May 19, 2023 – While filming a physician’s profile in February, Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center Chief of Surgery Dr. William Gaunt was asked to name the highlight of his career.
After more than two decades as a surgeon, the 56-year-old could have listed any number of professional accomplishments.
But rather than reflecting on the past, Dr. Gaunt pointed to the future.
“I guess my biggest career highlight would be what we’re looking forward to in the future with ARH as a system,” he said.
In addition to his role as a general surgeon, Dr. Gaunt was at the forefront of the not-yet completed Wound Care Center at Tug Valley ARH and was consulting on similar projects in both Middlesboro, Ky., and Beckley, W.Va.
Tug Valley ARH CEO Paula Vaughan said Dr. Gaunt regularly worked full days in the office and operating room before going home and dialing in for planning calls and other leadership meetings.
Vaughan said it’s no surprise that Dr. Gaunt, who died unexpectedly on May 10, spent his final day much the same.
“He was committed to ARH and was committed to his patients, their families and to our employees,” she said. “He’s going to be missed.”
Commonly known as Bucky – and, at times, as Dr. Bucky – the Louisville, Ky., native joined the staff at Tug Valley ARH in 2016.
After receiving his medical degree from the University of Louisville, Dr. Gaunt completed his residency at Wright State University in Ohio and then worked as an assistant clinical professor and as a general surgeon in both private practices and at other hospitals throughout the region.
The name “Dr. Bucky” was often used around the hospital to help staff differentiate him from his wife, Dr. Tina Gaunt, an OBGYN at Tug Valley ARH.
“We just called him Bucky,” said Kristie Adkins, who, as OR Nurse Manager at Tug Valley, worked closely with Dr. Gaunt.
“He was absolutely wonderful,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor.”
It was that sense of humor, along with a love for “nerdy” things, that helped ARH Our Lady of the Way CEO Rocco Massey form a bond with Dr. Gaunt.
Massey said the two formed a close connection after meeting as participants in the ARH Leadership Academy in 2021.
“He was a big Disney fan and a Star Wars fanatic,” Massey recalled with a laugh. “I’m a big nerd over here so we always had a bunch of “nerd talk.”
“We always had fun.”
The connection they formed during the year-long leadership academy, Massey said, was one the things that drew him to pursue the assistant administrator position at Tug Valley, where he worked before moving to Our Lady of the Way.
“He really helped me get acclimated to Tug Valley,” Massey said, adding he was thankful for their friendship as well as for the opportunity to witness Dr. Gaunt’s love for his profession.
“He really wanted to make ARH better,” he said. “He wanted to be on every committee he could possibly be on. He wanted to communicate with providers across the system. He wanted to contribute as much as he could and was constantly looking for ways to help ARH.”
Dr. Vellaiappan Somasundaram (commonly referred to as Dr. Soma), Chief of Staff at Tug Valley ARH, said Dr. Gaunt was always ready and excited to assist his colleagues and patients in any way he could.
“This is a big loss for the community,” he said. “A big loss for our patients and his family. He was a great doctor who did everything he could to help and he will be missed.”
Although Massey, Vaughan, Adkins and Dr. Soma each spoke of Dr. Gaunt’s kindness and commitment to ARH, they all said the late surgeon was a family man above all else.
“He was a good father,” Dr. Soma said. “He was very close to his children and very proud of them.”
Both Michael and Cami Gaunt followed in their father’s footsteps as they graduated from the University of Louisville. Vaughan said Dr. Gaunt spoke excitedly about Cami’s May 13, 2023 graduation, a milestone he missed by just three days.
“He was really looking forward to watching her graduate,” she said. “He was so very proud of his children.”
Though Gaunt was originally from Louisville, ARH President & CEO Hollie Phillips said he quickly adopted eastern Kentucky as his home and was committed to learning everything he could about the region and its people.
“From the moment Dr. Gaunt joined our ARH system, he invested so much of himself both inside the operating room and out,” she said. “As part of our ARH Leadership Academy, he grew as a strong leader within ARH and had a passion to see our health system continue to grow and thrive for our patients.
“He was a true servant of the ARH mission and will be missed tremendously by everyone who had the good fortune of knowing him.”
Dr. Gaunt will not be on-hand – at least not in the physical sense – when the wound care centers open throughout the system.
ARH Vice President of Clinical Operations Carrie Rudzik, however, said his contributions will not be forgotten.
“He was so excited about the programs,” she said. “The centers will still come to fruition, but it will be bittersweet without him leading the way. I will miss his guidance, passion and joy as we continue our planning.”
Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH), is a not-for-profit health system operating 14 hospitals in Barbourville, Hazard, Harlan, Hyden, Martin, McDowell, Middlesboro, Paintsville, Prestonsburg, West Liberty, Whitesburg, and South Williamson in Kentucky and Beckley and Hinton in West Virginia, as well as multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, home medical equipment stores and retail pharmacies. ARH employs more than 6,500 people with an annual payroll and benefits of $330 million generated into our local economies. ARH also has a network of more than 600 active and courtesy medical staff members. ARH is the largest provider of care and the single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third-largest private employer in southern West Virginia.