Felix Battistella Felix Battistella (photograph courtesy of the Sacramento Bee)

Although he passed away on January 22, Felix Battistella is being honored with the UC Davis School of Medicine's 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award. Battistella was just 48 years old when cancer took his life, yet he made huge and lasting contributions in the field of trauma and emergency medicine.

After graduating with honors in 1985 and completing an internship and residency in 1991, Battistella continued his career at UC Davis as a gifted surgeon and respected teacher. He became chief of UC Davis' then-Division of Trauma and Emergency Medicine in 2003.

"Felix built one of the premier trauma and emergency surgery groups in the country and pioneered the new discipline of trauma and emergency medicine," notes UC Davis trauma surgeon David Wisner.

Indeed, Battistella contributed 41 peer-reviewed articles, 15 book chapters, and made 144 presentations on subjects related to this emerging specialty. He offered insights on everything from "Field Triage of the Pulseless Trauma Patient," and "Myths of the Ruptured Spleen" to "How to Build a Military Trauma System."

Colleagues greatly admired Battistella's skill in the operating room. He treated several hundred trauma victims a year, using his large hands to rhythmically sew up patients shattered by bullets and car crashes.

Says Wisner, "He was a phenomenal technical surgeon and someone who left a lasting impression on trainees at all levels."

Battistella exhibited quiet leadership and a talent for working harmoniously with all members of the health care team. In 1991 the surgery housestaff voted him outstanding resident, and in 1997 Friends of Nursing named him physician of the year.

"Dr. Battistella was a great teacher," says Cheryl Wraa, manager of the UC Davis Trauma Program. "In working with him and watching him with residents and students, you could see he had a passion for teaching and mentoring. And he truly cared about the well-being of his patients."

Battistella's career was distinguished by a deep commitment to excellent patient care. He even joined a cycling group, called Team Donate Life, and competed in a nonstop bicycle race across America to raise money for organ donation.

In an interview with the Sacramento Bee in 2000, Battistella explained why he was so driven to help others survive: "When you can get this guy off the [operating] table, well, you have basically cheated death…It's a good feeling to give people a second chance at life."