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Pediatric surgeon who drowned to be buried wearing his surgical scrubs

Dr. Donald Liu

Dr. Donald Liu

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Updated: September 8, 2012 6:12AM

Dr. Donald Liu, a pediatric surgeon who drowned Sunday, will be buried wearing University of Chicago Medicine surgical scrubs and holding a White Sox baseball, a video game and his children’s pictures.

Dr. Liu, who died rescuing two 12-year-old boys knocked out of their kayaks by high waves, was one of three people caught in rip tides and drowned over the weekend along Michigan’s west coast. A Montgomery, Il., resident and a Cincinnati man were the other drowning victims.

Dr. Liu, as a pediatric surgeon, saved children’s lives on a regular basis. He did it again during a weekend vacation in Michigan when he saw “children were in trouble and immediately went out into the water to help them,” said Bruce McKamey, a patrolman with the Chikaming Township police.

McKamey told the University of Chicago that the children, who were not wearing life jackets, made it to shore but the surgeon was swept away by the rip current.

Dr. John Alverdy paid tribute to his colleague on the U. of C. website saying, “This is a man that would wake up at 2 o’clock in the morning, be in the operating room in 10 or 15 minutes, literally save a child’s life who was bleeding to death from trauma — a car accident, gunshot wound, a beating.”

The three weekend deaths brought the total number of rip current drownings in the Great Lakes to 12 this year — most of them occurring in Lake Michigan, according to the National Weather Service.

And with August the most treacherous month for rip currents in Lake Michigan, the number of deaths this year could exceed last year’s total of 14.

“In August, we usually see an uptick in the number of drownings due to rip currents,” said Keith Cooley, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Marquette, Michigan.

Cooley is part of a team that tracks rip current incidents in the Great Lakes.

He said that in August warm weather and water temperatures lure more people to beaches, while “around this time we start to get some of the bigger storm systems to move in and give us stronger winds.”

The time to look out for rip currents is when waves are more than two feet high and the wind is blowing toward the shore.

“It piles water up against the shore and then you’ll have a jet of water coming back out, and if you get caught up in one of those it can be tough to break free,” said Cooley.

If caught in a rip current, the American Red Cross advises to never fight against it. Swim in a direction following the shoreline until you are out of the current. Then swim at an angle ­— away from the current — toward shore.

Lakeside, Mich., where Dr. Liu died, is part of a stretch of shoreline extending from the Indiana border to Benton Harbor, which the National Weather Service classifies as one of the most dangerous spots for rip current drownings and rescues in Lake Michigan.

Chicago beaches, with no incidents from 2002 to 2011, are in the safest category.

Dr. Liu, 50, is survived by three children and his wife, Dr. Dana Suskind.

Services will be Wednesday morning at a time to be determined at KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.

Another memorial is planned for September on the University of Chicago campus.

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