Compelling connections

Notable DOs you probably haven’t heard of: Read about fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker’s physician and musician Steve Miller’s dad, uncle

Meet three osteopathic physicians who aren’t well-known but have nonetheless made lasting impressions on history.

As readers of The DO, you are probably already familiar with many well-known osteopathic physicians, from the founder of osteopathic medicine, A.T. Still, DO, MD, to civil rights pioneer William G. Anderson, DO, along with countless others. The three osteopathic physicians discussed below are less well-known but have nonetheless made lasting impressions on history.

Editor’s note: The sources for this article are provided via the links below. In some cases, information was only available on Wikipedia. To The DO’s knowledge, all of the information provided below is accurate.

Alexander Dahl, DO

Alexander Dahl, DO, practiced osteopathic medicine in the first half of the twentieth century and was well-known for his osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) skills. Born in Germany, Dr. Dahl was a resident of Caldwell, New Jersey. He graduated from A.T. Still University Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) in 1928, which was then known as the Kirksville College of Osteopathy and Surgery.

Alexander Dahl, DO (Photo courtesy of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, Missouri)

Dr. Dahl provided OMT for American fighter pilot Captain Edward “Eddie” Rickenbacker following a plane crash in 1941 and later accompanied him in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on a secret mission during World War II. Rickenbacker was the most successful and most decorated U.S. fighter pilot at that time, with 26 aerial victories following his service in World War I. He was also known for his race car driving and automotive designs and also headed Eastern Air Lines for a number of years.

On Feb. 26, 1941, Eastern Air Lines Flight 21 crashed in Atlanta. Rickenbacker, one of the 16 passengers on board, was injured, while eight others, including the pilot and co-pilot, were killed. Fortunately, the pilots had the foresight to cut the fuel lines just before the crash, preventing the deaths of the eight surviving passengers. Rickenbacker was among the seriously injured; he suffered several horrific injuries, including a dented skull, a twice-broken pelvis and an expelled eyeball, among other traumatic wounds.

Being in excruciating pain and with his recovery dubious, Rickenbacker asked the hospital’s MD for an osteopathic doctor. At that time, MDs and DOs did not always see eye to eye, but Floyd W. McRae, MD, the chief surgeon who had performed mastoid surgery on Rickenbacker during World War I, knew to call on Dr. Dahl and his osteopathic expertise. Four months later, Rickenbacker was released from the hospital and regained full eyesight. Sadly, he still had a long recovery ahead of him and was never able to drive a clutch car again.

Edward "Eddie" Rickenbacker (Photo courtesy of the United States Air Force)

Dr. Dahl and Rickenbacker later traveled together during the height of the Second World War. U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson asked Rickenbacker to travel throughout the war zones and to inspect troops, operations and equipment. He had top secret clearance and met with leaders of the Allied troops all over the world. As part of the trip, he secretly traveled to the USSR in 1943 to gather information. One of the people who joined Rickenbacker on these trips was Dr. Dahl, whose skill with OMT was depended on daily to keep Rickenbacker mobile and functioning. Dr. Dahl’s skills are lauded three separate times in the bestseller by the captain himself, “Rickenbacker: His Own Story,” which was published in 1967.

Dr. Dahl passed away on Dec. 10, 1957.

George “Sonny” Miller, DO

George “Sonny” Miller, DO, was a pathologist who practiced osteopathic medicine in Milwaukee and Dallas. On Oct. 5, 1943, his son, Steven Haworth Miller, was born. Steve Miller, a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee, is one of rock music’s most well-known guitarists. He sings and writes music for his Steve Miller Band, which has played all over the world for decades. Some of their famous songs include “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Abracadabra.”

Steve Miller (Photo courtesy of Tim Brown, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Dr. Miller was on staff at the Dallas Osteopathic Hospital, where he famously integrated the first Black laboratory supervisor, Wanda Dickson, a certified cytotechnologist. Dr. Miller was the president of the American Society of Osteopathic Pathologists in 1957 and 1958, and in 1950, he was one of only ten DOs specializing in pathology in the U.S.

Dr. Miller’s musical interests are credited with inspiring his son to become a guitarist and bandleader. He was a jazz enthusiast and an accomplished amateur recording engineer. Growing up, the younger Miller was encouraged by guitar virtuoso and godfather Les Paul, a friend of Dr. Miller’s, to continuing playing his guitar, a gift from his uncle K. Dale Atterberry, DO, who was also a practicing osteopathic physician (read more about Dr. Atterberry below).

Dr. Miller often hosted parties, according to Rick Leech, DO, a retired anesthesiologist in Hurst, Texas.

“I attended several of the Millers’ parties as an intern and a resident,” Dr. Leech recalls. “At the parties, Dr. Miller’s son Steve wowed everyone with his music playing. It was obvious that he had an incredible gift even when he was very young.”

Dr. Miller passed away in 1990 at the age of 74.

K. Dale Atterberry, DO

K. Dale Atterberry, DO, was born on April 23, 1911, in Mountain Park, Oklahoma. He graduated from ATSU-KCOM in 1935 with his DO degree. Dr. Atterberry was a laboratory instructor in embryology at ATSU-KCOM.

In addition to fostering his nephew Steve Miller’s interest in music, Dr. Atterberry practiced family medicine in Camdenton, Missouri, from 1935 to 1961. He was a founding physician of the Charles E. Still Osteopathic Hospital, now known as the Capital Region Medical Center. In 1943, Dr. Atterberry and his colleagues expressed “concern about the lack of hospital facilities for their patients, [and] met to discuss the possibility of building a hospital.”

The resulting facility was dedicated on March 28, 1951. Since its opening, the Capital Region Medical Center has grown from a 35-bed facility to a 100-bed osteopathic teaching center.

Dr. Atterberry later became certified in internal medicine, which he practiced locally until his retirement in 1978. During his career, Dr. Atterberry was the director of medical education at Still Regional Medical Center (originally Charles E. Still Osteopathic Hospital and now Capital Region Medical Center). While serving as director, he was named director of medical education emeritus. Upon his retirement, the library at the hospital was named in his honor.

Dr. Atterberry passed away in 1998 at 87 years of age.

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The DO or the AOA.

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