was named its fulltime surgeon-in-chief and professor of surgery at the University of Southern California. Besides the presidency of APSA, he was active in the major professional societies in pediatric surgery, including serving as president of the Pacific Association of Pediatric Surgeons in 1991-1992.

His publications drew on the voluminous clinical caseload at CHLA and his own experience in the field, such as one of the early series of isolated esophageal atresia treated with delayed surgery and esophageal bouginage (1969). In 1977 Woolley authored one of the most profound articles in pediatric surgery: a two-page summary of a questionnaire sent to parents who had the death of a child, published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. He wrote

Without exception, each of us has experienced the death of our own child or observed the response of parents to the death of their child. … You may have wondered how you might help the parents, and, after doing your best, wondered if your actions, or lack thereof, have been truly beneficial, unhelpful, or harmful.

With words that came from wisdom and inherent humanity, Woolley offered straightforward advice to his colleagues, present and future, that bears reading and re-reading, and sharing with the next generation of pediatric surgeons.
  1. Wooley MM, Leix F, Johnston PW, et al. Esophageal atresia types A and B: upper pouc elongation and delayed anatomic reconstruction. J Pediatr Surg. 1969;4(1):148-53.
  2. Woolley MM. The death of a child – the parent’s perspective and advice. J Pediatr Surg. 1977;32(1):73-4.
There will be a celebration of life on January 26 at 4:00 at the Loma Linda University Church. In lieu of flowers, Dr. Woolley's family requests that donations be sent to Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital Foundation, Morton M. and E. Jane Woolley Endowed Chair for Pediatric Surgerygiving.lluh.org/mortwoolley

View his obituary.