Dr. Robert McClelland, Who Tried to Save President Kennedy, Dies at 89


At 1 p.m. Central time, Kennedy was pronounced dead.

Two days later, Dr. McClelland returned to Parkland, where he tried to save the life of Lee Harvey Oswald after Oswald, under arrest as the president’s assassin, was gunned down in the basement of a Dallas police station by the nightclub owner Jack Ruby. The bullet struck Oswald’s aorta and a large torso vein known as the inferior vena cava, Dr. McClelland said, causing extensive blood loss.

Dr. Perry opened Oswald’s chest, and he and Dr. McClelland massaged his heart.

“You pumped Oswald’s heart?” a medical student asked Dr. McClelland in a meeting described by the Dallas magazine D in 2008. (Dr. Perry died in 2009.)

“We took turns, each going until we got tired,” he said. “We went for, oh, about 40 minutes.”

Robert Nelson McClelland was born on Nov. 20, 1949, in the East Texas city of Gilmer. His father, Robert, was a butcher, and his mother, Verna (Nelson) McClelland, was a federal relief agent.

Dr. McClelland graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, and received his medical degree from its medical branch in Galveston in 1954. He did his internship at the University of Kansas Medical Center and served as a medical officer in the Air Force for two years.

He returned to Texas in 1957 to become a surgical resident at Parkland and entered private practice two years later. But soon after, he went back to Parkland to complete his training and in 1962 joined what is now called the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Its doctors and surgeons staff Parkland.

The Kennedy assassination occurred early in Dr. McClelland’s career as a general surgeon; his specialty was liver resections. He was also a professor and scholar of medicine who helped train hundreds of surgeons at the University of Texas Southwestern.

For about 30 years starting in the 1970s, he self-published “Selected Readings in General Surgery,” a regular compendium of journal articles — accompanied by his critiques — that had as many as 5,000 subscribers.

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