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Dr. Thomas William Self M.D.

Dr. Thomas William Self M.D. Obituary
Dr. Thomas William Self, M.D., world-renowned Pediatric Gastroenterologist, patriot, inventor, professor, scholar, author, speaker, mentor, leader, and tireless advocate, passed away at his La Jolla home on November 2, 2019, surrounded by his family. He had just turned 80 years old.

The extraordinary Dr. Self was an incredibly loving husband of 48 years to his wife Linda, exemplary father to daughters Sarah and Polly, and an inspirational grandfather ""Papa"" to three boys, Charlie and Sebastian Self, and Winn Thomas Self-Zavala.

Dr. Self practiced medicine for over 45 years. The license plate on his shiny gold Corvette was HEPAR, which is Latin for ""Liver"". He was the first physician to bring the specialty of Pediatric Gastroenterology to Southern California and opened the first series of specialty clinics in San Diego at Kaiser Permanente Hospital, Children' Hospital, Balboa Navy Hospital, and University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Hospital.

Dr. Self was born in Atlanta, Georgia to Lillian Adeline Sullivan and Thomas Roy Self, a father that he lost early at age 11. Dr. Self spent his childhood in North Carolina with his younger brother, Don, collecting insects in the creek, running around in the forest, and tending to the family's chickens. Don was sick much of his childhood, which likely fueled Dr. Self's early desire to become a healer.

Dr. Self was highly accomplished in both his education and medical training. He strongly valued the importance of academics. Dr. Self completed his undergraduate degree in 1961 at University of Florida. He then attended medical school at the University of Miami, graduating in 1965. From 1965 to 1967, he completed his training in Pediatrics as well as his residency at the University of California at Los Angeles. From 1967 to 1969, he served a secondary sub-specialty fellowship at Yale University in Pediatric Gastroenterology.

Following his training at Yale, Dr. Self served in the United States Air Force from 1969 to 1971 where he worked at David Grant Medical Center providing medical care to pediatric G.I. patients. During this time, Dr. Self met his bright and loving wife, Linda Pfyl, who was just finishing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. After repeatedly trying to get her to have dinner, most of his offers rebuffed because she was focused on her studies, she finally acquiesced. After a whirlwind of dates, they were engaged within 4 months. As he told the story, Dr. Self insisted on setting a quick wedding date, ensuring that Linda wouldn't ""get away"". They were married within the year.

As newlyweds, Dr. Self and Linda purchased their first home in La Jolla's Bird Rock area. Due to his thorough nature and wonderful bedside manner, Dr. Self quickly became the informal neighborhood pediatrician, frequently treating neighbor's sick or injured little ones with repayment in pastries and sweets.

Dr. Self had a voracious desire to help reform children's medical care, and was passionate about Pediatric Gastroenterology. For years he served as Chief of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Unit at Children's Hospital and Health Center in San Diego, Kaiser Permanente Hospital, and UCSD. He also served as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at UCSD. Dr. Self was dual-boarded by the American Board of Pediatrics as well as the American Board of Pediatrics Gastroenterology and Nutrition. Dr. Self sat on numerouscommittees and boards including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the California Medical Association, the San Diego County Medical Society, the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, and the American Society for Pediatric Enteric Nutrition. Additionally, throughout his lifetime, Dr. Self served as a National Consultant to the Armed Forces in Pediatric Gastroenterology and nutrition.

His fight for patients was not only in his practice but in clinical research. Dr. Self authored many articles in medical journals including the Journal of The American Medical Association, Archives Neurology, Clinical Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. He also developed a patent to detect pediatric allergies.

His fight for patients was not only in his practice but in clinical research. Dr. Self authored many articles in medical journals including the Journal of The American Medical Association, Archives Neurology, Clinical Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. He also developed a patent to detect pediatric allergies.

His colleagues, students, and patients and their parents adored his laser focus on care, as well as his intelligent, kind, and warm disposition. He gave each of his patients as much attention and focus as he did his own children. He always stayed after hours to see all of his patients, even if they were hours late to their appointment. One of his patient's mothers, who was over two hours late to her son's appointment, overheard Dr. Self telling his nurse that he would still see her son, because ""it was not the child's fault for being late."" It was his nightly routine to come home from a long day at the hospital, eat dinner with his wife and daughters, and then return to the hospital that same night to see more patients, often seeing them after hours and on weekends to accommodate their schedule. His Hippocratic Oath always shining bright.

Dr. Self was a passionate advocate for patients' rights and patients' care instead of managed care's focus on profits. He foresaw managed care contaminating the professional ethics of medicine and disrupting the ""do no harm"" oath he pledged. His mission was always on patients, not profits.

