Maui Surgeon An Inspirational Example

Doctor Peter Galpin
Doctor Peter Galpin

By Diane Ako

KAHULUI (KHNL)- In the operation room of a Maui hospital, a doctor preps his patient for surgery.

This would be a routine procedure for doctor and patient, except this doctor is in a wheelchair.

"I was the first surgeon in the world to go through medical school and surgical training as a paraplegic," explains Dr. Peter Galpin.

His story begins in Vietnam where he served 1 1/2 years as a U.S. Army special-forces weapons expert and medic.

"I'd been a combat medic there. While I was a combat medic I decided I wanted to be a doctor," recalls Galpin.

When he came home to the states, he enrolled in premed classes in a California college. One day on his way home from a study session, he was in a horrible motorcycle accident. "I got hit by a drunk driver."

Galpin was paralyzed from the legs down. He never considered quitting his dream. Part of his persistence came from his war experience. "I'd seen people deal with immense challenges over there and I knew that in order to be a surgeon I didn't necessarily have to stand up. I needed to have my mind and my hands and I had both of those."

After eight months of recovering in the hospital, he finished his premed studies in a wheelchair at San Francisco State University, and in 1980 was accepted into Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

His philosophy: "Everybody has to deal with obstacles and challenges in their lives every day. Mine's just a little more obvious than a lot of other people."

Last summer the U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in Washington, D.C. honored him with his highest recognition award, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. "They recognized me for that, but what I thought was important was they recognized me for my non-medical contributions as well."

That's his community service and strong family involvement. "People have asked me what I thought my most important contribution to be, and from my standpoint it's been being a scoutmaster for Kula Troop 14 Boy Scouts, being my son's Little League coach, my daughter's soccer coach; being able to be involved in the community." Galpin beams as he tells how he escorted scores of Hawaii youths from Maui and Oahu to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia.

He is also an active volunteer, going on medical missions to Afghanistan and Laos. He has served as vice president of the Maui County Medical Society and vice president of the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association.

And still, this humble man's goal is not to be seen as an amazing man who has overcome disability, but rather, an average one who doesn't necessarily stand out. "To me that's the greatest reward, that I'm no different from anybody else in society."

Galpin also logged another "first". When his twins Akira and Mikiko were born 13 years ago they were the first twins ever born to a paraplegic.