Loyal to Ochsner

More than 700 administrators and physicians gathered at the River Center for a systemwide Ochsner Health System leadership meeting this month.

A patient was there, too, and was doing very well, thank you.

Laura Gillen, who is 90, stood and spoke briefly before the gathering, after a short video that showed her lifelong relationship with Ochsner.

Gillen has fond memories of her personal physicians in years past, three of whom were the founders of Ochsner, which had its beginnings in New Orleans in 1942.

Other patients might well remember the Ochsner founders, who passed away in the 1980s or earlier.

Gillen, though, seems to have a particularly heart-felt dedication to the Ochsner medical community.

Though she lived in the New Orleans area for most of her life, Gillen now lives in Baton Rouge and continues to drive herself to regular appointments with her present-day Ochsner doctors in New Orleans.

She prefers to take Airline Highway to her appointments in New Orleans rather than the interstate, she said.

“I get there, so what’s the difference,” she said with a laugh.

Gillen told the audience at the River Center on Nov. 16 that after she’s seen one of her physicians, “I always come away so happy, because I feel like I’ve been with my old, old friend.”

It was Dr. Alton Ochsner who, with four other surgeons, opened the Ochsner Clinic in 1942, the first group medical practice in the Deep South, according to a history provided by Ochsner.

The clinic was followed in 1947 by a hospital, the Ochsner Foundation Hospital, that was initially housed in a former Army post hospital.

Ochsner, who died at age 85 in 1981, was a thoracic surgeon and one of the first physicians to recognize the link between tobacco use and lung cancer.

He treated Gillen’s father, after her father suffered a stroke, Gillen said.

She remembers Ochsner as a “wonderful, wonderful person,” who would walk the hospital floors speaking with patients and their families.

A native of Natchez, Miss., Gillen moved to New Orleans in 1945, when she was 23, with her parents, R.P. and Minnie Corban, for her father’s job.

The first Ochsner Clinic had opened just three years earlier.

“When I was growing up, they didn’t take you to the doctor like they do today,” Gillen said.

“There was no such thing as a clinic. I never heard of a clinic, when I was a child,” she said.

She grew up to marry her high school sweetheart, Charles Gillen.

Dr. Curtis Tyrone, one of the five original Ochsner Clinic founders, delivered Laura Gillen’s first child, a daughter also named Laura.

The elder Laura Gillen, who’s looking forward to her 91st birthday on Jan. 26, was also under the care earlier in her life of two other Ochsner founders.

Dr. Guy Caldwell was an orthopedic surgeon who after World War I had been chief surgeon at the then-new Shriner’s Hospital in Shreveport; Dr. Edgar Burns was a urologist well known in his field, in the Gulf South region, according to the Ochsner history.

The fifth Ochsner founder, Dr. Francis “Duke” LeJeune Sr., an ear, nose and throat specialist, was, interestingly, the only Louisiana native among the founders.

Ochsner hailed from South Dakota; Tyrone and Caldwell were from Mississippi, and Burns was from Alabama.

Gillen, whose husband died in 2001, moved to Baton Rouge in 2008 from her home in Luling, to be near her younger daughter, Cheryl Helmick.

Gillen lost her older daughter to cancer in 1995.

Of Baton Rouge, Gillen said, a little ruefully, “I haven’t learned my way around yet!”

Gillen has found it convenient to see one Ochsner doctor in Baton Rouge, her ophthalmologist Dr. Curtis Creed

It was Creed, she said, who noticed that her Ochsner patient number was a low one, a discovery that led to her moment at the recent leadership event, she said.

“He zeroed in on my number. I had to tell him all about myself,” she said.

Ochsner’s quarterly System Leadership Meetings bring together administrative and physician leaders to share best practices, recognize good work and network, according to an Ochsner news release.

The meetings often include inspirational patient testimonials, like Gillen’s.

On the video presented as a portion of Gillen’s part of the event, her cardiologist Dr. Christopher White, of New Orleans, said of Gillen, “She is ‘up’; she is a joy for me to see ... she’s a perfect patient to see in the middle of a long day.”