May 2024 Champion: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Terry O’Connor

Blog > Champions of the Month > May 2024 Champion: Honoring the Life and Legacy of Dr. Terry O’Connor

May 23, 2024 | By: Bhargavi Chekuri

Dr. Terry O’Connor’s life and career stand as a testament to his remarkable dedication and service across disciplines and borders. As an esteemed emergency physician, educator, narrator, and explorer, he continuously pushed the boundaries of medicine and environmental stewardship. Dr. O’Connor died tragically in an avalanche on May 10, 2024, at the age of 48.

Before embarking on his clinical journey, Dr. O’Connor’s formative years were spent as a National Park Service Ranger, an expedition manager with National Geographic, and a contributor to Discovery Channel documentaries. Dr. O’Connor’s medical career took him to some of the world’s most challenging environments — from providing care at the summit of Mt. Everest to India, and Borneo.


His resilience and leadership were critical on the frontlines of crises, such as during wildfire hospital evacuations and the COVID-19 pandemic in Idaho. His exceptional commitment to patient care and disease prevention earned him the honor of ‘healthcare hero’ bestowed by the State of Idaho Department of Public Health, as well as the prestigious Excellence in Patient Care Award, bestowed by the governor of Idaho and the Idaho Hospital Association.

Drawing from his influential experiences on the frontlines of a rapidly changing world, Dr. O’Connor concentrated his recent efforts on preserving health on an ailing planet. His visionary leadership helped launch the University of Colorado’s Diploma in Climate Medicine Program, which trains clinical leaders in climate change and health topics. Dr. O’Connor’s insights into burgeoning health risks had been sought out by NPR, the New York Times, the Western Governors Association, the New Yorker, the Financial Times, PBS Newshour, the Wall Street Journal, the Global Health Reporting Center, and the Nature Conservancy.

Dr. O’Connor exemplified how to find joy in medicine and the world, deeply treasuring connection with loved ones and the wilderness. He sought the mountains to experience awe and a profound connection with himself, others, and the universe. In his TEDx talk on awe and altruism, he demonstrated that adventure inspires connection, empathy, and humanity.

“Go on an adventure,” he said. “These moments will always be oxygen for our souls. I just ask you to remember why you might feel that way. Perhaps our journeys are less about what we have just achieved but more about who we are about to become, and what we are going to give in return.”

Although Dr. O’Connor’s infectious smile and boundless curiosity will be deeply missed, his work will endure. His legacy is to inspire each of us to act in service of our planet and each other.