Med­i­cal ex­am­iner to re­tire af­ter 3 decades

Fought with Da­ley over death toll dur­ing 1995 heat wave

Chicago Sun-Times - - News - BY AN­NIE SWEENEY AND STEVE PAT­TER­SON Staff Re­porters

The first sign of trou­ble for Dr. Ed­mund Donoghue, chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner in Cook County, dur­ing the 1995 heat wave came in a Fri­day night phone call from the of­fice.

There were 45 names on the ex­am­i­na­tion list for the fol­low­ing day — twice as many as the daily av­er­age. And it was only 9 p.m.

The next day, in fact, there were 85 bod­ies sched­uled to be au­top­sied at the Robert J. Stein In­sti­tute at 2121 W. Har­ri­son. The next day was 100; the next day 110.

Be­fore the heat wave fin­ished, more than 700 peo­ple suc­cumbed to the heat in the county. It was one of sev­eral ma­jor in­ves­ti­ga­tions Donoghue over­saw dur­ing his nearly 30-year ca­reer.

Donoghue, 61, an­nounced Mon­day that he will leave at the end of the year. He said he’s el­i­gi­ble for re­tire­ment, and re­tir­ing “seemed the right thing to do.”

Dur­ing his ca­reer, Donoghue also played a key role in in­form­ing the pub­lic about the cyanide-laced Tylenol that killed seven peo­ple in 1982, and the crash of Amer­i­can Air­lines Flight 191 just out­side O'Hare Air­port in 1979. In that case, Donoghue helped iden­tify the 273 vic­tims.

The heat wave was no­table in part be­cause it forced Donoghue into the pub­lic spot­light when the mayor chal­lenged his num­bers of heat deaths.

An of­fi­cial with the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol later en­dorsed Donoghue’s method­ol­ogy.

“I don’t think any­body re­al­ized how dan­ger­ous it could be. Once we did and once peo­ple ac­cepted the fact that peo­ple were dy­ing, they quickly changed the plan and they be­gan to think about how we could pre­vent th­ese deaths,” Donoghue said.

To­day, the city has an en­tirely dif­fer­ent re­sponse to heat that in­cludes a mas­sive pub­lic aware­ness cam­paign to en­sure peo­ple get to cool­ing cen­ters.

“We were very busy over here,’’ Donoghue said of the dis­agree­ment with the mayor. “We didn’t have time to worry about what the mayor was think­ing.’’

Donoghue was ap­pointed chief in 1993 af­ter the re­tire­ment of Robert J. Stein. Donoghue knew he wanted to work in foren­sic pathol­ogy since walk­ing into a sopho­more class in 1967 at Mar­quette Med­i­cal School, now the Med­i­cal Col­lege of Wis­con­sin, and be­ing handed a syl­labus on the topic.

Over the years, he has en­joyed a job that many out­siders may re­gard as grue­some — ex­am­in­ing those who died sus­pi­cious or vi­o­lent deaths to de­ter­mine the cause and man­ner of death. And he’s en­joyed in­form­ing the pub­lic when there are broader health threats.

Feds prob­ing of­fice for clout

Re­plac­ing Donoghue will be among the first ap­point­ments from new Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Todd Stroger and will be among the moves pro­vid­ing an in­sight as to the type of gov­ern­ment he’ll run. The med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice was one of many of­fices that was a pa­tron­age dump­ing ground for Stroger’s fa­ther, for­mer Board Pres­i­dent John Stroger.

The of­fice of the med­i­cal ex­am­iner also was re­cently caught up in the on­go­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Cook County hir­ing. A fed­eral sub­poena seek­ing hir­ing records dat­ing to 1997 was served at the of­fice in Oc­to­ber — al­though Donoghue said this had noth­ing to do with his de- ci­sion to re­tire.

Donoghue’s re­place­ment also could be faced with hav­ing to make 10 per­cent cuts to the $8.6 mil­lion bud­get, some­thing that wor­ries him.

“I am re­ally very con­cerned they will not leave the de­part­ment with the re­sources we need,’’ he said.

Donoghue, who is from the North Side and is mar­ried with three grown chil­dren, is con­sid­er­ing tak­ing a private job in foren­sic pathol­ogy. His cur­rent salary is $213,000. asweeney@suntimes.com spat­ter­son@suntimes.com

—BRIAN JACK­SON/SUN-TIMES

Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Ed­mund Donoghue has de­cided to re­tire.

—JOHN H. WHITE/SUN-TIMES

Ed­mund Donoghue fought with Mayor Da­ley dur­ing the 1995 heat wave that claimed more than 700 peo­ple. “We were very busy . . . we didn’t have time to worry about what the mayor was think­ing,” Donoghue said.

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