In Memoriam Deborah L. Mueller, MD, FACS
Deborah L. Mueller was born on July 22, 1966, and passed away February 10, 2023. Deb grew up in an Air Force family from South Carolina. Following high school, she graduated from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology (1988). In Dr. Mueller’s own words:
“I am the first person in my family to go into medicine, so I did not have many mentors or role models in medicine growing up. I was introduced to surgery while attending a health care awareness program after my freshman year of high school. My hobbies were sewing and cross-stitch and I thought it was great that I could have a job where I sewed… My father was in the Air Force, and I also joined after my sophomore year to help cover costs for college. I knew I wanted to be a doctor throughout college but didn’t have much guidance on how to become one…I did not get into medical school at first. While I was figuring out other plans, I was taken off the wait list and enrolled at the Medical University of South Carolina.”
Following graduation from the Medical University of South Carolina, Dr. Mueller completed her surgical residency at the USAF’s Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Subsequently, she completed a trauma and surgical critical care fellowship at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Upon completing fellowship, Dr. Mueller joined the staff at Wilford Hall, serving for 9 years, before coming to UT Health San Antonio as trauma faculty in 2007. Again, in Dr. Mueller’s own words:
“Students see us where we are now and don’t often see our evolution as a physician and person. For a long time I wanted to fit in and not stand out to make it through but now I know that I need to be the one speaking up. As women, we shouldn’t feel like we need to be like men to be a surgeon. Mentorship and supporting others is important. We should not distance ourselves from engaging on things we are passionate about. We can effect change through subtle actions to encourage the future to be better.”
Through her service with the US Air Force, Dr. Mueller had a prestigious military career characterized by exceptional leadership, judgment, and humanism. In the Air Force, Dr. Mueller was recognized as an outstanding surgeon and an insightful mentor. She held multiple leadership positions at Wilford Hall, taking on some of the most demanding assignments. Taking on challenging problems would become a theme spanning Dr. Mueller’s entire career. She was deployed numerous times during her military career, both for combat casualty care and humanitarian missions across the globe. She trained a generation of Air Force surgeons and retired as a Colonel from the USAF.
During her time at Wilford Hall, Dr. Mueller met Dr. John Doski, a pediatric surgeon. They began a lifelong partnership, which led to a loving marriage and two daughters, Sarah Claire and Julia Anne. Dr. Mueller was an avid traveler, reaching all seven continents and 36 countries. In 2019, Dr. Mueller was a leader selected for the Homeward Bound Antarctica research program. This leadership development program furthered her development as a strong and effective advocate for women leaders in Surgery and Medicine. She was also active in her community, serving a term as President of the King William Association.
We recruited Dr. Mueller to join our trauma and critical care team where she has been a trusted colleague, a friend, a technically skilled surgeon, an outstanding leader, and a moral compass.
Dr. Mueller assumed critical roles in the Department of Surgery at UT Health San Antonio and University Health. As a surgeon, Dr. Mueller enjoyed caring for some of the most complex patients on the trauma and emergency surgery service, particularly those with complicated gastrointestinal and abdominal wall injuries. She voluntarily focused her attention on the most complex of complex patients. She used her surgical skills as a force for good when they were needed the most by patients. Dr. Mueller was also an excellent breast surgical oncologist, so when needed, she also served as a member of the breast oncology teams at Wilford Hall and UT Health.
A typical trauma patient of Dr. Mueller’s would have had a months’ long stay in the Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit due to the severity of their injury. Treatment would consist of providing critical care, nutritional support, providing source control of sepsis and helping the patient slowly recover over a period of months, or years.
Once the patient regained some degree of homeostasis and healing, Dr. Mueller would then need to reconstruct their gastrointestinal tract and often their abdominal wall. This care and the operative reconstruction required a mix of both art, science, and humanity. No one was more skilled at this than Dr. Deborah Mueller. The supportive care and operative care required an amazing amount of judgment, expertise, and technical skill. Dr. Mueller had the perfect mixture of skill, equanimity, and compassion.
As a patient, if one had an incredibly complex problem, with limited or no good options, she was the best surgeon in the world. Deb was a master surgeon, an amazing person and an inspirational leader in our department and our institution. She had an established national reputation, and her published works were often cited and have changed clinical practice. Dr. Mueller was an active fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the American Women in Surgery, and the Society of Critical Care Medicine.
Dr. Mueller was an exceptional leader, a beacon of hope and a highly regarded role model of always doing the right thing. Over the past decade she made it a personal goal to improve the wellness of our surgical teams, with a special focus on our dedicated group of surgical residents. She was passionate and perseverant in this goal. She was both inspirational and pragmatic. She personally visited almost every call room, implemented improved primary care for our residents, drove the Van to Vote, served as an ombudsman for resident physical and emotional health, and led team building activities of all kinds. The residents who worked with her learned to be thorough, to be curious, and to never fear a challenge. One young person close to Dr. Mueller summed it up in this way: “she changed my life…she re-framed what it meant to be a surgeon, a leader and a mentor…” Dr. Mueller changed our perspective as a department, and as individuals, making us all healthier and better able to compassionately serve the interests of our patients.
Deborah L. Mueller, MD was a true pioneer in surgery, a highly skilled surgeon, and an insightful leader, and a dearly valued mentor and colleague. She was a true and steadfast moral compass. Dr. Mueller committed her life to intentionally making the world around her a better place. In her own words, “Today I’m going to do good, wherever it is.”
Through the surgeons and students she influenced and developed, she leaves an enduring legacy in South Texas and across the globe. We commit ourselves to remember, honor, and celebrate her work, her hopes and her dreams. She is painfully and profoundly missed, but we remind ourselves the best way to honor and celebrate her life is to commit to advancing her vision and the lessons she taught us…to do good today, wherever it is.
Visitation Porter Loring Mortuary on McCullough downtown (1101 McCullough Avenue, San Antonio, Texas 78212)—Monday, February 13, 6:00-8:00 PM, Tuesday, February 14, 2:00 -4:00 PM and 6:00-8:00 PM; Rosary at 8:00 PM. Funeral Services and Mass will be held Wednesday, February 15, 2023, 10:00 AM at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church (223 E Summit Ave, San Antonio, TX 78212). Following the Wednesday Mass, everyone is welcome at the Doski-Mueller Home.
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations be guided to the Lobular Breast Cancer Alliance (www.lobularbreastcancer.org), or Homeward Bound program (https://homewardboundprojects.com.au/donate/).