Jacksonville area resident Frank Lucas first met Dr. Mario Campagna in the emergency room at Providence Hospital in Medford on the night of July 7, 1974.
Lucas had a broken neck, the result of an accident at the Medford Raceway. Campagna was the neurosurgeon on call.
"The diagnosis was quadriplegia," Lucas said. "Doctor Campagna chose to do a new surgery procedure he had never performed before to remove bone fragments and relieve pressure and try to lessen permanent damage to the (spinal) cord.
"While I did not recover complete function, what I got back was pretty darn good, eventually putting me back in an upright position with full use of my arms and hands and an ability to walk once again," he added.
Mario Joseph Campagna, who opened the Rogue Valley's first neurological practice in 1957, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure. He was 86.
Lucas recalls being sent to a rehabilitation hospital in Portland where he eventually regained use of his feet. The only other person to walk out of the unit while he was there was a logger who had suffered a back injury and was also operated on by Campagna, he said.
"We still run into each other from time to time and share our good fortune from the work of Doctor Campagna," said Lucas, who is now retired.
Campagna spent four years at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota before settling in Medford. He was a medical pathfinder, bringing the first CT scanner to Oregon, and introducing the first carotid angiogram and the first microsurgical procedure on the brain to the Rogue Valley, according to information from Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center. He also founded the Medford Neurological Clinic in 1972.
"Dr. Mario Campagna was an outstanding surgeon and a true pioneer in the field of neurosurgery in Oregon," said Roy Vinyard, president and chief executive officer of Asante. "During his 40-year career as a neurosurgeon in Southern Oregon, he touched thousands of lives."
"While I arrived in Medford near the end of his surgical career, his impact continued long after his retirement, through his philanthropy and community involvement," Vinyard added. "Mario Campagna's death is a great loss. He will be deeply missed."
For Medford neurologist Kevin Sullivan, Campagna was more than a talented neurosurgeon.
"He was my mentor and a good friend," Sullivan said. "He had a really remarkable energy level. The amount of work he did was truly amazing.
"During his entire practice I never heard him complain about working too hard, not getting enough sleep or being on call too much," he added. "He was always so upbeat. I'm not sure they make neurosurgeons like than anymore."
Sullivan, 71, a fellow in the American Academy of Neurology, joined Campagna's practice in 1974, working with him until Campagna retired from full-time practice in 1991.
Although he had a reputation for conducting himself in a strictly businesslike manner with his patients, his focus was entirely on helping them, Sullivan observed.
"He was very caring — he felt he could help everybody," he said.
In an interview with the Mail Tribune in 2012, Campagna acknowledged his reputation.
"You focus on the pathology," he explained. "You have to concentrate on that to get the job done right."
Dr. Alan Bates, 68, a longtime family care doctor in Medford as well as a state senator, also worked with Campagna.
"He was a 24/7 kind of guy — trauma cases, brain tumors, back surgeries," Bates said. "I don't know how he did it. And he was one of the best medical doctors I've ever seen."
Bates first met Campagna in 1979, shortly after he completed his residency.
"I was just a punk kid, but he treated me with absolute respect," Bates said. "I learned so much from him. Think of an old-school, thoughtful gentleman."
When he sent Campagna a case, Bates said, he would often be invited to assist on a procedure.
"He would talk you through it," he said. "It was like going back to medical school. He was a great teacher, very polite and respectful."
Campagna was born on April 29, 1927 in Portland to Salvatore and Mary Campagna. He graduated from Portland's Washington High School in 1944 and joined the Navy in 1945. Following World War II, he attended the University of Portland as a premed student, graduating magna cum laude in 1949. He received his medical degree in 1952 from what is now the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
He married Edith "Edie" Cutone on June 7, 1952. His wife of more than 60 years died on Feb. 11, 2013. They leave behind four children in Paul, Marla, Robert and Patrick and six grandchildren.
In 1999, Mario Campagna received the Carpenter Distinguished Citizen Award for philanthropic leadership to the Rogue Valley Medical Center, its foundation and to other charitable health-related institutions in the region. He and his wife funded a chair in pediatric neurosurgery at OHSU.
A funeral mass to celebrate his life will be held at 11 a.m. July 12 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 517 W. 10th Street, Medford. A reception will follow afterwards with the location to be announced.
Internment will follow at Perl Funeral Home, 2100 Siskiyou Blvd., Medford.
The family suggests contributions be made in his memory to the American Heart Association.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.