Dr. Craig Kiser calls it a career
As he gets set for his July retirement, he said, “I think I’m wearing out pretty well.”
Raised in Texas, Kiser started his medical training in 1982 at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. He purchased the practice of McMinnville’s only urologist, Emerson Collier, in 1987, and went on to raise five children with Rebecca, his wife of 36 years.
Urologists are responsible for taking care of the urinary systems for both male and female patients, plus the reproductive organs of male patients. He has diagnosed and treated cancers of the kidney, prostate and bladder, helped to unblock infected kidneys, treated kidney stones and helped those with leaking bladders.
He said he chose the specialty when he was in medical school.
“Urologists were having a lot of fun,” he said. “They fixed things, and I thought that was fun.”
His practice has spanned eras which included treating patients from both world wars. He’s worked on generals, judges, lawyers, doctors, privates, mothers, housewives and bank presidents. He’s taken care of drug addicts, extending his talents to the full depth and breadth of humanity.
Many experiences, he relates, have been amazing, such as watching a heroin addict quit cold-turkey and become a gainfully employed husband with two daughters. “It’s inspiring,” Kiser said.
There have also been both high and low emotional points.
“I’ve witnessed 19- and 20-year-olds die as a result of alcohol,” he said. On the flip side, he once assisted a heart surgeon replace a heart valve in a newborn baby and has relieved life-threatening kidney infections.
Kiser said he was the first urologist in the state to perform a new technique to freeze prostate cancer, rather than remove it. That generated referrals from Medford, Bend and Portland.
“It’s been very gratifying,” said Kiser. “Patients have done very well and have a wonderful quality of life.”
He said he’s followed patients treated with the freezing technique for 11 years. Today, he said, treatment in general tends to be less aggressive for prostate cancer.
In addition to tending to his practice, Kiser has played an active part in the community, participating in Gallery Theater plays, singing with an adult jazz choir called the Vintage Voices, and even being crowned Biggest Turkey for Turkey Rama, when he raised the most money in 2004.
A letter he sent to his patients regarding his retirement has generated a flurry of cards and well-wishes, although Kiser has found that many of his patients were taken aback.
One card, a reflection of the time when Kiser played the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” carries the Tin Man’s image on the outside and the printed saying simply states, “This would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t have a heart.”
“People love it when they see their doctor as three-dimensional,” Kiser said.
Through the cards, patients told Kiser they felt they could rely on him, he was approachable, cared about him as both a person and a patient could feel his compassion and humanity.
Patients recalled their appreciation when they would get flowers after a procedure. Kiser said that his wife’s family had a florist background and she taught the children to create bud vases to sell to their father. The money was saved for clothes and missions.
Over the years, Kiser has built strong relationships with his patients. One told him, “I’m not just blowing smoke when I tell you you’re my favorite doctor. I don’t like what you do — but you’re sure a great guy.”
He said one of his 80-year-old patients was speechless. “He just hugged me,” said Kiser. Others thanked him for saving their lives.
A long-term patient who is almost 100 told him “You’re very young to stop working.”
“I had to reassure her I’m not stopping working. She looked me in the eye and said ‘Go with God.’” said Kiser. All of this has been both difficult and touching.
The years have also brought a time of learning about his patients’ personal histories.
“I have been so blessed by their lives,” said Kiser.
He recalls one of his favorites, the story of a patient who lived in Holland as a teenager, when the Nazis took control of the country, and got involved in the Dutch resistance.
Each morning he would wheel around a bread cart with fresh baked products on top. In the rack’s bottom was a stash of guns that he would take from one place to another.
Kiser said he asked him one time what was his most frightening experience. He recalled an arched bridge he had to push the cart over to get to the other side of the river. It was obvious, he felt, to see that cart was heavy for just carrying bread.
As he started up one day, he saw a young Nazi soldier nearby and his heart dropped. He was sure the soldier would see how heavy the cart was and would question why he was struggling to push it over the bridge. His heart continued to pound as he heard the soldier’s footsteps as he approached. He thought to himself: It’s over. He felt he would be captured, called a traitor and be killed.
But the Nazi soldier simply came up, said let me help you, and together, they pushed the cart over the bridge. “I just love that story,” Kiser said.
He has so many more.
In the years he has practiced he has seen amazing technological changes with the addition of lasers, laproscopic techniques and robotics, plus a cornucopia of new medications.
People are also living longer and there’s been many other things that impact their health.
One is obesity, which Kiser believes is truly a pandemic problem.
He has developed a very intense interest in nutrition and has helped individuals determine why they are overweight and what can be done to change habits in those who need to eat healthier.
He’s also given them personal thoughts to ponder, such as asking a grandmother with a high body mass index he was treating for kidney stones who had a pregnant daughter with a 2-year-old child, “Who would be around for her grandchildren if she had a heart attack?” She later told him about healthier habits she was adopting.
“Change is very hard to do,” said Kiser. “But if there’s an emotional reason attached for change — then the sacrifice is worth it.”
Kiser plans to continue involvement with Willamette Valley Medical Center during the transition, but he said that the change in reimbursement through government programs makes it hard to remain in private practice anymore.
He also plans to do some out-of-state locum work and is involved in bringing in a new, yet-to-be-announced health item to the market.
Kiser has many interests. He recently completed a fantasy novel and loves to garden.
One thing is for sure. He’s not leaving McMinnville.
“I’ve been the recipient of great blessings by being able to serve our community,” Kiser said. “I love this community.”