A surgeon plunged into Lake Michigan's waters roiled by rip tides and rough waves to save two young boys, but died despite his wife's frantic efforts to revive him with mouth to mouth resuscitation, police and his wife said today.
Dr. Donald Liu, chief of pediatric surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine's Comer Children's Hospital, saw the two boys, who were friends of the family, swept up in the water. Despite protests from his own children, who were scared about the dangerous conditions, Liu went in to save them.
"You couldn't stop him," Liu's wife, Dr. Dana Suskind, told ABCNews.com today. "He always did the right thing."
The two boys made it back to the shore near Cherry Beach in Chikaming, but Liu, 50, did not survive the 6-foot swells and treacherous currents.
"After he saved those boys and I couldn't see him, they finally found him and they pulled him from the water. I tried to do mouth-to-mouth, but I knew. And it was so painful," Suskind said between sobs.
The Coast Guard was responding to a call in a nearby area when they received the call to rescue Liu and were unable to get to him in time.
Conditions were ripe for a dangerous rip tide, said Erik Leuenberger, chief of response for the Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan. The wind Sunday was 18 knots, which Leuenberger said was about 21 mph.
"When we see a pretty strong wind come from the northwest, it's going to create a strong rip current condition in the southeast part of the lake," Leuenberger said.
Three people drowned on Lake Michigan Sunday, Leuenberger said.
"Everything [Liu] did, everything he talked about was always for the children," said Jeffrey Matthews, chairman of the Department of Surgery at the University of Chicago Medicine. "And so the tragedy is that he died, of course, as a hero doing what he did every day, which was saving children."
Suskind, crying at times, gave the emotional interview the day after her husband drowned because she wanted her three children to read about how great their father was.
"He wore scrubs all the time. He would've gotten married in his scrubs if he could. He was so understated, but really such a huge stature," Suskind said.
Despite long days in the office, Liu would always come home ready to play with his children Genevieve, 13, Asher, 10, and Amelie, 7. He especially loved throwing the baseball around, a pastime that meant a lot to Asher.
"I'm really sad that my dad died because every time he would come home from work at 5 o'clock, even though he didn't have to, he would play baseball with me and we would go in the backyard," Asher said. "We would always watch the White Sox together."
Asher said he hoped to continue the legacy of watching White Sox games with his family, in honor of his dad.
Liu was a passionate man and when he knew something was right, he didn't hesitate. Suskind said Liu told her he loved her on their second date and they were engaged three months later.
"It was actually meant to be," Suskind said.
They were married for more than 17 years, having met during their residencies at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. Both Liu and Suskind worked at the University of Chicago Medicine since 2001.
"He was known as a selfless individual who was completely devoted to children," Matthews said.
"People will tell you that he's the heart and soul of our pediatric programs," Matthews said. "And always going the extra mile. He was tireless. You know, the kind of guy would operate all day and all night and say, 'Where do we have to go next?' And he would do whatever the children needed."
Chikaming Township's Assistant Police Chief Todd Taylor said, "It was a unique circumstance because this was a brave guy going out to try to help some kids."
Suskind wants to create a foundation to honor her husband. Those wishing to contribute can donate to the Dr. Don Liu Memorial Fund at the University of Chicago. Checks should be made payable to the University of Chicago at
The Dr. Don Liu Memorial Fund The University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences Development Attention: Abbe Temkin 130 East Randolph St., Suite 1400 Chicago, IL 60601
Donations can also be made online .