Dr. Michael Sanchez, who in a few months as director
of University Hospital's busy emergency department slashed waiting times
and reduced the number of patients turned away because of overcrowding,
was struck and killed while jogging Sunday afternoon.
His own emergency department colleagues tried to save Sanchez without recognizing him because of the extent of his injuries. Only after he was pronounced dead did they learn it was Sanchez, hospital staff said.
“It's a tremendous loss for us, for the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, for the University Health System and for the community,” said Dr. Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon and Sanchez's supervisor.
“It's difficult for the people who took care of him, for the nurses and staff and physicians, to realize that the person you were just working on is a close friend and colleague,” Stewart said.
Sanchez, a marathon runner, often ran several miles from his home north of Loop 1604 down Bandera Road to O.P. Schnabel Park, where he would meet up with his wife, who drove there separately. Together they would run through the park and then drive home together. Sunday they exchanged waves as she drove past him, his family said.
“He (usually) meets up with her
there and they jog around the park to finish out because she can't run
that far,” her son-in-law, Jim Parker, said. “She was waiting in the
park, saying: ‘Where is he? This is taking too long.'”
She was still waiting when she received a call from a friend at the hospital, a nursing supervisor who sometimes ran with the couple. The friend drove to the park to pick her up and take her to the hospital.
Police said Sanchez was struck in the 11600 block of Bandera Road about 1:40 p.m. Sunday. The driver told police he was on his way to get the brakes on his SUV fixed when his cell phone rang. As he answered it, he said he spotted Sanchez on the side.
According to a police report,
Smith said he hit the brakes and the car swerved onto the shoulder,
striking Sanchez and sending him onto the hood of the car.
A witness said the driver swerved across two lanes before striking the victim. Police said no charges have been filed.
Sanchez, an emergency medicine physician, was hired by University Hospital in 2006 and named medical director in August 2008. Because of overcrowding and a lack of beds, the hospital was closed to medical emergencies more often than not, to make sure critically injured trauma patients had a bed. Those with medical problems or minor injuries who drove themselves often got tired of waiting and left without being seen.
Among his reforms, Sanchez began having all patients screened by a physician or a physician's assistant shortly after arrival, using what was formerly office space close to the emergency room. That allowed many patients to be released quickly with referrals to an urgent care clinic or subspecialists elsewhere in the University System, said Greg Rufe, administrator of University Hospital.
He was also preparing to launch an emergency medicine residency program at University Hospital.
Rufe said Sanchez had so much enthusiasm and energy for the job, it made some of his colleagues skeptical about him. But it was that drive that allowed him to push the department beyond the way things had traditionally been done. “He was telling me one day, ‘I love my job. I love what I do. I love my family. We have a wonderful home. I can't ask for anything else. And now the possibility of a residency program. I'm just a fortunate person,'” Rufe said.
A native of New Mexico,
Sanchez joined the Air Force as a physician's assistant. Associates
there persuaded him to go to medical school. He earned his medical
degree at the University of New Mexico, and served his internship and
residency at Wilford Hall Medical Center.
His wife, Apelle Sanchez, was a schoolteacher and the couple struggled financially when he returned to school. While he was a medical student, his car broke down. A professor sold him another car for a dollar so he could continue his studies.
“He remembered that one act of charity from his med school days and brought that into his life, to make sure that when he could, he'd help people out,” his son-in-law said.
In the Air Force,
Sanchez was director of the emergency department at the U.S. Air Force
Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. He was picked to accompany President
Clinton to Pakistan and India as part of the medical team on Air Force
He retired from the Air Force in 2000 and joined the staff at Southeast Baptist Hospital, serving as director of emergency medicine before coming to the UT Health Science Center in 2006.
In addition to running, Sanchez played the drums and piloted a small sailboat. “We spent hundreds of hours sailing and racing and cutting up afterward,” said his friend Terry Lindemann, who had left a message on his phone to invite him sailing Sunday. “Typically if he was on the water, the boat he was on was probably upside down.”
Sanchez had two daughters, Carla Parker, 30; and Suzanne Sanchez, 24, both college students in San Antonio. A funeral service will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Oak Hills Mortuary. Sanchez will be buried on family-owned land in New Mexico, his family said.