50 Novembers: The Parkland doctors who tried to save JFK

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 20, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 20 at 8:01 PM

DALLAS ––  On Nov. 22, 1963, the alert pages echoed over the public address speakers throughout Parkland Memorial Hospital. 

The doctor who picked up the red emergency telephone in the cafeteria remembers being rushed to Trauma Room 1 after hearing the cackling voice on the line stress the importance of the call: Get there, stat.  

"As we looked at the president, I never saw any evidence of life,” said Dr. Ron Jones, chief resident of surgery at the time. “I didn't see him breathe, his eyes were open and fixed.  But not knowing the extent of his injury, we went ahead and tried to resuscitate him."

Jones says the room was so crowded he couldn't even grab a pair of sterile gloves. He worked on the president with his bare hands. 

“We knew there was a large hole injury to the back of his head, but we didn't stop to look at that,” he said. “We were trying to get an airway established and an IV going and get blood."

Outside the door, Jacqueline Kennedy stood motionless.

"Jackie was looking out at the crowd that assembled here,” recalls Dr. Norman Borge, who was a medical student at the time. 

Borge did not work on Kennedy, but admits sneaking into the emergency room to watch what happened. He recalls the interaction with a priest standing next to the first lady.

The priest decided he was going to help her get rid of the bloody glove that she had on her arm, Borge said. And the moment he touched her arm, she recoiled and said, Leave me alone. I'm just as capable as you are. And in one motion, she dropped her arm and regained her composure and kept looking at the crowd.

Borge says he gave Mrs. Kennedy a folding chair so she could sit down. He then returned with a cup of cold water.

So that she could see me come, I came with this cup of water and held it with both hands, and, glued to that water, I approached her with that and waited and waited until I looked at her. And she was waiting for me to look at her. She smiled and said, 'Thank you very much. I said, You're very welcome,’” he said. 

Borge, now a retired family practice doctor, believes he got the only smile Mrs. Kennedy gave that terrible day. Inside Trauma Room 1, doctors knew there was nothing to smile about.

Dr. Jones stepped out, only to be approached by the FBI and the Secret Service.

“And he said, ‘I'm with the FBI and I need to call J. Edgar Hoover and tell him the condition of the president.’ And that's when it struck me that nobody knew at that time that the president was dead. We went just a few steps farther and anther gentleman walked up and said, 'I'm with Secret Service. And need to call Joseph Kennedy and tell him the condition of his son.’ And that was an emotional thing for me. So I told them that he was not doing well.”

"I didn't tell them that he was dead,” said Dr. Jones.  “No. 1, he had not been pronounced. No. 2, Mrs. Kennedy did not want him pronounced until a priest arrived and a priest had not arrived. So I decided not to be the one that broke that news.”

"I have no idea what I said,” says Dr. Red Duke, at the time a fourth year surgery resident at Parkland. “But they said, 'Well, there's a guy across the hall needs some help.'"

Dr. Duke, and others, did manage to save the life of Gov. John Connally, who was shot alongside the president.

Two days later, the Parkland team would work just as hard trying to save the life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

At Parkland today, a sign in a waiting room marks the spot where Trauma Room 1 used to be. There is also a small memorial in an administrative hall.

Now all in their 80s, the doctors who shared a tragic brush with history that day at Parkland say it only reinforced their mission to save all lives, whether they be paupers or presidents. 

Email jstjames@wfaa.com

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