Earlier this year we asked medical professionals to tell us which of their colleagues deserved recognition as a doctor who is making a big difference in the South Sound. The response was overwhelming. The South Sound magazine editorial panel chose eight medical professionals to highlight, those who were going above and beyond the call of duty, or those who were leaders in their field. It wasn’t an easy task. Every nomination was worthy of being mentioned. So you’ll see the complete list of nominees at the end of this article. Thank you to everyone who participated. And thank you doctors, for all you do to improve the lives of so many people in the South Sound and around the world.
Dr. George Tanbara is a retired pediatrician who still has more to give to local kids, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
He opened his solo practice in 1954. He was later joined by Dr. Lawrence A. Larson and together they formed Pediatrics Northwest, P.S. in 1980, in the heart of downtown Tacoma. Today, Pediatrics Northwest has grown to four offices, 22 physicians, including six sub-specialists and five advanced registered nurse practitioners. Doctors also take appointments throughout the entire South Sound region.
“The best thing always for me was getting to meet kids and watch them grow,” Tanbara said.
Even though Tanbara stopped scheduling patients in July 2006, he is still very active at Pediatrics Northwest. He often attends continuing medical education courses, as well. He was instrumental in the development of the Pediatrics Northwest Web site and continues to provide guidance to the physicians.
Tanbara is known throughout the community as a giver – of his time, finances and knowledge. He was the founder of the Pierce County Pediatric Society and the first volunteer pediatrician for the Tacoma Branch of the Children’s Home Society of Washington. Throughout the years, he’s won numerous awards, from various organizations including the St. Francis Humanitarian Award given annually to those who make extraordinary efforts to help the less fortunate.
Another program that is dear to his heart is Community Health Care in Pierce County. Today Community Health Care is a nonprofit business. Last year, there were nine medical clinics, three dental clinics and a health care program to help the homeless. In 2006, more than 35,000 patients received treatment from Community Health Care.
But more people are in need. That’s why Tanbara, his wife, Kimi, and their family are working to raise funds for the new Tanbara Health Center. On track to be completed in 2009, it will serve three times as many patients as the old clinic. Some 84 percent of those patients will be low-income. It will be located on Tacoma’s diverse Eastside to help further uplift the Salishan and Eastside areas.
“I never thought it would be like this,” Tanbara said about his career. “Everything is much better than I thought it would be when I was a kid.”
Dr. Stephen Albrecht is a mountain climber and researcher who climbed Mount Everest to better understand and assess altitude sickness and in part to look for new ways to help U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan remain healthy at high altitudes. About 12 percent of medical evacuations of soldiers there are due to altitude sickness.
He joined the Everest Biomedical Research Expedition, a study for the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, last year. “We learned a lot about altitude, the environment, medicine and acclimation,” he said. “It was a unique opportunity.” The group also donned sensors that monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation and how many calories they burned to further help identify who was a more-likely target for altitude sickness.
The group climbed 17,600 feet to Base Camp. It took 14 days. Not only will the outcomes make U.S. soldiers safer but it also will help Albrecht’s patients who are outdoor enthusiasts.
He also donates his time to Thurston County Project Access to help increase access to health care to low-income and uninsured patients in the county. In 2007, the doctors participating in the project served 400 people and donated about $3.7 million in services, he said.
“I just want to make a difference,” he said.
Albrecht is always looking for ways to make a positive difference in his community. But what he’s most proud of is his ability to juggle life. “I am very proud of the way I balance work and family, he said. He’s married, and his son will finish high school this year.
If you suffered a stroke, aneurysm or other vascular disorder, the best care used to be available in larger cities, like Seattle. But when Dr. Brian Kott, an interventional neuroradiologist, arrived in Tacoma in 2006, he brought with him an expertise not previously found in the South Sound, said Sue Meland, marketing manager for TRA Medical Imaging.
Dr. Kott was one of the first physicians in the South Sound trained to perform minimally invasive procedures such as clot extractions and aneurysm coiling using sophisticated X-ray imaging and catheterization. Basically, this technology allows him to make a small incision and thread wires up an artery to destroy some clots or operate on an aneurysm. Previously, the only way to reach an aneurysm was open-skull surgery.
It’s minimally invasive,” he said. “Before it might take five to seven days to recover, now some people can be to work the next day.”
There’s only about 200 programs like it nationwide, and most of those are at major medical centers, Kott said. Before coming to Tacoma, Kott worked at the University of Washington Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. He noticed a lot of South Sound residents trekking to Seattle for care. He decided to bring it to them and now calls Gig Harbor home.
Ever since he was a kid he planned on being a doctor. “My sisters are physicians, too,” he said. “I don’t know what happened … my dad’s an engineer.”
Kott likes being on the cutting-edge when it comes to medical care and even he’s amazed at how much of a difference five years makes. Today, many people are treated for strokes before they actually have them. “When people can recover and continue to live independently, that is the most satisfying,” he said, adding that about half of all nursing home patients have suffered a stroke prior to being admitted.
Dr. Donald Mott has spent the last decade teaching doctors and therapists in China the best ways to treat children with neuromuscular diseases and cerebral palsy. He also invites Chinese doctors to the Children’s Therapy Unit in Puyallup to showcase the methods and techniques the therapists at the world-renowned local facility use.
“I have had the privilege of working with children who have neuromuscular disabilities through the Children’s Therapy Unit at Good Sam for 35 years and then the opportunity to travel to China and find many children with similar problems who have no access to services.” Mott said. “Also I found caregivers who were anxious to learn better techniques to improve the lives of these kids, so I felt called to bring a team of experts to teach at various locations in China.
