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September 26, 2014

Community profiles: Falling for water

Physicians Jonathan and Amanda Storey recently relocated from Florida to Guntersville, Alabama. The area has been a good fit for the family­, which includes a 2-year-old son and 8-year-old twin boys.

Rivers, lakes and oceans have always played crucial roles in survival, prosperity and eventually, recreation. Here are four stellar American examples - Chicago; Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; Guntersville, Alabama; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Water, water everywhere: Guntersville, Ala.

 

In the early 1930s, the Tennessee River area, encompassing parts of Alabama and six other states, was in sad shape. Erosion and soil depletion had led to bad crop yields, and the best timber had been cut. Poverty was rampant. Then along came Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal and the signing of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act on May 18, 1933.

In one of America’s largest public projects, the river was dammed in 20 places. Flooding was controlled, navigation improved, electricity generated and several lakes formed, including Lake Guntersville, now Alabama’s largest at 69,000 acres. (Locals call it Guntersville Lake.) The makeover, in effect, turned the city of Guntersville into a peninsula. It was the beginning of a climb to prosperity that continues today.

Local residents are convinced that almost every activity and enterprise is either in the water, on the water or near the water. Both Gideon Ewing, M.D., and Jonathan Storey, M.D., heartily agree. They’re hematology and oncology specialists who have become strong friends after arriving two years ago - Ewing from Mississippi and Storey from Florida. They work at the Marshall Cancer Care Center in Albertville but live in Guntersville. In fact, Storey’s home has a screened porch overlooking the lake.

The cancer center is a component of Marshall Medical Center, which includes hospitals in both Guntersville and Boaz. In Albertville, the cancer care center is located in a professional building where other services are provided, such as a pain clinic, sleep disorder clinic and wound healing. All three have pain therapy facilities. As for cancer treatment, Storey notes that a recent affiliation with UAB Hospital/Birmingham can help his facility go even beyond its current capabilities.

Built in 1990, Guntersville’s Medical Center North is the newer of the two hospital facilities. It has four operating suites with an additional option of same-day surgery, offers specialty care in several areas, and has a 22,000-square-foot outpatient rehab and fitness center that includes a 75-foot lap pool. The Boaz location was built in 1956 but has more beds. Its 81 physicians provide care in more than 20 specialties.

After just one visit to Guntersville, Ewing decided to move his practice from Mississippi to Alabama. Before making a final decision, he and his wife, Alicia, a pediatrician, did some exploring and discovered that "the area itself is lovely." He adds, "I was very impressed with the people, which ultimately led to our decision to move." Another factor was the school system. Their daughter, 5, is in kindergarten. (Their son is 2.) After touring the elementary school, he says, "We became confident that there was a good public school system here."

Storey concurs - and then some. While they were in residencies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, he and his wife, Amanda, a family practitioner, felt "obligated" to enroll their twin sons, now 8, in a private school. (They now also have a 2-year-old.) In Guntersville, the choice was public school.

Ewing’s water exposure until now has been minimal. However, his exposure to Guntersville Lake has lured him into "trying my hand at fishing. I’ve managed to buy myself a little fishing boat, and I’ve spent some time trying to learn how to do that."

Storey, on the other hand, might legitimately be called an expert. "I’ve pretty much lived near water all of my life," he says. These days he does some sailing on Guntersville Lake, as well as "Sea Doo-ing."

This is how he explains his relocation decision: "My wife and I have some family that live about an hour and a half from here. On our way to visit them one summer, I got an email describing an oncology position that was located in northeastern Alabama, in a city on the lake. I called to see if it was close to Amanda’s family," which it was. "It was kind of strange. I wasn’t really looking for a job at all. Since I was in the neighborhood, I called and asked if I could stop by. That was the beginning of the end," he says, adding, "I mean that in the best of ways."

All of this lives up to the promise of one spokesman: "The city makes quality of life a way of life."

A little slice of heaven: Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

An aerial inspection of Idaho’s northern panhandle more than confirms Coeur d’Alene’s claim to the title of "Lake City." Besides the huge lake of the same name, some 55 others inhabit the nearby area. TV grand dame Barbara Walters dubbed the city "a little slice of heaven."

