REXBURG – While the majority of doctors stopped making house calls by the early 1960s, longtime Rexburg physician Dr. “Doc” Heiner continued making such visits during much of his nearly 40-year doctoring career.
Heiner reports that he makes two or three house calls a month and doesn’t mind doing so.
“I enjoy it. I like people,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to do it when patients can’t get out.”
According to Forbes.com, house calls made up 40 percent of a doctor’s business during the 1940s. By the 1960s, those visits declined substantially making them something of a thing of the past.
That is unless you’re Doc Heiner who made a recent house call on Monday and prior to that, made two house calls in May. He plans to continue making personal visits until he retires at the end of this month.
Heiner and his staff plan to celebrate his 38-year legacy of doctoring during a retirement party scheduled from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, July 1, at his office located at 240 E. Main Street. The party is for friends, former employees as well as current and former patients.
Doc Heiner has been doctoring for so long and has been called “Doc” for nearly 40 years that he’s nearly forgotten his given name. He believes that his full name is Craig Heiner, but “Doc” suits him just fine, he said.
Doc Heiner decided to become a doctor to follow in his family’s footsteps.
“My dad and brothers are doctors, and that’s probably part of it. It was the thing to do. Dad always said ‘It was good to be a doctor,’” he said.
Senior Heiner worked as a professor at medical schools and at one time, the family lived in Little Rock later moving to Quebec where Doc Heiner’s dad earned his Ph.D.
Doc Heiner graduated from high school there and attended one year of college before going on a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission to Okinawa, Japan, in 1969. At the time, the U.S. still controlled the island. It wasn’t until 1972, that officials there returned Okinawa back to the Japanese.
“There was a lot of military,” Doc Heiner recalled.
He noted how hard the Okinawans — including the elderly — worked at everything they did.
“The people move fast. They get a lot done,” he said.
While serving in Okinawa, Doc Heiner reported that of the people he taught, 20 were baptized.
“I still keep track of them,” he said.
After returning from his mission, Heiner earned his medical degree. When he was 22, he married Debby, and the two have been married for 48 years.
What’s their secret for such a long and obviously happy marriage?
“We like to do stuff together. We go on a walk every morning. We like to visit the grandkids and stuff,” Doc Heiner said.
The Heiners have five children, and, in keeping with the family tradition, they are involved in the medical field in one way or another. Three of the Heiners are eye doctors, one is married to an eye doctor, and the other tied the knot with an orthopedic surgeon.
Two of Doc Heiner’s children, Rexburg optometrists Dr. Dallen Heiner and Dr. Sally Hacking, plan to move into Doc Heiner’s current office after he retires. The siblings currently have an office in the building’s second story.
Doc Heiner’s career started 38 years ago after he finished training in Salt Lake City, Utah. Initially planning to practice medicine in Hamilton, Montana, he and Debby Heiner changed their minds after they happened through Rexburg while heading to Montana.
“We were driving around looking and stopped at Dr. Josh Fullmer’s office and looked over at Smith Park. We just felt ‘This is the place,’” Doc Heiner said. “We called Montana and said ‘We’re not coming.’ We didn’t know anyone here. We just found a place to rent in the basement where Dr. Jeff Mix was an orthodontist.”
Doc Heiner went to work remodeling some of the basement’s rooms. Not long afterwards, Dr. Lester Peterson, who had an office across the street, sent Doc Heiner his first patient.
Doc Heiner soon developed a healthy medical practice.
“It wasn’t long before I was working 100 hours a week,” he said. “Within six months, I was working way more than I should have. I worked long hours for 15 to 19 years, and then I started cutting down. I’ve just gradually cut down, working 35 to 40 hours now.”
Heiner says that it wasn’t a huge adjustment to put in so many hours as that’s what he had done while in medical school. Some of that time was spent in the hospital where he worked in the emergency room.
Doc Heiner recalled one patient who came through after being declared dead. Once he was given CPR, the man revived.
“He woke up, shook his head and said ‘That was like a bad dream,’” he said.