“This has been done through an organization we founded called China Partners Network. The Puyallup community has been very generous to me and my family and this is a small way I can give back,” he said.
Mott knew since college he wanted to go into medicine. He discovered orthopedic surgery while interning in Portland, Maine. After his residency in Utah, he came to Puyallup in 1973, where he practiced until he retired. Previously, he was the chief medical officer at Good Samaritan.
“First I need to figure out this new retirement mode,” he said. “I hope to continue to work in China and we have been encouraged by both the government and the professional society to expand our efforts … I also hope to continue to expand my educational travel experiences with my wonderful wife of 43 years.”
People in need of heart valve repairs, valve replacements or those with other cardio-related needs can receive cutting-edge care at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma, thanks to Dr. Thomas Molloy, one of the pioneers of minimally invasive heart surgery techniques. In March, he was the first South Sound surgeon to perform a robot-assisted mitral valve procedure. He’s currently the only one in the Northwest using the robot-assisted technique to repair hearts.
“It’s like putting your hand inside the heart, instead of holding an instrument directly from a foot away from the heart,” Molloy said. “It’s much more precise.”
He brought his expertise to Tacoma last summer. He’s the Medical Director for St. Joseph’s Cardiothoracic Surgeons, part of the Franciscan Health System. Previously, he was the chief of cardiac surgery at Legacy Hospital in Portland, where he worked for 18 years. He’s performed more than 3,000 open-heart surgeries, including more than 800 heart-valve repairs. One of his specialties is the surgical repair of the heart’s mitral valve.
“The tools that we use for minimally invasive surgery are in their infancy,” Molloy said. “I think the equipment we are using now will look primitive in 10 years.” Advancements in surgery are exciting and Molloy is happy to be leading the way. “I’m glad to have the chance to build a regional valve surgery of excellence here.” Because of the minimally invasive nature of the surgeries, many patients recover within days, instead of weeks. And many more valves are being repaired, rather than needing replaced. “Every time I see a patient recover – that’s the benefit – you feel good about that.”
Dr. Champ Weeks decided to go into medicine while having a surgery in college. He found the work fascinating and loved people, so it seemed like a good career pick. He was right. His wife practices medicine, too.
“After watching so many people struggle through tough times, I felt like I had what it takes to help them through that time and make the future a bit brighter if possible,” Weeks, of University Place, said. “I chose surgery as I am a sincere hands-on person and like to create and receive immediate solutions to problems.”
Weeks is one of the first surgeons in the area to utilize robotic technology in urology and was one of the first to use the technique to remove a cancerous bladder.
“Robotics is a natural extension of the minimally invasive laparoscopic approaches that I have used for years,” he said. “It allows the surgeon better control and ease of motion as well as all of the benefits of laparoscopic procedures. My use also stems from acceptance of new technology that continues to strive for patient care improvement in all facets.
“Being part of the initial robotics program was as challenging as it was rewarding.” he added. “There has been a fantastic core of surgeons using this technology and we all have worked together to continue maximizing patient care.”
In an effort to make a “bigger difference,” MultiCare has recently teamed with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance to form a MultiCare Center of Robotic and Minimally Invasive Surgery. “As far as career, my ongoing project of building a state-of the art, patient driven urology department here in Tacoma is and will be the most rewarding and difficult challenge as a physician to date.”
Dr. Ki H. Oh was one of the first bariatric surgeons in the state to perform LAP-BAND and laparoscopic bypass procedures. He has performed more than 4,000 weight loss surgeries during his 20 years of experience and is considered one of the most respected bariatric surgeons in the region, according to his colleagues.
People often don’t understand why weight-loss surgery is necessary. For Oh, the answer is simple: “It changes lives.” It’s a last resort for people who are morbidly obese and can’t lose weight – or keep it off – on their own.
“These people have tried and failed so many times on different programs,” he said. “Every time they failed a diet, they ended up gaining even more than before.”
Excessive weight may contribute to an increased likelihood of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and a host of other health problems. His patients are teens and adults alike. His heaviest patient weighed 750 pounds.
Oh is with the Franciscan Medical Group and practices in Federal Way. Prior to moving to the Northwest, he worked in Upstate New York. He was drawn to the medical field as a high school student, following the death of his father. “It proved to me that medicine was the way to help people,” he said.
When his patients lose the weight, their lives often continue to improve in other ways. “The rewarding part is when patients lose the weight and get rid of all medications they were on for other health conditions,” he said. “It is so rewarding and the patient so appreciates it. The patient gets a totally new life.”
Dr. Glenn Tripp has dedicated his career to children who are affected by developmental and behavioral disabilities.
The majority of children I see have significant developmental disabilities which can be substantially improved, but not cured, with medical and educational interventions,” Tripp said. “I get the most personal reward or affirmation when I feel effective in helping parents understand their child’s condition, visualize as optimistic a future as possible for child and family, and help them access resources to reach those goals.”
In addition to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, Tripp also works at the Federal Way Birth-to-Three Developmental Center and the Holly Ridge Developmental Center in Silverdale. He also serves as the Clinical Association Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, both in Seattle.
He’s been the only developmental pediatrician at Mary Bridge for the past 15 years. Before that he spent the first half of his medical career in the Army Medical Corps and locally practiced at Madigan in Tacoma.
Tripp is a member of the Washington State Autism Task Force that developed recommendations to the governor about building the diagnostic treatment and an educational and social support network for those affected. He spends much of his time mentoring and teaching other pediatric health professionals about his specialty.