SPRINGFIELD - Alan G. Birtch, M.D., beloved husband, father, grandfather, surgeon, teacher and friend, died peacefully at home December 28, 2011 from cancer. All of the family gathered at the Birtch home for Christmas and his last days were spent surrounded by his children and grandchildren. He was born February 3, 1932 in La Porte, Indiana, the son of Grant Birtch and Helen Johnson Birtch. He married his high school sweetheart, Elaine Gade, on August 22, 1954 at St. John's Lutheran Church in La Porte.
Dr. Birtch graduated from La Porte High School in 1950. He attended Johns Hopkins University where he was president of the Student Council, co-captain of the basketball team, president of his ATO fraternity, was awarded the Alexander K. Barton Cup for integrity and leadership, and elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1958 he graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School where he was elected to AOA, the honorary society. His surgical training was at Harvard's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (now the Brigham and Women's) in Boston. While still a resident, he became assistant director of Ambulatory Service at the Brigham. In 1964 he was named Chief Resident and the Arthur Tracy Cabot Teaching Fellow in Surgery at Harvard Medical School. A year was spent in the surgical lab perfecting a technique for liver transplants in dogs. His interest in transplant surgery was born at this time at the Brigham where the first successful kidney transplant was performed. After his residency, he spent a year as a Research Fellow in the Physiology lab at Harvard Medical School.
He joined the Harvard Medical School faculty and the staff of the Brigham and was given the responsibility of the Surgical and Outpatient Emergency Room. In addition to his general surgical practice, he continued to work with his mentor, Chief of Surgery Francis D. Moore, on liver transplantation. They performed four of the initial dozen liver transplants in the world. He shared the surgical responsibility for the kidney transplant program with Drs. Richard Wilson and Joseph Murray and assumed the directorship of the transplant unit in 1971.
When his medical school classmate and friend Dr. Roland Folse invited him to join the pioneer faculty at the new Southern Illinois School of Medicine in Springfield, Dr. Birtch embraced the challenge to help develop the department of surgery. In 1972, the Birtch family joined the Springfield community when he became Professor and Assistant Chairman of Surgery and Chairman, Division of General Surgery at SIU. He wore many hats at SIU: Development of the General Surgery Residency Program, Coordinator of Residency Affairs, Chief of Transplantation, Organizer and then Councilor of the AOA chapter, the Student Progress Committee, The Dean's Staff and a variety of committees and revue boards.
He served as medical director of the Memorial Medical Center and the SIU Transplant Program. Dr. Birtch was Chairman of Memorial's Department of General Surgery from 1984 through 1996. During his career he was instrumental in the founding of the New England Organ Bank and the formation of the Organ Transplant Society which became recognized as the Regional Organ Bank of Illinois (ROBI) and later, Gift of Hope. He was honored in 2002 for the impact of his leadership on organ donor programs when he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Illinois Secretary of State, Jesse White. He served on the Memorial Health System Board of Directors from 1998 -2004 when he became an emeritus member. In May 2011, he was honored by the hospital with the renaming of the transplant program to "The Alan G. Birtch, MD Center for Transplant Services at Memorial."
Dr. Birtch was a member of numerous societies, including The American Surgical Association, American Society of Transplant Surgeons, The Halsted Society, Society of University Surgeons, American College of Surgeons, Sangamon County Medical Society, Illinois Surgical Society, Central Surgical, Societe Internationale De Chirurgie, the International Transplantation Society. The Birtch-Folse-Sumner Lectureship was an event he always enjoyed and looked forward to seeing former residents he helped train.
Throughout his life he enjoyed participating in sports. He was an avid golfer and after his retirement enjoyed playing with a league at Lincoln Greens. He loved fly fishing, which he was able to do in streams and rivers around the world. Teaching his grandchildren to fish on Lake Springfield was one of the joys of his life. He was an active member of St. John's Lutheran Church serving on the church council for a number of years. The Sunday Night Small Group at St. John's became special friends who gave him support during this illness. Alan loved his family and the best times for him were times spent with his children and his grandchildren.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Elaine; son, Grant and his wife Susan of Neenah, WI; daughter, Jane Vatchev and husband Oleg of Carol Stream, IL; son, Eric and wife Joanne of Burr Ridge, IL; son, Mark of Springfield; ten grandchildren, Benjamin Alan, Madeline Isabel, Christopher Arthur, Michael Alan, Sarah Grace, Alan Grant II, Emily Noel, Helena Elaine, Luke Alan and Amanda Elaine; brother, Dale Birtch and wife Nancy of Tucson, AZ; and two nieces, Jenny Thompson and Pam Gross.
Visitation: Family will receive friends from 4:00-7:00 p.m. on Friday, January 6, 2012 at St. John's Lutheran Church Parish Life Center, 2477 W. Washington, Springfield.
Funeral Ceremony: 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 7, 2012 at St. John's Lutheran Church, 2477 W. Washington, Springfield.
Burial will be in Pine Lake Cemetery in La Porte, IN on Friday, January 13, 2012.
Because of Dr. Birtch's commitment to his transplant patients, memorial contributions may be made to: Memorial Medical Center Foundation for the Transplant Patient Assistance Fund, 701 N. First St., Springfield, IL 62781.
The family of Alan G. Birtch, M.D. is being served by Kirlin-Egan & Butler Funeral Home, 900 S. 6th St., Springfield.
Please visit butlerfuneralhomes.com to offer your condolences.
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