By Joe Tash
Dr. Dana Launer was a prominent colon and rectal surgeon, a gourmet chef and skilled wood-worker who loved to restore antique clocks. When he wasn’t operating on human patients, he often volunteered his services to help animals at veterinary clinics and zoos. But of all his accomplishments, he may have been proudest of his four children.
Launer, a Carmel Valley resident who died Dec. 20 following a series of illnesses, made his hospital rounds in a typical doctor’s white coat, decorated in an unusual way — color photo-buttons of his two daughters and two sons. He was 62.
“He was a very underspoken, humble and modest man,” said Robert Vicino of Carmel Valley, a former patient of Launer’s. “He carried and displayed his badge of honor on his lab coat, his children. He was Mr. Dad.”
“He was a very skilled and elegant surgeon, he took great pride in his surgical technique,” said Dr. Jonathan Worsey, also a Carmel Valley resident and Launer’s partner for 11 years.
Both Launer — who was born and raised in Queens, New York — and Worsey trained at a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, although not at the same time. When Launer was looking for a partner to help him launch a surgical practice in San Diego in the late 1990s, he contacted a former professor, who recommended Worsey.
Over the years, Launer and Worsey spent many hours together in the operating room, and got to know each other very well. Launer loved to talk about his family, Worsey said. Sometimes his children would come to the hospital and watch him operate.
Launer served three stints as chief of surgery at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, and also served as the hospital’s chief of staff, a position in which he acted as liaison between the hospital’s 900-plus doctors and the Scripps administration and board of directors.
More recently, a series of illnesses made it difficult for Launer to walk or stand for long periods, and he gradually stopped performing surgeries and instead focused on administrative duties.
In spite of suffering great pain, Worsey said, “Never once did he complain or take prolonged periods of time off. He would work hard.”
On Dec. 20, Launer collapsed at home and was taken to the hospital, where he died with family members at his bedside, Worsey said.
Launer is survived by his wife, Elaine, a nurse at Scripps Memorial, his daughters, Kathleen and Morgan, and twin sons, Spencer and Hunter.
He trained with top surgeons in both the U.S. and Germany, and became an accomplished practitioner of a procedure that allowed patients who suffered from certain intestinal diseases to avoid the need of wearing an external bag to collect waste.
“He had a great sense of style when he operated, he was a joy to watch,” Worsey said. “It was a life well-lived but cut short.”