By JEANNE GRIMES
When Tammy Elston of San Antonio, Texas, learned Dr. Ron Orr will hang up his stethoscope for good later this week, she knew there was something she had to do.
Elston, in Chickasha for a visit, went straight to Southern Plains Medical Center on Monday, asked to see Orr and reminded him she was his very first patient when he joined the multi-specialty practice. That was August 1967 and Elston was 4 years old at the time.
Which just proves that Orr's wife, Judy, gave him good advice way back when he was trying to decide on a specialty. He'd narrowed it down between pediatrics or psychiatry.
"Everybody loves their pediatrician," she told him.
Coming To Town
Orr, an Anadarko native, worked in a family practice in Marlow the summer of 1963. Then he went into the Navy and completed his residency.
How he ended up in Chickasha is a story in itself.
He knew he wanted to be part of a multi-specialty medical group, but neither he nor his wife wanted to live in Oklahoma City. In the mid-60s, that left him two options – Chickasha or McAlester. The couple chose Chickasha so their children would be closer to grandparents and other extended family.
At the time, Dr. Bob Herndon was practicing at Southern Plains Medical Center and Orr attended a pediatrics lecture he gave at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. After the lecture, he visited with Herndon about his interest in the Southern Plains group.
Herndon agreed to help, but his first attempt on Orr's behalf met a stone wall. The other doctors flatly stated the practice didn't need another pediatrician. But Dr. Herndon continued to lobby on behalf of the young doctor. Then one day he called Orr and told him, "I think I've talked them into giving it a try."
"I'm the only doctor to come to Chickasha who had to knock the door down," Orr recalls ruefully, noting medical recruitment is nothing like his experience. "I'm grateful to Bob Herndon for going to bat for me."
Orr said he began talking about retirement a year ago, telling the group that he would step aside by the end of 2010 or sooner if a replacement pediatrician came on board. It's down to the final hours of his medical career and there's still no replacement.
"I think they didn't believe I was really going to retire," he said of his colleagues.
Orr will see his last patients in the office on Thursday and that night he's the on-call physician. Come 8 a.m. Friday and his retirement is official.
He estimates his medical career has included approximately 300,000 office visits and "thousands of kids" admitted to the hospital. At any time, his active patients probably numbered 2,000 or so children.
Probably his most memorable case occurred just last month.
"A little boy from Marlow, six months old, came in. He was in shock, very critically ill," Orr said.
Orr rushed him to the emergency room at Grady Memorial Hospital and while incubating him, the baby went into cardiac arrest.
"He was flat-lined for probably five minutes," the doctor said, before resuscitation efforts got his heart beating again. He was medi-flighted to the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City where he was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle. There the baby remained on a heart-lung machine for two days as doctors worked to save his life.
"I saw him last week here in the office and he's a perfectly healthy, normal baby," said Orr. "About everything that can happen to kids, I've seen it."
Even though many of his patients are too young to verbalize their aches and pains, Orr has become adept at reading body language.
"They can tell you what is wrong," he said. "Watching a child sitting in his mother's lap, you can gain a tremendous amount of information and we are usually able to determine what is going on.
His career has spanned major diagnostic developments and numerous generations.
About three years ago, he cared for a newborn from Tuttle in the hospital. Twenty years earlier, he'd taken care of that infant's mother in the hospital as a newborn and he also took care of the grandmother as a newborn 36 years earlier,
Judy Orr was owner/operator of The Attic in downtown Chickasha for 13 years before selling the store about three years ago.
The Orrs raised their four children in Chickasha. All are successful in their respective careers, though none are remotely medical.
Laurie Elzo is an attorney in the trust department at First National Bank. Merry Stone is a school administrator in Duncan and Amy Howell teaches kindergarten at Epworth School. Scott Orr is the owner/general manager of the Texas Road House at Memorial and Pennsylvania in Oklahoma City.
"I think they saw me worn out and never at their (school) activities," said Orr, who up until a few years ago worked an average of 65 hours a week.
One thing that's changed since 1967 is that doctors don't admit nearly as many patients to the hospital now. Orr can remember once when there were 154 patients in Grady Memorial Hospital and the hospital was turning patients away.
"I would have 15 patients in the hospital at a time," he recalled.
There were no CAT scans or MRIs.
"A lot of really sick people either made it or didn't here in Chickasha," he said. "It was not uncommon for children to die in this hospital, sometimes of things we can cure now.
"There was no such thing as neonatal intensive care, even at Childrens Hospital."
Another change he's noticed is the increased numbers of children suffering from asthma and allergies.
"Something has changed and we don't know why," he said. "I think it's environmental, but I'm not sure what the cause is."
The Orrs aren't big on travel, so it's doubtful junkets and cruises are in their future. He looks forward to spending more time with his wife and watching his grandsons compete in high school sports. One here is a wrestler and another in Duncan plays basketball. He'll also catch up on reading and devote time to yard work and, perhaps, tend a small vegetable garden. The latter is still tentative, as Orr grew up on a truck farm and hasn't entirely forgotten his dislike for commercial vegetable production.
He will miss the daily contact with so many Chickasha area families, but looks forward to a feeling of relief from the pressure that comes with a busy medical practice.
"I feel very grateful and blessed to live in Chickasha," he said.