Valley doctor dies after kayaking accident in Montana

Posted at 12:56 PM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-12 22:12:52-04

Authorities say the body of a Valley doctor was found in a river in southern Montana earlier this week after a kayaking accident. 

Thomas Bajo, 68, was kayaking when friends say he capsized and hit his head on a rock. 

A second kayaker was able to reach Bajo but could not pull him to shore as he was seen floating downstream. 

Volunteer searchers spotted Bajo's body at about 7:15 a.m. on Tuesday by a fallen tree. 

ABC15 learned Bajo was a critical care physician at Banner - University Medical Center in Phoenix for more than 30 years where he cared for patients in the intensive care unit. He also helped train new physicians. Bajo retired in 2015; he's credited with saving the lives of hundreds of patients, a Banner Health official said to ABC15 via a released statement. 

He leaves behind a legacy not only as a dedicated doctor but a dedicated dad who had a unique sense of humor. 

"He would tease us," joked Bajo's daughter, Alyssa.

Both Alyssa Bajo and her sister, Hannah Calvis, remember their father as a hard-worker who loved the outdoors. They told ABC15 their father was in Montana for several weeks on a kayaking trip.

"Happiest time of his life," Alyssa Bajo said. "When I would speak to him, he was just so excited."

Family members said Bajo would often tell them "Carpe Diem", the Latin phrase for "seize the day."

"I will live every single day the rest of my life to honor him," Calvis said. "Literally just seize the day, I want to live how he lived."

A former patient tells ABC15 he provided top-notch care.

"(He's) amazing, incredible, one of a kind," said Amanda Missildine, who said the doctor was a part of the team who helped her get a liver transplant in 2005.

After leaving the hospital, Missildine says she became inspired to become a nurse. In a story that comes full circle, Missildine wound up working at the same hospital, alongside the doctor, in 2009.

While he retired in 2015, Missildine told ABC15 he leaves a lasting impact.

"He was a huge influence into what medicine is in Arizona," she said. "That is no doubt, especially when it comes to critical care."