A thriving, comfortable downtown starts at the very edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene and, in one unusual case, actually extends into the water. At the golf course on the lakeside grounds of the luxury Coeur d’Alene Resort, the 14th green is known as the floating green. It’s an island.

This is how Michael May, M.D., summarizes his life so far, including his eight-year tenure as a general surgeon with the Kootenai Clinic, the city’s 254-bed hospital: "Adding up all the years I’ve lived by the water would probably amount to more than two-thirds of my life. So now (my family and I) have another waterside community."

May grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where his father, brother and sister are all physicians. He moved to Galveston to earn his medical degree at the University of Texas Medical Branch there. Internship and residency in Austin and Dallas, then practicing on Whidbey Island, Washington, after which he and his wife decided to venture abroad - first to a Tasmanian city on a river, followed by a town near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. After that, influenced partly by his Spokane-born wife and his good Pacific Northwest experience on Whidbey Island, he was ready to return. Coeur d’Alene has met his professional and personal qualifications - and then some.

Professionally, he says, "What’s good about living here is that the community and hospital are just the perfect size to be able to practice general surgery." As for Kootenai Health on a wider scale, May notes that, under a new CEO, "the hospital is undergoing a lot of growth. He’s been pretty aggressive in trying to expand its reach and make it more of a regional referral center." The plan included breaking ground in May for a $57 million expansion, as well as the startup of a family medical residency program in July. In April, the hospital was verified as a Level III Trauma Center.

Kootenai Health (pronounced "Coot-ney") dates back to its 1966 opening on the grounds of a former naval training station. A three-story addition opened in 1984. During construction, local residents dubbed it the "Big Blue," the color of a temporary exterior wrapping. The name stuck. To go along with the community whimsy, spokesperson Becky Orchard says, three coffee stands in the hospital were named the Big Blue Coffee Company.

On a more serious note, Orchard cites the hospital’s wilderness medicine program. "It’s pretty unique as a component of our residency program," she says. "It really sets with the story (of the area)." The program creates treatment experience in an area where skiers, hikers and river rafters might need emergency care.

May, his wife and three children - ages 10, 8 and 6 - try to take full advantage of all four seasons, his other reason for relocating. "We ski in winter, and in other seasons we go cycling, play some golf and do some stuff on the lake," he says. They don’t have to look far for an overflowing plate of alfresco opportunities. "The neat thing," he says, "is that if you put a marker on a map in Coeur d’Alene and drew a 200-mile circle around it, it would encompass this amazing amount of things you could do."

Of the original Native American inhabitants, seven tribes still thrive in Idaho’s five northern counties, but the lake and city naming rights went to the Coeur d’Alene nation. In recent times (1987), the tribes joined forces to plan and develop the Benewah Medical and Wellness Center in nearby Plummer, believed to be the first partnership venture of its kind. Among its treatment resources is a $5 million wellness center with healthy exercise opportunities for rehab patients and others.

When gold and silver were discovered in the later 1800s, the area experienced a population boom. According to Colleen Rosson, director of a nearby chamber of commerce, the mines still yield many tons of silver. Starting in 1898, timber resources brought another boom. Almost overnight, Coeur d’Alene’s population skyrocketed from about 500 to 7,000.

In recent years, a new kind of timber crusade has led the Arbor Day Foundation to cite Coeur d’Alene as a Tree City USA. The city established its tree program in 1985. According to urban forester Katie Kasanke, city streets are now lined with some 21,000 trees, with many more in the city’s 32 parks.

CNN has labeled Coeur d’Alene one of "8 Perfect Summer Lake Towns," but because of its surrounding area it’s also been named first in a list of Top 10 Mountain Towns by a real estate news magazine. Ski addicts can find at least two major resorts within easy driving distance.

Downtown streets are lined with boutiques, locally owned restaurants, galleries and business offices - none of them very far from nature - including the newly opened McEuen Park at the foot of Tubbs Hill (more hiking) rising from near the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Culture is alive and well with symphony, opera, live theater and the Northwest Sacred Music Chorale.

