Randall McNally, Innovative Plastic Surgeon, Dies at 92

Maiya Focht

August 17, 2022

Randall E. McNally, MD, an innovator and teacher in the plastic surgery field, died from complications due to old age in his family home in Lake Forest, Illinois, on July 25. He was 92 years old. It's rare that someone lives up to the stories people tell about them, but Randall did, said his son, Thomas A. McNally, MD.

"He was a preeminent teacher," said McNally Jr, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a spine surgeon at the University of Chicago. "But he also kind of lived up to what he taught. His main [lesson when] educating doctors was: 'If you always put the patients and their interest first, the medical decision-making is usually straightforward.'"

His father's greatest priorities were always his family, his patients, and the people he taught, he added. In fact, it was caring for his family that led McNally Sr to his most well-known moment. An Air Force veteran, he flew to Vietnam in 1972 to identify the bodies of his relatives who had been killed by a plane bomb. When he arrived, the toll of the Vietnam War immediately moved him to volunteer at the local hospital and offer his plastic surgery skills.

He spent just 2 weeks there operating for 12 hours a day, helping dozens of children, said his son. One of those children was 9-year-old Kim Phùc Phan Thi, the south Vietnamese girl who was photographed by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut after a napalm attack. The photo remains one of the most famous reminders of the horrors of war to this day.

On June 8, 1972, 9-year-old Kim Phuc Phan Thi, center, ran with her brothers and cousins, followed by South Vietnamese forces, down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam, after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on its own troops and civilians. The terrified girl ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. Known as the girl in the napalm attack photo, on Monday Kim Phuc flew aboard an NGO plane from Warsaw, Poland, accompanying almost 240 refugees from the war in Ukraine on a flight to safety in Canada.

McNally Sr was the first to treat Kim Phùc when she entered the hospital with severe burns from the napalm. She credits him with her life, and the two remained close up until his death. "I love him so much," she said. "I owe him and all the doctors and nurses. They inspired me and made me have a dream to help people, like they helped me," she said in an interview with the Chicago Sun Times following McNally's death.

But while this may be what his father is best known for, his son is quick to point out how much more McNally Sr did abroad and at home. His impressive list of accolades includes a long period as the resident doctor for the Chicago Blackhawks, years as the chairman of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and a 6-year run as the associate dean of surgical services and sciences at Rush Medical School. He received the first lifetime achievement award from the Illinois Plastic Surgery Society in 2004, and was a founder of the Chicago Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Colleagues in the field remember him as a patient teacher and brilliant mind, specializing in innovative forms of skin grafting techniques. "He taught his residents to look beyond what they'd been taught in textbooks. And to think far, far outside the box." said his former student George Kouris, MD, in a Legacy obituary.

McNally Sr is survived by eight children, 28 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren. His legacy of hard work, kindness, and warmth live on through his family and his patients.

As his son, and also a surgeon, McNally Jr has taken on his father's priorities: Taking care of my family and taking care of my patients are the most important things in my life as well, he said.

For more news, follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.