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Hometown hero Dr. Palmer ending his career

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dr. Donald Palmer interacts with Anthony Miadich during a recent visit to Palmers office at Olsen Medical Clinic in Lake Oswego.When I was a boy back in the 50s, we use to live in a small town. We had a family doctor who would come to our house when we were sick or injured. He stitched my head, tended to my chickenpox and treated my little brother when he had the measles. When my mother had a nervous breakdown, he was there helping her into the car. He was a kind man and that was one of the things my wife and I looked for when we moved to Lake Oswego, decades ago. She was pregnant at the time and we wanted a wonderful pediatrician and found one in Dr. Donald Palmer.

Dr. Palmer has a modest office with toys, horse rockers and rainbow-colored chairs. He looked after our newborn, Katie, back then. He’s a gentleman with a fresh smile flashing under his mustache. Beneath his glasses his eyes are quick and sincere and his voice and touch has always been comforting. That first day he cradled Katie carefully, smiled and talked directly to her as she stared and waved a tiny fist in the air.

“Now aren’t you a beauty?” he said. He would be very thorough and say sweet, positive things each time we brought her in like, “She’s so bright and alert. She’s going to be a good little girl.” We loved and trusted Dr. Palmer. Then our son Jake was born and it was more of the same.

As the kids grew older he would remind them to keep their rooms tidy, wear helmets when they road their bikes, mind mom and dad and remember the golden rule, treat people the way you want them to treat you. The summer Jake graduated from high school he came home in the middle of the night with a terrible stomachache. We took him to the hospital where they said he needed an emergency appendectomy. During the time he was on the operating table something went horribly wrong. The surgeon pierced Jake’s aorta. We almost lost him but during those awful, critical days in intensive care. Dr. Palmer would come by each morning before he went to his office and check on Jake, as our son lay there with tubes running to machines that frightened us. His coming gave comfort to us all.

Sherry Wheeler is an registered nurse and has worked with the doctor for 31 years and says, “Dr. Palmer loves his work and has the highest standard of care for his patients. He’s always learning and goes to two or three meetings a week at OHSU or Emanuel where they review cases and present current developments in medical care. Sometimes he goes out of town for a class in the morning but always drives back to see patients’ kids in the afternoon and often works late into the night.”

Several of our friends’ children saw Dr. Palmer and their faith in him makes him seem legendary. My son says, “He’s the nicest of the nicest guys in the history of the world.”

Ava Bolen took her 14-year-old son, Steven, in to have a bump and bruise on Steven’s leg examined. He’d seen a specialist before and was told there was nothing to be worried about. But Dr. Palmer ordered X-rays and an MRI and found an aggressive cancer. Soon Steven was at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital fighting for his life. “Over 20 years later,” Ava says, “Dr. Palmer’s one of the reasons Steven’s alive and in medical school.”

Dr. Palmer has been married to Joan for 45 years. They met when he was doing his internship. In 1972 when he finished his residency at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, they packed up their car and drove cross country to Oregon, where he opened the Olsen Medical Clinic and stayed and served a grateful community well. She has generously sacrificed her time with him to support his long career.

As Joan speaks, her voice cracks. “It’s hard for him to leave. He loves those kids so much. He’ll work a 12-hour day, then come home, sit at the table and cut out articles and pictures from the newspapers about his patients and put them in their charts.” Then she pauses to reflect. “But I’m really looking forward to knowing the man I married.”

After 41 years, Lake Oswego pediatrician Dr. Donald Palmer will take his diplomas off the wall, hang up his lab coat and walk out the door. In his lifetime of tender service, he leaves behind a growing city full of folks who adore him.

Jack Estes is a writer and lives in Lake Oswego with his wife, Colleen, his daughter, Katie, and her 5-year-old son, Alex, who also sees Dr. Palmer.



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