From the gritty battlefields of Vietnam in the 1960s where he earned a Bronze Star for selfless work as an Army surgeon, and Guatemala's poverty-stricken villages where decades of humanitarian efforts garnered him acclaim from colleagues, to his practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan where he comforted generations of patients and their families, James Growney, DO (COM '67) was continually defined by personal integrity and an unwavering devotion to medicine.
Surrounded by his wife of 51 years, Carol, children Shannon, James III and Sean as well as six grandchildren, Dr. James Growney passed away in April 2017—hailed as a compassionate doctor, a gentleman, a loving husband, father and grandfather. The fourth-generation physician's passion for medicine affected his son Sean (COM '98) from an early age, inspiring him to follow his father's career path. Sean says his father credited a large part of his success as a healer, leader, caregiver and caretaker to Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU).
"Dad felt an immense loyalty to the school," Sean says. "The faculty believed in him and because of that support, he felt many of his accomplishments over the years were as a result of the education and encouragement he received."
Sean describes his father as someone who emanated spirit, whether acting as the sole surgeon stationed along the river in Moc Hoa, Vietnam, or as a member of a medical contingency to Guatemala for the nonprofit Healing the Children.
"Growing up, I regarded him foremost as my dad," Sean says. "But the enthusiasm he had for his career and how he touched those he cared for and those he worked with was enormous. I saw that, along with the light in his eyes when he talked about the surgical mission trips to Central America or when he talked about bringing someone back from the edge of death. Even a statement written in October 1969 by an Army staff sergeant who served with my dad in Vietnam portrayed him as having a remarkable motivation, going above and beyond the call of duty."
Sean remembers helping his father pack countless boxes of penlight flashlights for the Guatemala trips.
"He'd distribute the flashlights to the kids and loved to watch the hills light up at night," he says. "That was my dad—he'd be saving and improving lives but would focus on some of the smallest details that brought him joy."
One of the earliest members of KCU's Heritage Society, Dr. James Growney performed a surgical residency in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Following a daunting year in Vietnam where he made himself and his surgical services available to any and all casualties—sometimes acting under profound personal risk—the young surgeon and new father returned to the United States and decided to become an anesthesiologist.
Sean was nine months old when his father reunited with his mother, Carol, and the family. He grew up realizing that the respect his father received was never commanded but came to him naturally.
"His coworkers loved him for his knowledge, sternness and dry sense of humor, and his patients loved him for his bedside manner, which was old-fashioned by today's standards," Sean says. "I chose to become a fifth-generation physician because of his qualities, including an intense pride in his education that didn't wane with the years, his skills and his ability to make a difference in the world."
An anesthesiologist well into his career in Holland, Michigan, Sean has inherited his father's same sense of pride. "For KCU, for medicine, for the opportunity to work with people here at home and in another country improve their lives," says Sean, who travels with Healing the Children to Colombia on medical missions.
"I hope I can pass this humble pride along to my children, as my dad did to me. He lived for others and what he could do to help them."
The Gift of Giving
Dr. Sean Growney is following not only in in his father's career footsteps, but also in making planned giving to KCU part of his personal legacy.
"I am proud to add my name to the Heritage Society, as my dad did, in tribute to KCU," he says. "Giving helps guarantee the continuation of world-class training for generations of physicians to come and is a priceless way to honor my education and my father's memory."
Please contact KCU Office of Institutional Advancement, at 816-654-7280 or firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how you can join the Growneys in the Heritage Society.