Doc Heiner has seen similar cases where a patient somehow managed to survive a devastating prognosis. He noted that those who seem to do well are those who have strong family support.
He recalled visiting a patient who suffered a debilitating stroke and now lives in a rest home.
“He was totally paralyzed on one side and couldn’t talk and do anything. Because of the love and support of his wife – that’s the reason he can feed himself, talk and get some joy from life. She spends every day with him encouraging him,” he said. “I’ve seen that several times where a spouse’s love and support is what’s made the difference in the person living several more happy years.”
Doc Heiner has had patients pass away, but he doesn’t like to dwell on those incidents.
“I don’t talk about it much. It’s part of life. I’ve had miraculous things happen where I thought for sure someone was at death’s door, and then they’re up and walking around,” he said.
Doc Heiner noted it’s interesting how someone who smokes like a chimney stack manages to live into their 90s, while a young healthy person can suddenly pass away.
“If someone lives over 95, that’s a combination of good genetics and good lifestyle,” he said.
Doc Heiner’s practice has been dedicated to adults and those in their golden years. Just as he’s made house calls for many years, it hasn’t been unusual for him to go outside and treat a patient inside their vehicle, said Doc Heiner’s long time medical assistant Shan Summers.
“A lot of times he’ll go out to a car. They can’t come in. They can’t walk. All of his patients are older. Most of them are elderly patients,” she said.
Heiner credits his staff for much of his success in the decades that he’s been doctoring.
“The three women who work here have been here a total of 80 years,” Doc Heiner said.
In addition to Summers, those women include Nancy Meyers and Judy Harding.
Summers’ husband Gary and Heiner often went fishing together and eventually Doc Heiner asked Shann Summers if she’d like to work for him.
“He said ‘Just one day a week will do you good.’ I never had any school, and he said ‘That’s fine. I’ll train you.’ He said ‘Just come in for a day’, and here I am, 30 years later,” she said.
Harding, Meyers and Summers’ daughters have worked at the office, as have college students. Doc Heiner’s staff proves a tight knit group, and he works so well with them, that he doesn’t mind answering phone calls.
“If we’re not Johnny-on-the-spot, he doesn’t like to keep people waiting. He makes the appointments or refills the prescriptions over the phone. His main concerns are his patients. He wants them to be comfortable and happy. The best part of being healthy is being happy right?” Summers said.
For those interested in becoming doctors, Doc Heiner encourages them to get good grades during their undergraduate years.
“Be involved with some service and do a little research while you’re in college — just any kind of research. Get your name on a research paper,” he said.
Doc Heiner said it also helps to be tireless in pursing a medical degree. He recalled applying for medical school twice before being accepted.
“I did some research and got some more good grades, and then I got in. Be persistent, get good grades, study hard, do some research, and you’ve got a good chance to get in,” he said.
Following his retirement, Doc Heiner plans to spend more time with his ever-growing extended family. He likes to take his grandchildren to visit his neighbors on Sunday evenings.
“We visit about 10 people to give them bread, and, this time of year, to give them asparagus. I really enjoy taking the grandkids around to let them get to know my neighbors and to encourage them,” he said.
Doc Heiner also plans to continue enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer with his wife.
“We enjoy the outdoors, we enjoy hiking and fishing,” he said.
Doc Heiner is a very happy man and says he has every reason to be.
“I’ve got a good wife and a good family. I’m pretty healthy. I like it a lot. I’ve enjoyed my work,” he said.
Heiner is looking forward to retirement, and says his wife supports his decision, he said.
“She knows it’s about the right time,” he said. “I’ll just do more of the same – hiking, fishing and gardening,”
Once Doc Heiner retires, he will turn his office over to his optometrist children and send his patient records to Season’s Medical. His much-appreciated staff will also retire from work.
Summers says that Doc Heiner will be missed; yet, she notes that Doc Heiner has much going for him and much to look forward to during his retirement.
“He’s a very happy individual. He’s got enough hobbies, but he’s really going to miss his patients,” she said.
For more information on the upcoming retirement party, call Heiner’s office at 208-356-8808.