At City Hall, spokesman Keith Erickson ticks off recent city life achievements - a huge new public library; the mammoth Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Corps Center with aquatic center, sports and exercise areas, performance venue and worship center, and the Higher Education Campus with multiple colleges.

"When I moved back in 1989," Erickson says, "the city population was about 32,000. The latest estimate is 45,000 to 47,000."

Star of Lake Michigan: Chicago

Big-city life suits Jane Luu, M.D., MPH. She’s a four-time marathoner and enjoys running along Lake Michigan and The Riverwalk in Chicago.

 

A river runs through it. A huge lake sits next to it. And both have been heavily responsible for the prosperity that Chicago has enjoyed for many a year. The river would be the Chicago River and the lake, of course, would be the third largest of the Great Lakes. "Mishigami," its original Ojibwa tribal name, means "great water." At its length of 309 miles, Lake Michigan certainly qualifies.

More important to Jane Luu, M.D., MPH, an interventional cardiologist, is that 20 of those miles are along the Chicago beach, unsullied by ugly industrial complexes that plague some cities along other lakes. "I have run four marathons, so I like to go for long runs by the lakeshore," she says.

Another favored running location for her is The Riverwalk, a six-block promenade-in-progress alongside the north branch of the Chicago River, which she can view from her apartment in River North, an urban renewal area with residential high-rises, many restaurants and clubs - and the largest concentration of art galleries in the U.S. outside of New York.

Luu, who grew up in Philadelphia, calls herself a "city girl." (Make that big city.) After earning a medical degree at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, she completed her residency at the University of Illinois at Chicago and went on to spend two years living in La Jolla, Calif., while completing an interventional cardiology fellowship at the Scripps Clinic in nearby San Diego.

But the lure of the big city was too powerful to deny. She returned two years ago. Her practice is with Edward Hospital in Naperville, one of 64 area hospitals associated with the DuPage Medical Group, but she happily makes the 30-mile commute.

Chicago hospitals themselves, no fewer than 27 acute care and three children’s facilities, continue to build on the city’s reputation for excellent medical care as some of them add to their facilities. Two of the most recent - and spectacular - additions have been at University of Chicago Medicine and Rush University Medical Center.

The 10-story "hospital for the future" serves as the new core of University of Chicago Medicine. Soaring above the university campus, it resembles a large stack of rectangular pancakes, but its interior has been designed, as its spokespersons put it, to adapt to future changes in patient care and research. Each of 85 modular cubes can be reconfigured as needed. For instance, two patient rooms can be "reborn" as one operating room and one interventional procedure room. Among its almost one-of-a-kind capabilities is its pediatric craniofacial surgery unit, the setting for cleft palate and underdeveloped jaw procedures, about 20 of which are performed each year.

Rush’s exotic addition to the skyline is its butterfly-shaped 14-story Tower building, which accommodates 376 beds and opened in 2012. Besides its care capabilities, staff and administrators are especially proud of its designation as the world’s largest new construction health care project to receive a LEED Gold certification for its water/energy conservation and recycling programs.

As for Luu’s Chicago love affair, it seems all-encompassing. "There are so many different cultures that you could just keep on naming them all," she says. "I like that you can always go to a different restaurant, and there are so many cuisines that you can taste." She also enjoys sports. "I’m still a Philadelphia fan, but I do love going to games in general. Football is my favorite; basketball is second." (Two favorites of other Chicagoans should be mentioned here: the two baseball teams, White Sox and Cubs, and the current wildly popular heroes of hockey, the Blackhawks.

Equally captivating are the many summer festivals, as well as concerts and other lakefront entertainment opportunities at the venerable Grant Park, the reborn Navy Pier and their newest neighbor, Millennium Park. Sometime during his longtime reign, well-known Mayor Richard J. Daley coined the slogan "Chicago: The City That Works." Almost four decades later, his successors are making sure that the mantra is still operable, as testified to by Millennium Park and the Riverwalk.

