My biography begins in 1921 with the birth of my father in Powell , Nebraska, and the birth of my mother in 1923, in Lincoln. They were members of America’s greatest generation, growing up during the Great Depression and participants in World War II. They understood the values of sacrifice and sharing, living with that on a daily basis. None of my grandparents were college educated, but with the work ethic instilled, my father became a Civil Engineer and my mother an elementary education teacher. My father began a 44 year career with the Department of Roads in Nebraska in 1946, rising to senior leadership roles and finishing his career at the top position. My mother provided formative educational experiences to several generations of Lincoln public school children, in addition to encouraging a lifetime of learning for her offspring. My father rarely spoke of the war, although I knew he was designing and building runways for airplanes in the Aleutian islands of Alaska and in Okinawa. I was aware that after obtaining her college degree, my mother did some early teaching in North Platte, but it was only recently that I learned of her volunteering at the Canteen.
For my parents, patriotism, God and country were not merely words, but a way of life. They taught by example about kindness and love, accomplishment and humility. Who we are is shaped by genetics and environment. I came into this world in 1947, lucky on both counts. I was the oldest of three, ahead of my brother and sister and at the leading edge of the Baby Boomers. We were growing up in an age of great promise when anything seemed attainable, like putting a man on the moon, but with that optimism tempered with the possibility of utter destruction of humanity by nuclear war. I loved the outdoors and found my greatest peace during childhood while on vacation and hiking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I became an Eagle Boy Scout by 13 years of age and swam with a state championship team in high school. I was a member of National Honor Society and by all counts, what most would refer to as a nerd. I wanted to attend the Air Force Academy but instead had a first alternate appointment to West Point. If the primary appointee had dropped out, I would have been in the Army. It was 1965, and I guess there was a different future in store for me than to end up in the jungles of Vietnam. At the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, I began studying engineering and enrolled in Air Force ROTC. I gravitated to the courses and profession that seemed most exciting and challenging, graduating with a BS in Chemistry, a commissioning as 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, and with a deferral to go to medical school at the College of Medicine in Omaha, in 1969.
I received my MD from the University of Nebraska in 1973, but an even greater lifetime reward from the College of Nursing in 1971. While still a medical student, I married a nursing student who has been my constant companion and blessing in my life these many years. We left Nebraska for my residency program in pediatrics at Travis Air Force Base, California from 1973 through 1976. During that time, chronic diarrhea and malnutrition in infants was a significant problem with no special formulas to allow oral feeding and recovery. The field of Pediatric Gastroenterology was just getting started and fate opened a door for me to study in a fellowship program at UCLA under Dr. Marvin Ament, an early pioneer and extensively published physician. I found myself at the forefront of studying gastroesophageal reflux disease, Crohn’s disease and intravenous nutritional therapy, as well as applying early endoscopic and interventional testing of pediatric patients. Several seminal and long referenced papers were authored or co-authored by me during that time.
Finishing my fellowship in 1978, I was the first Pediatric Gastroenterologist in the Air Force and stationed at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. At that time the hospital was 1000 beds, the largest in the Air Force and a training center for multiple specialties. I was serving in a teaching position and clinical practice in the pediatric department , training 18 residents and having difficult cases sometimes sent from around the world on an Air Evacuation system for diagnosis and care. Within the entire United States, by the late 1970s there were still less than 100 trained pediatric gastroenterologists. In 1984, with my military commitment completed and with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital seeking such a physician, my wife and I flew into Knoxville for an interview. There was a feeling of peace and well-being, like the Rocky Mountains, and we have called Knoxville home ever since.
I established my private practice, Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutritional Support, P.C. in 1985, working out of some hospital space until completion of the medical office building in 1987. My office is still in the same suite on second floor, with the first Pediatric GI Lab (endoscopy suite) in east Tennessee built next to it. With my early involvement in Home Health, including the first pediatric patients sent home on total intravenous feedings, ETCH has thereafter grown its presence in such. The first utilization of intraesophageal pH studies for reflux disease in pediatric or adult patients in east Tennessee was accomplished in my practice in 1988, as was the use of Remicade in an office setting to treat Crohn’s disease in 1999. For both diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, being early and being right have been my goals. However, I also believe the best way to decide on how to help a patient is to spend enough time listening to their story.
Having children of your own is a another great gift and learning experience in life. Patti and I have three boys who have grown into fine young men. Matt graduated from UT and served six years active duty in the Navy. He is pursuing further education in computers here in Knoxville. Josh graduated from EKU and served six years active duty in the Army, including a deployment to Iraq as an MP during more hostile times there. He is now seeking a different career path in nursing. Ben is chasing his dreams on the western slopes of the Colorado mountains after learning about the great outdoors in becoming an Eagle Scout. He loves biking, snowboarding, working and getting into his love of painting and art. Patti and I are looking forward to grandchildren, but all in due time. Daughters-in-law are necessary first, and our boys are taking their time in choosing. They’ve taught both of us patience.
Over ten years ago one parent noticed a picture of Wilford Hall in my office. The conversation about that photograph eventually directed me to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, where a medical group was looking for doctors. My thoughts drifted back to high school, when except for my vision I had dreams of being an Air Force pilot. It seems the medical group wanted physicians to be Flight Surgeons, about the closest I could get to being a real pilot. It is strange how many things in life go full circle. To make this short, since 2000 I have been educated in Aerospace Medicine, sat in a centrifuge spinning at nine times gravity’s force, taken survival training, pinned on my Flight Surgeon’s wings, accumulated over 500 hours of flight time mostly in a KC-135 tanker, been deployed for generally 2 to 3 week periods to various places including Germany, Turkey, France, and Guam, and this past year spent 2 weeks north of the Arctic circle doing endoscopies on Eskimos, all courtesy of the Air National Guard. Operation Arctic Care members helping people in remote areas.
I have been a full Colonel for the past 2½ years and slated to take over as commander of the medical group, consisting of over 50 members in multiple care and support fields, this coming year. Rather than detract from my pediatric gastroenterology practice, this military service has kept me grounded ethically, morally and spiritually in an ever-changing world. The Air Force core values have and always will apply in my life and this practice…
— Integrity First —
— Service Before Self —
— Excellence in All We Do —