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Dr. G. Edward Reahl, former chief of orthopedic surgery at Mercy Medical Center, dies

Dr. G. Edward Reahl, a former chief of orthopedic surgery at Mercy Medical Center, died of congestive heart failure at the age of 87.
Dr. G. Edward Reahl, a former chief of orthopedic surgery at Mercy Medical Center, died of congestive heart failure at the age of 87. (HANDOUT)

Dr. G. Edward Reahl, who had been chief of orthopedic surgery at Mercy Medical Center for nearly three decades and was a Navy veteran, died last Saturday of congestive heart failure at his Guilford home. He was 87.

“I met Ed 40 years ago when I was an intern at Mercy. He was a mentor at first and then a colleague. He was one of those people you always remember, and that 40 years seems just like yesterday,” said Dr. Marion C. Kowalewski, an internist and Kingsville resident.

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“He loved his patients, profession, and was an icon at Mercy. Everyone knows Ed Reahl. He was the kind of guy who made a lasting impression on you.”

George Edward Reahl Jr. — he never used his first name — was born in Baltimore and raised on Westowne Road in Baltimore County. He was the son of George Edward Reahl Sr., founder of the Potomac Coal Co., and Madeline McGonigle, a homemaker.

A 1948 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School, Dr. Reahl was 17 when he enrolled at Johns Hopkins University. After two years of studying engineering there, he transferred to what is now Loyola University Maryland where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952.

William Newkirk, who taught Dr. Reahl in engineering drawing at Hopkins, made a suggestion one day that altered Dr. Reahl’s life.

“I was terrible at doing that and worked many hours on projects that the [Baltimore Polytechnic Institute] students did in less than 30-35 minutes. They would get an ‘A’ and I would get a ‘D,’” Dr. Reahl wrote in an unpublished memoir.

“Finally, Mr. Newkirk told me he knew how hard I worked and would not fail me even though he should. ‘You will never make it in engineering. Find something else,’” Dr Reahl recounted. “I hated him for that, but after a number of years, I realized that was the best advice I ever got at Hopkins and at the right time.”

Dr. Reahl received his medical degree from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1956, which was followed by a two-year surgical internship and residency at what is now Mercy Medical Center.

While at Mercy, he met and fell in love with the former Hannah “Nancy” Marie Schanberger, a registered emergency room nurse, whom he married in 1957. She died in 1996.

In 1959, he began a surgical and orthopedic residency at New York Orthopedic Hospital at Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University. From 1962 to 1964, he served in the Navy as an orthopedic surgeon.

Dr. Reahl returned to Baltimore in 1964 and established his practice in an office on Cathedral Street, and three years later, was appointed chief of orthopedic surgery, which at the time was a fledgling department at what was then known as Mercy Hospital.

“I remember my first referral. It was from George Miller, an obstetrician-gynecologist guy who lived behind my grandmother Litz on Pelham Avenue,” Dr. Reahl wrote in his memoir. “His wife is Italian and big in that community and asked me to see a relative for ‘back pain.’ I gave him the full examination, spent a full hour with him initially, and follow-up visits.”

As orthopedic chief, Dr. Reahl revolutionized who could perform orthopedic procedures and he required that a surgeon had to be board certified and eligible in the specialty.

“At the time, family doctors and general surgeons were fixing fractures, nailing hips, and inserting prostheses,” Dr. Reahl wrote. “No more. Most accepted it graciously, others with some animosity, but they had no choice. Follow the pronouncement or do it elsewhere.”

Dr. Reahl was the first to perform arthroscopy and joint replacements at Mercy, family members said.

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“Ed was the old time doc that we had grown up with. He knew his patients on a personal level and they became friends,” Dr. Kowlewski said. “He would have them come in, sit down, and talk with them. He was interested in the whole person not just their bones.”

He described Dr. Reahl as “friendly, outgoing and reassuring.”

“Ed always had a smile on his face and when he greeted you, he shook your hand. He had a wonderful personal touch,” he said. “He gave patients confidence and told them they would be fine.”

Dorothy E. Ciulla, a Perry Hall resident, had been Dr. Reahl’s secretary and close friend for more than 40 years.

“Dr. Reahl was a fantastic doctor, surgeon and person. He was a local treasure and a legend at Mercy,” Miss Ciulla said.

“He was wonderful to work for, even though he could be [stubborn] at times, but in a nice way, and no one worked as hard as he did,” she said. “He built up the orthopedic department and Sister Mary Thomas, head of the hospital, gave him carte blanche to do that.”

Dr. Reahl was known for putting in long hours and was a familiar presence in hospital hallways.

“He put in 12-hour days. He’d arrive early and stay late,” Dr. Kowalewski said. “And if one of his patients was moved to another service, like the cardiac care unit, he’d go down and see them.”

“If a patient needed to see him and they were willing to wait, he’d fit them in, even if it was at 8 at night,” Miss Ciulla said. “And he would carefully explain things to patients so they’d understand it.”

Dr. Sam Glassner, who works in emergency medicine in Alameda, Calif., had been Dr. Reahl’s physician assistant.

“Had he not hired me as a PA, I would not have had the opportunity to learn from him, to see the example he set, and to have a hands-on introduction to medical practice,” Dr. Glassner wrote in an email.

“And without the confidence I gained from working alongside him for four years, I likely would not have been motivated to sell everything I owned in order to become a doctor.”

Dr. Reahl stepped down as department chief in 1993 after serving for 26 years. He had wanted to retire after 25 years, but was asked to remain on for another year. He remained in private practice until 2003.

In 2007, Loyola University Maryland presented him its John Carroll Medal.

Dr. Reahl, who had been vice president of the Frederick Avenue Building & Loan Association, had been an active member with his wife of the Mercy Auxiliary program. He was also a member of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore Opera & Opera Docs, and a bridge club.

A world traveler, he enjoyed collecting coins, stamps, sports cards, books, antiques and art. He also was an inveterate Orioles, Ravens and Baltimore Colts fan.

“Now that I have a lot of time to think while being limited in mobility, I look back on my life and consider myself very lucky. Right place! Right time!” he wrote.

A celebration of life Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. MondayAPR08 at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church, 2801 N. Charles Street.

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He is survived by a son, David l. Reahl Sr. of Chicago; three daughters, Nancy R. Bollinger of Homeland, Barbara A. Kasun of Bel Air, and M. Susan Johns of Bonita Springs, Fla.; 13 grandchildren; and a great-grandson. Another son, G. Edward Reahl, died in 2015.

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