Beloved Scripps Memorial surgeon Dr. Dana Launer dies

Dr. Dana Launer

By Joe Tash
Contributor

Dr. Dana Launer was a prominent colon and rectal surgeon, a gourmet chef and skilled wood-worker who loved to restore antique clocks. When he wasn’t operating on human patients, he often volunteered his services to help animals at veterinary clinics and zoos. But of all his accomplishments, he may have been proudest of his four children.

Launer, who served three stints as chief of surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla and also was chief of staff, died Dec. 20 following a series of illnesses. He made his hospital rounds in a typical doctor’s white coat, decorated in an unusual way — color photo-buttons of his two daughters and two sons. A resident of Carmel Valley, he was 62.

“He was a very underspoken, humble and modest man,” said Robert Vicino of Carmel Valley, a former patient of Launer’s. “He carried and displayed his badge of honor on his lab coat, his children. He was Mr. Dad.”

“He was a very skilled and elegant surgeon, he took great pride in his surgical technique,” said Dr. Jonathan Worsey, also a Carmel Valley resident and Launer’s partner for 11 years.

Both Launer — who was born and raised in Queens, New York — and Worsey trained at a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, although not at the same time. When Launer was looking for a partner to help him launch a surgical practice in San Diego in the late 1990s, he contacted a former professor, who recommended Worsey.

As Scripps Memorial’s chief of staff he acted as liaison between the hospital’s 900-plus doctors and the Scripps administration and board of directors.

More recently, a series of illnesses made it difficult for Launer to walk or stand for long periods, and he gradually stopped performing surgeries and instead focused on administrative duties.

In spite of suffering great pain, Worsey said, “Never once did he complain or take prolonged periods of time off. He would work hard.”

On Dec. 20, Launer collapsed at home and was taken to the hospital, where he died with family members at his bedside, Worsey said.

Launer is survived by his wife, Elaine, a nurse at Scripps Memorial; his daughters, Kathleen and Morgan, and twin sons, Spencer and Hunter.

He trained with top surgeons in both the U.S. and Germany, and became an accomplished practitioner of a procedure that allowed patients who suffered from certain intestinal diseases to avoid the need of wearing an external bag to collect waste.

“He had a great sense of style when he operated, he was a joy to watch,” Worsey said. “It was a life well-lived but cut short.”

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Posted by Kathy Day on Jan 7, 2011. Filed under La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “Beloved Scripps Memorial surgeon Dr. Dana Launer dies”

  1. madison

    To the family and friends of Dr. Launer,

    I have just heard of the passing of Dr. Launer and wanted to express sympathies to his family and colleagues.

    I was his patient two years ago and will always remember his kindness, humor and patience.

    I was so nervous prior to my surgery that I came in twice to talk to him and must have asked a million questions. He was so patient and answered them calmly. I even emailed him the ‘Doctor’s Checklist’ for a safer surgery and he emailed me back saying he has been using it for years. He could have been insulted but he knew it was from a nervous patient.

    After my surgery he would answer my calls and later after a few weeks he would respond to my emails even on weekends.

    Even a couple of years later I emailed him to seek advice as my husband needed prostate surgery. He helped me with names of doctors to call.

    I know he was the Chief of Staff at the hospital and I hope for all future patients that he instilled his special regard for patients in the doctors and staff of which he was in charge.

    I believe that if all doctors, and for that matter more people, were like him the world would be a better place.

    All of my thoughts are with you at this time,

  2. Patricia

    I'm heartbroken. I just found this article and learned of Dr. Launer's passing. I became his patient almost 22 years ago when as a young 28-year-old I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. Because of the excellent care I received, not only from Dr. Launer but the entire staff at Scripps Memorial Hospital, I am still "walking the walk".

    Dr. Launer wouldn't let me wallow in self pity from such a diagnosis. Instead, he helped me face my world head on. It made all the difference and I will never be able to express how much that meant to me. He will always be my knight in shining armor.

    My condolences to his family and friends and everyone at Scripps.

  3. Tracie

    I learned of Dr. Launer's passing a few months back and have been distraught ever since. In Feb 2009 I was diagnosed with colon cancer and referred to Dr. Launer. I was 35 yrs old and he jumped on my case…got me in and out of there. I will never forget when he walked in the door to my hospital room 2 days after surgery and told me that it was stage 1 and I wouldn't need chemo. He was so excited for me! He was so mild mannered. My husband and I are so grateful that he gave me my life back. When I was released from the hospital he told me that he was going to take a short leave of absence for some medical issues and I told him I was so grateful to have gotten in with him before his absence.
    I am so blessed to have had this man as my surgeon. I miss him…..there were so many times I wanted to swing by his office and tell him how I was doing and how grateful I was to him for blessing me with his care. This was an incredible man and doctor. His will be missed by so many, including those of us that he saved with his loving hands.
    Blessings to you Dr. Launer….you will be terribly missed.

  4. Howard

    Our deepest condolences to the Launer family. We just found about his passing. When visiting San Diego from Atlanta in 1999 I had an accident on Christmas Eve and Dr Launer successfully operated on me on Christmas Day. I stayed in la Jolla under his care for 7 days, after this time he discharged me to the care of an equally great doctor in Atlanta who trained with him in Cleveland. The transition was so smooth that it was like having Dr Launer’s twin with me in Atlanta.

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