As headquarters for a long list of national corporations, Chicago can also prove that it works for the business world. Many of the companies are showcased by their spectacular buildings, some of them dating back to the rebuilding campaign following the infamous Great Fire of 1871. The fire’s aftermath drew some of America’s most creative architects to the area. A bevy of talent has made spectacular contributions to Chicago’s skyline, including Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), now with 110 floors the tallest building in America, and the John Hancock Building, now universally pictured on TV as the iconic signature of Chicago. Both have observation decks near the top to view the city’s many other architectural wonders from on high. Back at ground level, the Chicago Architectural Foundation conducts dozens of tours, including one by boat along the river.

Les Bons Temps: Baton Rouge, Louisiana

When vacationers plan trips to Louisiana, they tend to focus on New Orleans. But more experienced travelers have learned that the good times can also roll in a less-frenetic jazz-and-gumbo city just 80 miles northwest along the Mississippi River. That would be Baton Rouge, the state capital.

Jazz doesn’t spill out onto the streets, but music lovers can find it - and Cajun-style entertainment as well - in several lounges. Both bistros and sophisticated restaurants feature crawfish, catfish, oysters, soft shell crab and lobster, not to mention the Cajun specialties of gumbo, étouffée and jambalaya.

No fewer than seven major Mardi Gras parades took place during the last two weeks before Lent. Diehard devotees of "the real thing" can book space on bus tours, complete with reserved seats for the parade in The Big Easy through the Foundation for Historical Louisiana.

There’s also a more serious face to Baton Rouge that includes strong business success, two universities, medical care and research, cultural offerings - and a strong serving of fascinating political history.

Family proximity has been a strong lure for Aldo Russo, M.D. Although he grew up and earned his medical degree in the Dominican Republic, he came to the U.S. for his internship and residency at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. Louisiana entered the mix when he moved to New Orleans for a gastroenterology fellowship at the Louisiana State University Medical Center there, but headed to the Pacific Northwest to practice in the Puget Sound area. The strong pull of his wife’s family brought the couple and their four children back to the southern fold. His son and daughter are now students at Louisiana State University, while two younger sons are enrolled in private school.

For the last 10 years, Russo has found a satisfying professional niche with the Ochsner Medical Center, where he’s associate medical director and heads the GI section. "There’s a great group of physicians here," he reports. He’s made it a point to participate in hospital-related events such as colon cancer awareness and heart walks.

The Ochsner System was established in 1942 in New Orleans and named for Dr. Alton Ochsner, a pioneer researcher who linked tobacco use with lung cancer. Today, his namesake hospitals and clinics are part of the region’s largest private not-for-profit health care system.

Among the hospital’s up-to-date service areas is the newly renovated Family Birthing Center. Among other available hospital capabilities are open-heart surgery, orthopedics and advanced specialty care. It was first in the region to provide robotic-assisted surgery.

With 850 beds, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center is Baton Rouge’s largest hospital in town. Its physicians also comprise the state’s largest group network. Founded in 1923 by six French nuns of the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady, the hospital moved to its current location in 1978 and now encompasses a dedicated children’s hospital as well as more than 40 primary care clinics in the area. Another component is Our Lady of the Lake College, a primary center for LSU’s medical teaching programs. The hospital also hosts a residency program for the LSU School of Medicine.

Research is alive and well at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, which includes 48 laboratories and encourages scientists to exchange ideas and information.

As for other industries, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has been targeting five sectors for growth, including energy, chemical products, software design and technical research.

No summary of Baton Rouge would be complete without including accounts of governmental shenanigans under the baton of one of America’s most enduringly famous politicians, Huey P. Long, aka "The Kingfish."

Long’s footprint is still writ large, especially in the government buildings erected during his tenure. The 34-story state capitol would be the tallest of its kind in the nation, surpassing even its counterpart in Washington. The current governor’s mansion near the capitol is open for tours. So is the previous mansion, planned by Long as a replica of the White House in Washington. The Kingfish’s other brick-and-mortar legacy is LSU itself.

Historical gems notwithstanding, life has hardly stood still in the capital city. The new Shaw Center for the Arts overlooks the river, and IBM is building a new services center as part of a mixed-use development. A new town square for concerts, festivals and other events was completed in 2012, and near the Old State Capitol is a new park.

The Kingfish wouldn’t be surprised.

Eileen Lockwood is a regular contributor to PracticeLink Magazine.



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