Saturday, May 26 , 2018, 1:34 pm | Fair 67º


Local News

Clinic Wing Renamed in Honor of Beloved Doctor

The new Stephen R. Birch Specialty Wing pays tribute to a Santa Barbara surgeon who friends and family say 'touched a lot of hearts'

In April, the Santa Barbara community was stunned to learn that beloved orthopedic surgeon Dr. Steven Birch had died suddenly when his aerobatic plane crashed off El Capitan.

On Thursday, dozens of friends and family members of the physician gathered to celebrate his life and watch as the specialty wing at the county Public Health Department’s Santa Barbara clinic was renamed in his honor.

Birch donated his time to the clinic as a specialist for 23 years, in addition to running his own practice at the office of Peus, Birch, Kahmann, Gallivan and Romero.

Before the new sign for the second-floor Stephen R. Birch Specialty Wing was unveiled, several of Birch’s partners and family members shared their memories.

Dr. William Gallivan, one of Birch’s partners, said Birch was the “epitome” of what the public clinic is about. “Steve was a kind and gentle healer, he never rushed with his patients,” he said. “He’s the kind of guy that I try to model my practice after.”

Gallivan, who worked with Birch at the volunteer clinic for 17 years, said Birch’s death was a “tremendous loss” as a friend, husband, father and doctor throughout the community and at the clinic. 

It wasn’t unusual for Birch to see patients everyday at the clinic, dealing with serious issues such as hepatitis, Gallivan said, but that Birch never thought about risks when dealing with patients. “He always did the things he thought were right and took care of everybody without ever being judgmental,” he said.

Clinic manager Lou Ellen Scott hangs the sign for the new Stephen R. Birch Wing
Santa Barbara clinic manager Lou Ellen Scott hangs the sign for the new Stephen R. Birch Specialty Wing. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

His voice bristling with emotion, Gallivan said that although he hadn’t been with Birch in his final moments, “I’m pretty sure it was a calm few seconds,” he said. “He was so unflappable.”

Birch’s plane disappeared off the radar April 19 while he was flying in nearly perfect weather conditions. Birch had nearly three decades of flying experience, puzzling those who knew him best.

His plane was later located and recovered from about 225 feet below the surface in the El Capitan Channel.

His wife, Alice, also spoke, and her three sons, Charlie, Scott and Chris, were present.

“It’s a little overwhelming. I think we’re all blessed to have Steve in our lives,” she told the group, mentioning that Birch’s grandparents were missionaries in Africa, “selfless people who helped the poor.”

“Steve just had a great background, and I’m so proud to have him as my husband and the father of my children,” she said. “I know he’s passed on honesty and integrity to his children, and hopefully he touched all of you in the same way.”

Clinic manager Lou Ellen Scott presented Alice Birch with a memory scrapbook of cards and letters people had written. A portrait of Birch also was unveiled and now hangs in the clinic’s hall.

Another of Birch’s partners, Dr. Richard Kahmann, said not a day goes by without patients talking about their memories of the doctor. “He really, really touched a lot of hearts,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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