There was a time when two small words when taken together, health and care, had a simple meaning. Health care was about people looking after each other in pain or facing infirmity — which includes us all.
Somewhere that got sidetracked. Go to the internet. Google “health care” and enter the portals of “insurance” and “systems” and “strategies” and “fixes.” In a word, call up costs. Somehow the compassionate act of helping another human survive a medical challenge, whether minor or death-defying, has become a collection of billables.
Not so for two men whose contributions to health care will not be counted in millions of dollars but can be measured by the thousands of lives they helped, sometimes even saved.
Dr. Homer Laughlin Isbell and Stanley Edmunde Brock both died in August in Blount County. Each died in the place he loved — Isbell, 96, at his Maryville home sleeping next to his wife, Betty; and Brock, 82, at the place where he lived and worked, at Rockford-based Remote Area Medical.
One man was born across the mountains in Banner Elk, N.C., grew up in Johnson City, spread his wings as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force.
The other was born across the ocean in Preston, Lancashire — an Englishman who honed his character as a cowboy in British Guiana on the world’s largest cattle ranch.
Maybe destiny brought these two to Blount County. Whatever the reason, their legacies took root here, and we can only hope will live on in these foothills.
Different heritages. Different lifestyles. One man a physician. One a philanthropist. Both dedicated to the welfare of others.
For Dr. Isbell, the accolades are heard near home. He delivered close to 1,500 babies in Blount County and administered anesthesia to 39,000 patients. He was professionally respected, serving twice as president of the Blount County Medical Society and Blount Memorial Hospital chief of staff. He was community minded, serving on the boards of a mental health center, college and public housing authority.
He was a doctor who made house calls at $5 a day, when those were the days. He was a generous gentleman, who when housing was in a slump and work for a young bricklayer was scarce, didn’t send him a bill for delivering a baby. Helping to start a young family was pay enough. He also reached out as a medical missionary to Algiers, Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Navajo Reservation.
For Brock, accomplishments ranged across the globe from TV and film star to author. Mostly he’s known for founding Remote Area Medical. To Blount Countians and beyond, RAM has provided free medical and dental care and pairs of glasses to hundreds of thousands of Appalachians in need.
Inspired by Brock’s dedication, more than 300,00 volunteers, including doctors and dentists, donated their time and services to RAM, paying their own expenses to do it. For himself? Brock made do with a mat to sleep on, a change of khakis to wear, porridge and fresh fruit to eat.
Did these two men, who lived just a few miles apart, ever meet? Certainly in spirit they did. Each in his own different way, both delivered health care that counts — and not just in dollars and cents.