Tuesday, September 9, 2003
Dr. Mulvaney hits a different kind of home run
This is embarrassing. I should have been asking William P. Mulvaney, M.D., about the lives he has saved.
Instead, I asked the distinguished 83-year-old physician about a baseball. Perhaps I was blushing. If not, I should have been. A baseball, for pete's sake. As if Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron are more exciting than kidney stones. Which I suppose they are unless, of course, the kidneys belong to you.
Back in the 1950s, a patient of Dr. Mulvaney insisted the urologist accept a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. "The ball had belonged to the man's dead son," Dr. Mulvaney said. This was a gift of some magnitude. Then, when Aaron broke Babe Ruth's record in 1974, a friend suggested adding the other signature.
The friend was the late Dan Tehan, Hamilton County sheriff from 1948 to 1972 and the last Democrat elected to that office. Retired but still greatly revered, even though he was a known Democrat, Tehan put the word out that he wanted a few moments with the Atlanta Braves' right-fielder next time he came to town.
The second signature was obtained in the dining room at the Maisonette.
Some years later, Dr. Mulvaney caught his sons going out the door with the baseball, planning to put it to practical use. He began to think perhaps the ball deserved better than a plastic case on a shelf in his Wyoming house. He offered it up to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. "They thought it was probably the only one of its kind," he said.
That would make it worth a lot of money, according to Tom Finkelmeier, who insures such treasures. Dr. Mulvaney does not know the potential sale price. "It would not be right to sell something somebody gave you," he said.
Now he is finished talking about baseball. And money.
One of his best fees was a rusty can of pineapple when he was an Army doc in the Philippines, using off-duty time to treat civilians. "Food was the most important thing the man had."
He still works three days a week at the E. Kenneth Hatton Research Center at Good Samaritan Hospital, where a former patient found him recently.
Dr. Mulvaney saved the man's life 51 years ago, repairing considerable birth defects. The baby's bladder was inside out, his urinary tract jumbled. "We were all afraid he wouldn't live," he said. The man and his mother made their way through the customary hospital labyrinth to his office on the 11th floor. To thank him again.
Lots of people walking around today as a result of this doctor do not know whom to thank. He invented a drug to dissolve urinary stones, built the first ultrasonic lithotriptor to break up kidney stones and pioneered laser treatment of bladder tumors and prostate disease.
He donated the first dialysis machine in Cincinnati and headed the first team to perform cadaver and adult kidney transplants - without a fee, because insurance did not cover such procedures.
Recently, he planted 500 trees in Kentucky, knowing he would never sit in their shade. "It was," he said, "a gift for future generations."
Maybe the baseball is not insignificant. A gift of some magnitude beyond its intrinsic value, it rests in the nation's museum, in the shadow of the place where laws are made.
It is a tangible reminder of a good man with a history of quietly doing the right thing.
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