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Out of the Ordinary

Dr Donald Liu remembered as a hero and dedicated physician

Scott Hixson

Dr. Donald Liu remembered as loving father and husband

The pediatric surgeon drowned Sunday while rescuing two stranded boys from Lake Michigan

Dr. Donald Liu was an elite pediatric surgeon at the University of Chicago Medicine’s Comer Children’s Hospital. His passing will be remembered as heroic as he is being mourned as a man who “always did the right thing.”

Dr. Donald Liu, chief of pediatric surgery at Comer Children’s Hospital, passed away Sunday after diving into the waters of Lake Michigan in an attempt to save two boys struggling to swim after having fallen from their kayak.

Dr. Donald Liu raced along the beach in Berrien County, Mich., after spotting the boys. According to Liu’s wife and local authorities, despite objections from his children, who worried about the dangerous conditions presented by the rough water, Liu dove in to save the boys, who were not wearing lifejackets.

Dr. Liu made it to the boys, said his wife, Dr. Dana Suskind, but was not able to escape the rip current. Emergency responders arrived at the scene at about 10:40 a.m. and pulled Liu, 50, from the water. His wife of over 17 years, who is also a surgeon, performed CPR, but Liu was pronounced dead shortly after. The boys he saved, who were friends of the family, reached land safely.

“You couldn’t stop him,” Suskind told “He always did the right thing.”

Suskind continued, “He had the biggest heart. He was a brilliant surgeon … but what was amazing about him was that he was the best father, that was his priority in life, and he loved me with all of his heart.”

“This is a man that would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning, be in the operating room in 10 or 15 minutes, literally save a child’s life who was bleeding to death from trauma – a car accident, gunshot wound, a beating,” said Dr. John Alverdy, executive vice chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago.

Jeffrey Matthews, chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine, said of Dr. Donald Liu, “He was known as a selfless individual who was completely devoted to children.” Matthews added, “People will tell you that he’s the heart and soul of our pediatric programs. And always going the extra mile. He was tireless. You know, the kind of guy would operate all day and all night and say, ‘Where do we have to go next?’ And he would do whatever the children needed.”

“Everything [Liu] did, everything he talked about was always for the children,” Matthews continued. “And so the tragedy is that he died, of course, as a hero doing what he did every day, which was saving children.”

Dr. Donald Liu is survived by three children – Genevieve, 13, Asher, 10, and Amelie, 7 – and his wife, Dr. Dana Suskind.

“I’m really sad that my dad died because every time he would come home from work at 5 o’clock, even though he didn’t have to, he would play baseball with me and we would go in the backyard,” Asher said. “We would always watch the White Sox together.”

Dr. Donald Liu will be buried in University of Chicago surgical scrubs. He will be holding a White Sox baseball, a video game and his children’s pictures.

Services will be Wednesday morning at a yet to be determined time at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation at 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.

The University of Chicago campus is planning another memorial to be held in September.

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