Smith to stop delivering babies after 51 years


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Wilkes Journal-Patriot Staff

After delivering over 20,000 babies in his 51 years of private practice, Dr. Duane H. Smith will deliver his final newborn this Monday at Wilkes Regional Medical Center.

Smith, however, will continue his practice as a gynecologist and surgeon at Foothills Center for Women.

He said Thursday, “I’m slowing down. The biggest part of my work involves getting up in the middle of the night to deliver babies. I decided I didn’t want to be up all night anymore.”

He added, “I was supposed to stop on July 1, but I had a C-section scheduled for Monday.”

While taking down his shingle as an obstetrician, he plans to continue with his office hours “because I love to work. This is my favorite thing to do.

“I have to do something other than staying at home looking at four walls,” said Smith, who will celebrate his 81st birthday later this month. “I want to continue with my private practice and surgery to keep from dying of boredom.”

As a gynecologist, he explained, “you see a patient with a problem and treat it. As an obstetrician, I follow a patient for nine months, and it can involve being up at all hours. “With a full schedule, I was up five to seven nights a week.”

He plans to continue working “about five hours a day” in his office. One of his daughters, Pam Sloop, a family nurse practitioner, will take over as the primary care provider at the practice. She worked as a nurse for 35 years before getting her advanced degree.

Also helping will be another daughter, Lyn Chasar, who is currently working toward a degree as a nurse practitioner.

“Working with my family is a pretty good deal,” he noted.

Moving to Wilkes

Smith, a native of Ohio, moved to Wilkes in 1974. His wife, the former Darlene Russell (Rusty) Carter, is a native Southerner who had family members in Wilkes. The two have been married for 58 years, and she has worked by his side as a nurse, physician assistant, surgical assistant and sonographer for his entire career.

He built the Foothills Center in 1980, but it burned to the ground in 1996. He rebuilt the center at the same site.

So how many babies has Smith delivered?

“I have no idea,” he said. “I have never kept count.

“But through my practices, I delivered as many as 90 a month during my residency, and up to 120 a month during my two years in the service.

“I probably delivered 20 or 30 babies a month during my practice here until the past two years when I began to slow down.”

He admits that the number of 20,000 calculated on an average of 25 a month is “a conservative estimate,” adding that the true number “is probably thousands more.”

During his 40 years in Wilkes, he has cared for three generations of families. That’s one reason he continues to practice today.

“He has been trying to quit for 20 years, but the patients keep asking him to stay,” said Ms. Chasar of her father. “There has been a public outcry every time he mentions retirement.

“But now he’s seeing the children, and the grandchildren, of babies he has delivered.”

Smith added that he has continued to work “because I love it, and I love my patients...and I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Smith has a dedicated staff at the center. Over half of the 12 employees have worked at the center for over 20 years.

Smith delivered the children of most of his employees. As the ranks of youngsters grew, he offered another benefit to his staff: in-house day care service.

At one point, Smith employed four baby sitters taking care of nine children. The service was provided at no charge to his staff members.

More sleepless nights

Smith knows that he won’t be able to easily break one habit now that he has stopped delivering newborns.

“I won’t be able to sleep at night because of the routine I’ve had for years,” he said. “I’m going to have to get used to it.

“It’s difficult because my wife sleeps all night, every night. Meanwhile, I’m, awake reading or watching television, and waiting for the phone to ring.

“The phone won’t be ringing but I’ll probably still be awake for a while.”

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