Letter to the Editor

Letter: Praise for Dr. Max Heeb

Saturday, January 9, 2021

To the editors:

After I graduated from college and got married in 1969, we moved to Sikeston and lived in a two-bedroom apartment my aunt and uncle (Malone) rented us for $35/month. I had a job working as an orderly in the emergency room at Sikeston Delta Community Hospital on the 3-11 shift. My new wife was in our unairconditioned alley apartment off Helen Street trying to learn how to cook without sweating into the food.

There were no ER doctors in those days and when a laceration came into the hospital, it was sent to the doctor’s office that was on call, which was rotated through the staff. After office hours, the doctors had to come into the emergency room to sew up cuts. Most lacerations started coming in after the bars had been open a bit. I helped them every chance I got, hoping to learn something that would come in handy in the fall when I would start med school.

After a week or so, one of them asked if I’d like to learn how to sew up cuts, so they taught me, watched me and by the third week, I was sewing up all the lacerations on my own. I could always call if it was something I couldn’t handle. About a week later, Max asked me if I’d like to come in and observe some surgery. So, at 7 a.m. each morning, I’d show up in surgery and after a couple of days, I was asked to scrub in. At 3 p.m., I’d leave for my shift at the ER. At a little after 11 p.m., I’d head back to my new wife, who was spending a lot of time with my mom, as I had disappeared into the hospital.

By July I was a regular in surgery with Max, J. R. Dupont and Fred Thorton. When I started my first year of medical school, I had more actual surgical experience than the first- and second-year surgery residents at the University of Missouri.

In spring of 1972, I came back to Sikeston to work with those three doctors for 10 weeks. Our first child was born in Sikeston during that time. It was a great experience for a medical student. I was hooked on surgery!

When I chose where to do my residency, I was able to get into the University of Cincinnati, which was run by the then-president of the American College of Surgeons. It was my dream to train there and I couldn’t believe I had actually gotten in. My chief resident was the son of the professor that actually wrote the textbook of surgery (one of them, anyway). I thought I had died and gone to surgical heaven.

Within the first month, it became apparent to me that the technical skills of these “Gods of Surgery” didn’t even come close to Max’s. Over the next year, I became increasingly disillusioned with these world famous surgeons and nine months into my internship, a position in urology opened up and it was offered to me. I didn’t have to think twice.

I have always felt that the degree to which I was skilled in urologic surgery was rooted in the time I spent in Sikeston, mostly with Max. By making him my standard, I was able to bring to my surgical patients a level of skill I would never have learned at the university.

Professionally, I owe more to him than any other person in my life.

J. Russell Felker, MD, FACS