- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) - A lot has changed in medicine in the last 51 years that Dr. William Pletcher has been a physician in Elkhart County.

Frequent house calls and paperwork were replaced by emergency rooms and computers. There were new diseases, new technology and new treatments.

But the one thing that hasn’t changed is compassionate care. It’s something 85-year-old Pletcher hopes will continue after he retires Dec. 31 as an oncologist at the Elkhart Clinic.

“Medical problems, social or spiritual problems . everybody’s got those needs,” he said. “You have to look at the whole person.”

Growing up in Goshen, Pletcher knew during his sophomore year of high school that he wanted to be a doctor. His two reasons were a love of science and a love of people.

“I think you need to enjoy both if you want to be a physician,” he told The Elkhart Truth (http://bit.ly/1BastnI ).

Pletcher first attended Goshen College before earning his doctorate in medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

He would end up in Puerto Rico a year later with his first wife, Sarah. He spent three years there working at a mission hospital. He used to hate coffee but, after spending time in the region, Pletcher said he now drinks it every day.

“I did general medicine, delivered babies and did surgery, everything . I enjoyed that very much,” he said.

After Puerto Rico he worked as a resident at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor before moving to Elkhart in 1963. He would be the ninth doctor hired at Elkhart Clinic.

Oncology didn’t really exist when Pletcher moved back to Indiana.

Until the 1980s, he remembers being the only one in Elkhart County taking patients with cancer and blood diseases.

Some patients had to travel across the country for their treatments, but it can now be found at multiple practices, Pletcher said.

“Back then, we did the best we could,” he said.

Chemotherapy and drug treatment was still being developed and tested.

Radical surgery was more common back then - find a lump, take it out. Now laparoscopic, or minimally invasive surgery, allows for smaller incisions.

“We are treating these diseases much more effectively than we used to, but we still have a long way to go,” Pletcher said.

A representative of the Hoosier Cancer Research Network applauded Pletcher’s more than 25 years with the organization during which he worked with educational programs, clinical trial proposals and co-authored nine studies in cancer research.

Not every person that battles cancer will survive. It’s something Pletcher understands as a doctor, a husband and a cancer survivor himself.

He was in the hospital room with his first wife when she died of cancer in 1998. At the same time, he was receiving chemotherapy for colon cancer. A year later, he was fine.

“One of the greatest losses that one can have is the loss of a spouse,” Pletcher said.

His second wife, Rosemary, would also battle the disease and survive.

Compassion, honesty and faith have been a big part of Pletcher’s work in medicine.

Outside of his daily work at the clinic, Pletcher has continued to travel on mission trips to Ecuador, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.

He’s also been involved in local organizations such as Church Community Services, Ribbon of Hope, Samaritan Center, Oaklawn Psychiatric Center and the Center for Healing and Hope, where he’s been a volunteer for 10 years.

“His presence here has saved lives,” said center executive director Clare Krabill. “He’s a wonderful, kind, intelligent doctor. I just plain like Bill.”

While retirement will mean the end of his work at Elkhart Clinic, it won’t be the end of his work in the community.

Pletcher still plans to travel and will continue to volunteer in between spending more time with his family.

“I have 18 grandchildren all between here and Nashville,” he said with a smile.

And his advice for the next generation of doctors?

“The more you can be involved in your patient’s lives, the more you’ll be able to enjoy medicine,” Pletcher said.

Be present in the lives of the people seeking care. Have empathy and compassion for what they are going through, he said. Treat the patient, not just the disease.

___

Information from: The Elkhart Truth, http://www.elkharttruth.com

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