William Neal

William A. Neal, born Jan. 18, 1940 in Huntington, died Jan. 1, 2021 at home in Morgantown. He was the first of seven children of William Leonard and Mary Louise Eich Neal. He was the grandson of Dr. and Mrs. Will E. Neal, of Huntington, and Mr. Albert Eich, of Cincinnati.

Bill graduated from St. Joseph High School in Huntington. He began his college education at Wheeling College and graduated from Xavier University, Cincinnati, with a B.S. degree in chemistry in 1962. He then entered the WVU School of Medicine and was the first recipient of the Edward J. Van Liere award for student research. While attending medical school, he married his first wife, Barbara Ann Oxendale, from Oak Hill. Upon graduation with the Doctor of Medicine degree in 1966, Bill interned at the Milwaukee County General Hospital.

Internship was followed by service in the U.S. Navy as a flight surgeon aboard the USS Constellation (1967-1969). He made two cruises to Vietnam and was awarded an Air Medal. He ejected from an A-6 Intruder aircraft over the Gulf of Tonkin on a combat support mission flown by Lt. j.g. Daniel Brandenstein, who would later become an astronaut.

In medical school, Bill was introduced to the specialty of pediatric cardiology, having served a six month elective rotation with Dr. Russell Lucas. His first day of elective was June 23, 1964, only hours after his first daughter, Stephanie, was born. Dr. Lucas gave him the rest of the morning off before having him begin a mountain of reading about children’s heart disease. Russ was a tough task master but a great clinician and role model. Upon discharge from the Navy in December 1969, Bill enrolled in postgraduate training where Lucas was now chief of pediatric cardiology at the University of Minnesota.

Minnesota was, at that time, a premier training program in the field of pediatrics. After two years of pediatric residency, Bill spent the next two and one half years as a fellow under Drs. Lucas, James Moller and other distinguished faculty. After completing fellowship training Bill was torn between staying on the faculty at the University of Minnesota or returning to his alma mater. He elected to return to West Virginia University in July 1974, having initially declined the offer by WVU Founding Chair of Pediatrics, Dr. Gene Klingberg, because the University Hospital did not have a newborn intensive care unit. Klingberg countered that if such a unit was important for the care for newborns with congenital heart disease Bill could help establish a NICU in Morgantown.
Dr. Neal’s tenure on the active clinical faculty in the School of Medicine spanned 40 years. The first decade was spent working with talented residents, faculty, and nursing staff to create a NICU capable of caring for critically ill newborns with heart and lung diseases. Recognizing that WVU could not serve the intensive care needs of the entire state, Bill established the West Virginia Perinatal Committee. The goal of this ad hoc group of engaged doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, and health planners was to see that every hospital with an obstetrical unit in the state was served by outreach education and infant transport provided by collaborative NICU’s in Morgantown, Charleston and Huntington. In the mid-1970s West Virginia had the highest white infant mortality in the nation. By the end of the decade, the state experienced the most rapid decline in IMR in the country to below the national average.

The next phase of Neal’s career was that of chair of the department of pediatrics from 1985 to 1998. A new replacement hospital, J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, was in the early planning stage as Bill assumed this role. Bill recommended to administration that it be designed to incorporate the model of a “Children’s Hospital within a Hospital,” in which all the pediatric and obstetrical units would be placed on one floor of the new facility. The proposal was adapted and in July 1988, J.W. Ruby Memorial opened and WVU, for the first time, had a children’s hospital. Dr. Neal was its first medical director. Recruitment of many new children’s subspecialists to support the growing clinical service engaged Bill and colleagues throughout the next dozen years. By this time, WVU Children’s had developed a national reputation in the field of cardiovascular surgery under the leadership of fellow alumnus Robert Gustafson. The key to success was establishment of a system of outreach heart clinics in every corner of the state to accommodate the expert surgical capability of Dr. Gustafson.
The final stage of Bill’s clinical career was in public health. He established the “Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities” (CARDIAC) Project in 1998. CARDIAC was a comprehensive school-based risk factor surveillance, intervention and research initiative designed to address the unacceptable mortality and morbidity associated with obesity, diabetes and heart disease in West Virginia. A component of the WV Rural Health Education Partnership (WVRHEP), between 1998 and 2017, health science students screened over 200,000 school children from every corner of the state for body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood cholesterol and evidence of pre-diabetes. Supported by the West Virginia legislature, CDC, NIH and the Benedum Foundation for two decades, it was the largest youth-based project of its kind in the nation. Data from CARDIAC supported the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that all children between the ages of 9-11 years have blood cholesterol screened. CARDIAC was the recipient of many national awards, including recognition by the American Public Health Association and the National Rural Health Association.

Bill served in many leadership positions over the years. He was president of the National Perinatal Association (1982-84). He was the first physician chair of the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) from 1998-2000, and he was chairman of the board of the Familial Hypercholesterolemia Foundation from 2016 to 2020. Neal was the longest serving physician member of the Naval Research Advisory Committee (NRAC), appointed by the Secretary of the Navy to this Federal Advisory Committee for a total of 13 years. In 2007, he was elected Distinguished Alumnus of the WVU School of Medicine, and in 2016 initiated into the WVU Academy of Distinguished Alumni.

Bill retired from active clinical practice in 2014, 50 years after beginning pediatric cardiology elective as a medical student in 1964. His patients and their families from across the state came to Morgantown to celebrate his years of practice as their physician. His “retirement” years were anything but retiring. He spent a year in the West Virginia Regional History Center in the Universities’ Wise Library researching material for a book, “Quiet Advocate: Edward J. Van Liere’s Influence on Medical Education in West Virginia.” Thereafter he collaborated with WVRHC Director John Cuthbert, Vice President and Executive Dean Clay Marsh, and public history graduate student, Elizabeth Satterfield, to create a WVU History of the Health Sciences Museum adjacent to the Pylons Atrium in the Health Sciences Center. Supported by a family endowment in Dr. Neal’s name, the goal of the museum is to enlighten students, faculty and visitors of the rich history of medical education in the Mountain State.

In 2017, WVU Medicine CEO Albert Wright announced, to the delight of many, the goal of building a new free-standing Children’s Hospital next to the Heart and Vascular Institute. Scheduled to open the summer of 2021, it was Bill’s desire to see the state of West Virginia have a superb Children’s Hospital on the campus of West Virginia University.

Bill is survived by his four children, Stephanie Solomon and James Neal, of Morgantown, Michael Neal, of Prince Frederick, Md., and Elizabeth Gonzales, of Kentfield, Calif.; the mother of his children, Bobbi Neal; his wife, Martha Mullett, and two stepchildren, Charles Mullett and Sara Hendrickson; eight siblings, Rick Berthold, Jerry Berthold, Susan Neal Meyers, Virginia Neal, Mary Ellen Ore, John Neal, Christine Harris and Ruth Marshall. The Neal family is blessed with 14 grandchildren: Brandon, Steven and Nicky Solomon; Tyler, Heston, Keaton and Emerson Neal; Michael, Maya and Isabella Gonzales; Eich and Hersh Neal; and Jake and Lemley Mullett.

A private Catholic funeral mass will be held this week, followed by a memorial service at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to WVU Medicine Children’s Hospital c/o Amy Bush 1 Medical Center Drive Morgantown WV 26506.

Hastings Funeral Home has been entrusted with arrangements.