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January 8th surgeon, Dr. Rhee, leaving Tucson

Posted at 7:01 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 01:34:16-04

TUCSON (KGUN-TV) - One of three Tucson doctors credited with helping save former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' life is leaving.

Dr. Peter Rhee became well-known after the January 8th shooting. He is director of Banner University Medical Center's Trauma Center and has been in Tucson for more than eight years, the longest he's ever spent with one mailing address.

"I call this home and I always will," said Dr. Rhee in a one-on-one interview with Nine On Your Side.

During our interview, he recalled getting his initial phone call about the mass shooting on January 8, 2011.

"I was actually going for a run, I heard my phone go off, saw it, talked to my guys here, they said you got to come in and I got in my car and got here in time," he said.

The surgeon says Giffords and others were lucky because by the time of the shooting Dr. Rhee had helped build Universal Medical Center (as it was known then) into a Level One trauma center, capable of handling a big crisis.

"She was fortunate, our survival rate for when people were shot in the brain was 10 percent when I started, to 47 percent when Giffords was shot," Rhee said.

He still keeps in touch with the Giffords family as well as other patients he helped treat after the shooting. Once news of his departure came out, he even got a message from a long time friend, Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband.

"He just said sorry for his loss and my gain. He was just very nice."

Dr. Rhee's last official day will be June 20.

He will take over as chief of acute surgery and medical director of the Marcus Trauma Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. 

"I fell like I've done everything I can here," said Dr. Rhee.

He looks forward to working at a public hospital.

"I belong in public service. I always thought I was a public servant. I've trained and worked in public hospitals my whole life. This is an opportunity to get back to something like that," he said.

Dr. Rhee he will be developing a program similar to what they created in Tucson. At Grady Memorial Hospital there are two medical schools and Dr. Rhee says he will help create a program so both schools can operate under the same umbrella at the hospital.

At the end of our interview, Dr. Rhee said he hopes to come back and retire in Tucson, but for now he says he has more work to do.