Dr. Self courageously spearheaded the national movement of patients over profits and successfully led a battle to reform managed care. In 1998, Dr. Self and his wife, Linda, won a landmark lawsuit after he advocated for a ""higher level of healthcare"" in a business increasingly driven by profits. The verdict was first of its kind in the nation. The case was covered by almost every major news outlets in the country including being front page of The Los Angeles Times as well as The New York Times. The verdict's symbolism was evident. Dr. Self received telegrams, calls, letters, and emails from patients, doctors, and lay people throughout the nation, commending him for ""fighting the good fight"", having the ""guts"" to pursue what is right for the patient, giving other physicians ""hope"", and for his valuable victory to ""the entire medical community"".

This victory was just the tip of the iceberg. His perseverance for what was best for the patient never wavered. In 1998, Dr. Self received the Association of Trial Lawyers of America's Steven J. Sharp Public Service Award, recognizing him for his outstanding contribution to civil justice.

In July 1998, Dr. Self wrote a full-page Op-Ed for The New York Times entitled ""One Man's Battle With The Managed Care Monster"". This piece caught the attention of President Bill Clinton, who invited Dr. Self and Linda to Capitol Hill two months later to discuss Dr. Self's experiences in the medical field.

In 1999, Dr. Self testified before the United States Senate about his personal experience as a physician and health care reform. Concurrently, he and Linda, a Registered Nurse, were invited by The White House to Capitol Hill and spoke before the House of Representatives to advocate for legislation of managed care, all of which was documented in the Congressional Record.

Dr. Self was subsequently profiled on 20-20 in a segment entitled ""The Good Doctor"". He also appeared on the Today show as well as other national programs and was selected as one of the 50 people to watch by San Diego Magazine. He penned many additional pieces on his mission to champion patient's rights which were featured in such publications as The San Diego Union, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.Dr. Self was subsequently profiled on 20-20 in a segment entitled ""The Good Doctor"". He also appeared on the Today show as well as other national programs and was selected as one of the 50 people to watch by San Diego Magazine. He penned many additional pieces on his mission to champion patient's rights which were featured in such publications as The San Diego Union, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today.

Dr. Self was invited to sit on the Board of Directors of the national organizations, Physicians Who Care, Patients Who Care, and The America College of Legal Medicine.

Aside from his role as a beacon in health care, Dr. Self was a family man.

He was an outstanding father. He was very proud of his two daughters. Sarah graduated from La Jolla High School with a degree from Northwestern University, and is a Partner at the international entertainment agency, William Morris Endeavor (WME). Polly also graduated from La Jolla High School with a degree from Georgetown University. After practicing as a Registered Nurse at Johns Hopkins, Polly attended law school at University of California, Hastings and is an Attorney at White & Case, LLP in Manhattan.

In his family life, Dr. Self was a charming and brilliant man who was known for his integrity, wit, and patient disposition. He loved to attend the opera. He and Linda were avid collector of antiques, with his penchant for grandfather clocks and miniature ships. They loved to garden together, and their home was featured several times in such magazines as Traditional Home, San Diego Home/Garden, and Country Gardens, as well as on television channels including HGTV. He loved animals and had domesticated chickens, English game hens, call ducks, roosters, and even a turkey and a turtle, which lived freely in the backyard of their La Jolla home. He treated animals the way he treated his patients, once performing an endoscopy on a very ill Komodo dragon at the request of The San Diego Zoo. And on one rather rainy night, Dr. Self quickly gathered up all of the family's pet chickens and made them a warm nest in the oven.

Dr. Self loved reading any and all books and newspapers. Friday nights for Dr. Self and his family were frequently spent at the local Bookstore where the family would split up and each find their favorite section, quietly read until closing. He was fascinated with cars, trains, fighter jets, and planes. He loved good food, and was blessed, as Linda became a well-regarded cook in La Jolla.

He loved to whistle around the house, he loved the rain and stormy weather, and he was always in a good mood.

Always.

There was no one quite like Dr. Self. One of his many gifts was his warmth, so genuine, and making sure others felt their individual importance. Of most significance, was his wife Linda. They shared a wonderful love story. She was his best friend, his muse, his partner in life and in work. When Dr. Self got sick, she fought tirelessly for his life and his care, just as he had done all those years for his pediatric patients.

Due to his wife's support, Dr. Self was one of the longest living patients with Multiple System Atrophy.

Dr. Self's inimitable legacy will always be remembered.
Published in The San Diego Union Tribune from Dec. 1 to Dec. 4, 2019
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