Old-time doctors, it might seem, exist only in small-town America or movies about small-town America or in the minds of folks like me who remember them from another era.
In Sonora, Dr. Hill McGillis made housecalls and delivered generations of the county’s children – me included – for more than 30 years until he retired well into his 70s.
In Gustine, the townfolk remember Dr. Ben Leonard, who spent 57 years in the community, delivering more than 600 babies and making housecalls into his 80s, right up until his death in 2011.
Here in Modesto, Dr. Carl Hornberger practiced for 58 years until retiring shortly before his death last year at 91.
And also in Modesto, Dr. Harvey Palitz is enjoying that kind of longevity. He arrived in town 41 years ago and began working with Dr. Delmar Tonge before opening his own practice.
During those four-plus decades, Palitz said, he’s delivered well over 10,000 babies, among them Amy Rasmussen, who went on become an emergency room physician at Doctors Medical Center. Scores of others, he said, are now nurses working in local hospitals, clinics and offices.
He’s delivered roughly as many babies as there are people in the city of Newman (10,700).
When his office staff began putting up baby and graduation photos, they filled the walls in the hallway of his office and then some. They periodically pull some of the older photos to make room for the newcomers. Among those still on the wall is a newspaper clipping photo of James and Lucinda Warren holding baby James Kenneth Warren, the biggest Palitz ever delivered.
“He weighed 14 pounds 4 ounces,” Palitz said. “It was a (natural) birth.”
And sometimes they arrive with greater frequency than normal.
“Once, I delivered seven in a 24-hour period,” Palitz said. “I’ve had 15 in a busy week, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
Nor does what happened in February.
First, let’s go back to Aug. 16, 1974, when Palitz delivered his first baby in Modesto, Diana Hauck. She grew up, married Troy Richards and, at 20 years old, became pregnant.
“My mom, when I came of age, suggested that I go to (Palitz),” Diana Richards said. She’s been his patient ever since.
She gave birth to daughter Britney in August 1994, with Palitz delivering. Britney went on to graduate from Beyer High in 2012. Last year, when she and fiancé Austin Winkle learned she was pregnant, she went to see Palitz for prenatal care and delivery.
“I didn’t think of anyone else to do it,” she said.
On Feb. 6, she gave birth to Dyllan, a 6-pound 13-ounce boy. Palitz had planned to be at a medical conference in Maui around the time of the baby’s due date, which was the second week of February.
“But I hadn’t made arrangements, and I didn’t want to miss (the birth),” Palitz said. “So I didn’t go. As it turned out, she delivered early. I could have gone.”
He was available when she went into labor. Thus mom Diana, daughter Britney and Britney’s son Dyllan became the first and only true three-generation family he’s delivered. Britney is 20, which is the same age as her mother was when Britney was born, which, by the way, happened the same day and in the same hospital (Doctors) as her fiancé, Winkle, just three hours apart.
“It’s really cool knowing I was his first delivery in Modesto,” Diana Richards said. “And now, Dyllan is his first third-generation baby.”
Palitz is 72. He plans to continue delivering babies, with retirement not imminent.
“Another 100 or 200,” he said.
At this point, there’s not another third-generation baby on the calendar, but who knows? The kind of thing you see in small towns and movies still happens here, too.