Kresse reflects on 36-year career in rural medicine
By Samantha Jones
Dr. Gregory Kresse knew he wanted to be a rural doctor before he even started high school.
“I always loved to fish. My dad didn’t take us out often because he had 11 children and he worked,” Kresse said. “I thought I wanted to be a forest ranger because I could live out in the country. My dad said, ‘Greg, you could live in the country and be a doctor and make four times what a forest ranger makes.’ “
From that moment on, Kresse said, he was sold. Kresse, whose retirement begins Thursday, Jan. 30, moved to Eureka Springs in May 1984 after completing his residency in rural medicine in Fayetteville. He began his work at Eureka Springs Hospital before starting his own clinic with Dr. Dan Bell right next to the old high school, where Kings River Title is located today.
“We went into practice together. We owned that practice there for probably 15 years,” Kresse said, “then we built this clinic and moved over here on Passion Play Road.”
Since that move, Kresse said, he has continued to work at Eureka Springs Family Clinic. He loves working in a small town, Kresse said, because it has given him the opportunity to treat several generations in the same family. For example, Kresse said, he’s treated four generations of the Cross family.
“There’s a lot of families in town like that,” Kresse said. “I’ve taken care of a lot of people who are now in their 70s and 80s.”
For a few years, Kresse said, he and Bell delivered babies. Kresse said that’s unusual for a family doctor.
“We delivered babies for quite a while in that hospital,” Kresse said. “Dr. Bell and I even did C-sections. Most family doctors don’t even deliver babies, much less do C-sections.”
The first 20 years he worked in Eureka Springs, Kresse said, he split his time between the clinic and the emergency room at Eureka Springs Hospital. Back then, Kresse said, he and Bell were on call every other night in case the ER needed help.
“One of us took care of that for a lot of years for free,” Kresse said. “They pay doctors $100 an hour to take care of the ER today. We did it free for 20 years. That’s why the hospital is still open, because they didn’t have to pay ER doctors.”
Kresse continued, “I remember a lot of work –– hours and hours and hours of taking care of people in the community in the middle of the night or in the ice or snow or rain.”
Kresse remembered his time taking care of patients at the ER, saying he was frequently called away from the clinic to help those in need. On one particular day, Kresse said, he was called to help a man who lost the end of his finger in a wakeboarding accident. He was tending to that patient, Kresse said, when a man burst into the ER saying his wife was having a heart attack. That’s when Kresse sprung into action.
“His wife was sitting in the car and she was unconscious. She wasn’t breathing,” Kresse said. “I took her seatbelt off, ripped her shirt open and started CPR on her.”
She was only 46 years old, Kresse said, and had children to take care of.
“We shocked her a couple of times and her heart started back again. You could tell she had a heart attack from the EKG,” Kresse said. “We called Lifeline to get here. By then, she had a normal rhythm. She ended up in Fayetteville, got a triple vessel bypass and survived.”
A month later, Kresse said, she sent him a letter written in gold ink.
“She was thanking me for just happening to be there at that time,” Kresse said. “She was young. She had children and she was alive. She survived because we happened to be there at that moment.”
Another memorable patient, Kresse said, is a woman he called the “Shoebox Lady.” Kresse said he was called to her home to treat a sore throat and saw that she was wearing shoeboxes on her feet. She said she had herpes on both feet, Kresse said, and insisted it was too gross to inspect. But Kresse did take a look.
“It was really consistent with this type of foot eczema. I said, ‘This isn’t herpes at all. We can give you some cream and make this better in no time,’ “ Kresse said. “I saw her a few years later and she was fine. Her feet did clear up.”
For the last half of his career, Kresse said, he started to focus on wellness care. Not everybody accepts wellness information the same way, Kresse said, so it’s important to make them feel comfortable.
“When someone comes in for a physical, it’s not just a quick frisk job,” Kresse said. “I say, ‘What has your life been like? What has your health been like? What do you want and what kind of advice can I give you?’ “
After all, Kresse said, people pay him for his advice.
“They pay me to do things to them, too, but basically it’s for my advice,” Kresse said. “I enjoy when someone comes in and they’ve got an ache or a pain that’s unusual. You use a combination of physical examination, tests, logic and brainpower, and you do it every single day you work. To me, that’s fascinating and stimulating.”
He has loved working with everyone at the clinic, Kresse said, and intends to maintain his medical license to help doctors out when they go on vacation. He’s also the medical director for Eureka Springs Fire Department, Kresse said.
“I’ll continue to do that. I enjoy that,” Kresse said. “I’m still living in Eureka. I’m not leaving. I love Eureka. I’ll be here probably until I take my last breath.”
So what are his retirement plans?
“I’ll be doing a lot of playing golf, playing tennis, fishing, hiking, taking care of my house –– the kind of things you do on the weekend when you don’t have to work,” Kresse said. “I’ll get to do that all the time.”
Kresse thanked everyone in the community who has supported him over the years, saying it has been a joy to work in Eureka Springs.
“The people in Eureka make this feel like a community,” Kresse said. “They’ve always made me feel like I’m a part of it. I appreciate everybody in this town and especially all the patients I’ve seen over the past 36 years.”