In Memoriam: Dr. Richard F. Edlich

January 08, 2014

Dr. Richard F. Edlich, an award-winning physician and pioneer in wound care at the University of Virginia, died Dec. 25 in Brush Prairie, Wash. He was 74.

Edlich came to the U.Va. School of Medicine for a plastic surgery residency in 1972, after general surgical training at the University of Minnesota. He eventually became Distinguished Professor of Plastic Surgery and Professor of Biomedical Engineering. He left as professor emeritus in 2001, moving to the Pacific Northwest to pursue further medical research opportunities.

Although he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1985, he continued to make significant contributions to health care and was instrumental in establishing the Health System’s Department of Rehabilitative Medicine. He also advocated for enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act locally and nationally, meeting with President Clinton in 2000, and was honored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for his work to improve access for people with disabilities.

Today, because of Edlich’s support, the Edlich-Henderson Innovator of the Year Award (previously Inventor of the Year) is given to U.Va. faculty, staff or students whose research discoveries are making a major impact on society. The Licensing & Ventures Group, formerly known as the Patent Foundation, administers the $10,000 award.

Edlich founded and directed U.Va.’s Burn and Wound Healing Center, fostering the collaboration of scientists in developing revolutionary advances in emergency medical care as well as burn care. His projects resulted in several innovative products, including the adhesive skin closure tape now used routinely around the world, and a safe cleanser for decontaminating wounds.

As director of Emergency Medical Services at U.Va. until 1982, he worked with others to develop a comprehensive emergency medical system throughout the commonwealth.

Edlich championed the development of basic and advanced life support training for physicians and emergency medical technicians; paramedic training programs for rescue squads; procedures for treating sexual assault victims; a crisis center for psychiatric emergencies; and the Pegasus Flight Operations. He also worked on establishing the National Emergency Medical Telecommunications System for the Deaf. In recognition of his leadership in developing emergency medical systems, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services bestowed upon him its Distinguished Service Award. 

Plastic surgery research professor George Rodeheaver met Edlich when he arrived at U.Va., as Rodeheaver was finishing his Ph.D. in chemistry. Edlich, he said, convinced him to work on developing a research lab dedicated to understanding how to improve the management of traumatic injury.

“We were partners to the very end – and the lab continues,” said Rodeheaver, who received the Edlich-Henderson Inventor of the Year award in 2008.

“Dr. Edlich was a true humanitarian. His life was dedicated to helping others. Through his research efforts, he was able to advance our understanding of how to manage traumatic injuries, such as burns. These discoveries have benefited millions of people.”

As a result of Edlich’s research into the toxic effects of the use of cornstarch-powdered latex gloves, alternative gloves are now standard in hospitals and the medical profession.

“His passion was getting the FDA to banish the cornstarch latex gloves,” Edlich’s son, Richard, said. “He had come very close to completing that dream.”

Among his many awards, he received the U.Va. Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award in 1985; the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award in 1989; and the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest academic honor presented by the University, in 1990.

He co-wrote seven books and some 4,000 scientific articles.

“He was a great physician, scientist and innovator, and we were fortunate to have had him in leadership roles here at U.Va.,” said Dr. Erik Hewlett, professor of medicine and microbiology, immunology and cancer biology, who is an associate with the U.Va. Innovation initiative.

Realizing the importance of partnerships between the University and industry, Edlich supported the development of North Fork Research Park, now U.Va. Research Park. In recognition of his efforts, the University named one of the park’s streets “Edlich Drive.”

Edlich is survived by his older brother, Ted Edlich of Roanoke; his children, Elizabeth Edlich, Richard Edlich and Rachel Edlich; and two grandchildren.

Plans are being made for a memorial service in Charlottesville in February.

Charlottesville Daily Progress obituary

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Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications