Carson City surgeon dies before cancer center complete
Dr. James Pitts of Carson City, one of the state’s most prominent surgeons and a driving force behind the development of Carson-Tahoe Cancer Center, died last month before seeing one of his most beloved projects completed.
Long before he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2000, Pitts – a Nevada native and longtime friend of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev. – began campaigning for funds to build the Carson-Tahoe Cancer Center, scheduled for completion by fall 2005.
His family and friends say Pitts, 65, was dogged in helping to secure $3.5 million in private donations for the center simply because he was a doctor with a heart. He hated to see his patients suffer.
“As a surgeon he dealt with lots and lots of cancer patients,” said Carson City anesthesiologist Del Snyder, Pitts’ best friend of 30 years. “He had so much contact with them in all the work up before the surgeries and dealing with them afterward. As a surgeon, he had a burning interest just for the welfare of his patients.”
Carol Pitts, his wife of 44 years, said her husband’s passion for his work was reflected in his tireless patient advocacy and determination to see the cancer center built.
“Near the end he couldn’t walk to the all the meetings he attended for the cancer center so I would push him from the car in a wheelchair,” she said.
Bald, weak and nauseated from chemotherapy, Pitts attended the cancer center’s ground dedication ceremony Aug. 5 as Carson-Tahoe Hospital’s cancer services medical director. He sat next to his old friend and Basic High School classmate Sen. Harry Reid.
Construction on the 38,000-square-foot, $12 million facility will begin this spring, said Carson-Tahoe Hospital spokeswoman Cheri Glockner.
The center will have medical and radiation oncology departments, a cancer resource center, patient support groups and alternative therapy, including art and yoga classes.
Mrs. Pitts said the cancer center is the last in a long list of her husband’s lifetime medical achievements.
Born in McGill, Pitts graduated from Basic High School in 1957 and from the University of Oregon in 1961 and he received his medical degree from the University of Oregon School of Medicine in 1965.
He served as president of the Nevada State Medical Association from 1980 to 1981, and is credited with bringing several innovative medical procedures to Carson City, including a carotid artery procedure, the first triple-A (abdominal aortic aneurysm) repair and sentinel lymph node biopsy.
Pitts came to Carson City in 1972 to practice medicine with the Carson Surgical Group after serving as a doctor with the 101st Airborne unit in the Vietnam War.
He was Carson-Tahoe Hospital chief of staff from 1974 to 1975 and again from 1984 to 1985 and past president of the Nevada Professional Standards Review Organization.
In addition to his wife, Pitts is survived by his son, Dr. Todd Pitts and daughter, Kathy Haas, both of Carson City.
“He always gave 200 percent as a dad, a husband and a doctor,” Haas said Friday.
“He kept fighting to the end,” Mrs. Pitts said. “He was our Superman.”
Contact reporter Robyn Moormeister at email@example.com or 881-1217.