“If you build it, they will come.” With our small town of Montgomery, I was praying that being the only female physician would help make this come true. Back in 2004, I graduated residency in Conroe and there weren’t many options around. I could have joined another smaller clinic, but I decided I really wanted to try it my way from the start. If it failed, it was on me. A big risk for a new graduate from residency, but my dream was to practice in a smaller town clinic that felt more like a home than a scary doctor’s office and trying to spend more time with patients.
But, where to find space? We had Muriel’s complex at the time, a few small strip centers with vacancies. We joked at the thought of leasing in one of those and potentially having a tattoo parlor, liquor store, pawn shop, or who knows what, lease the space next to me. Might have been a great combo! But, my dad knew I wanted to remain in a very professional setting. And there was land available. My dad turned to me and said let’s do your own building and you lease extra spaces to others. I was shocked by my parents’ generosity in making my dream come true. They helped me purchase the land and we got started right away with the builder that built my parents’ beautiful house. I designed the layout and nine months from the discussion of buying the land, we had it done!
What to call it? I wanted something that felt warm again and not like a generic with my name or “medical clinic.” I love the sound of running water and “Stone Creek” just really stuck with me. Sounds relaxing, or like a good merlot! I went to Tuesday Morning and they happened to be having a special on framed pictures- I found two Thomas Kinkades for $50 that had flowing water in them and they have remained in my two exam rooms ever since.
The “home feel” was easy! My dad, Rollie Lacy, had been collecting medical antiques for me for years. Beautiful dentist cabinet in the nurse’s station, scales, medical bags, and even one of my favorites, the buggy bag, used for the traditional home visits on horses from decades past. Elixir bottles of the most interesting concoctions, books like an encyclopedia is all they used long ago. Old wood spool cabinets were full of colorful thread and I would joke to kids who needed stitches that they got to pick their color. I got two tiny chairs for kids in the exam room, so sometimes they didn’t feel so overwhelmed. The floors were stained concrete in brown and chose warm tans and browns for the rest. Door handles, front wooden doors, faucets that you see in homes, not clinics. Altogether, I was proud of what we did. Me, Keith, my mom and my dad.
Kaylie was about 5 back then and Lacy was about 2 years old. Their handprints are in the parking lot concrete in front of my office. We opened in November 2005 and that next year I waddled around pregnant with Grace. I actually scheduled her birth the day before Thanksgiving so I could work all the way to then and have her, and then be home on Thanksgiving! I didn’t have a partner, so I had to find a temp to cover, but I didn’t like that and came back right after Christmas.
A few years later, a friend from med school and new grad from my residency program needed some space to work from until she found her permanent position. Well, Melinda Jezierski stayed on and we added the Wellness Center next door. We wanted dieticians and counselors, acupuncture, and other services that patients needed but were hard to find or pay for. Unfortunately, it was always financially “in the negative” so we “bit the bullet” and added aesthetics to help fund it. It has morphed over the years and we began to realize the positive mental aspects of injectables, and aesthetic services and our patients were loving it. The pessimistic view of vanity was blown away by our patients’ feedback of better self-esteem and how different treatments helped them overcome some of their insecurities. Plus, these treatments helped medical conditions, too. The person most responsible for the is our awesome nurse, Donna Lloyd. When Linda and Robin joined forces with her, it became an incredible way to offer all kinds of extra services
In the middle of all that we had the opportunity to steal Jeremy McWilliams to join our group! We were thrilled and we knew him because he was an intern in my residency when I was in my last year. We scrambled around space and made it work and it was a joy to be practicing next to each other for years.
As the patient volume grew, we were all feeling the demands of more insurance red tape, making us work longer and harder hours, adding staff to help, and doing anything to stay afloat. Working weekends on documenting charts, skipping kids’ school events, missing dinner, coming home so tired and frustrated. I had remembered coming home feeling happy that I maybe helped someone or figured out a tough case and having conversations with my husband and spending time with my kids. That had almost all disappeared over those years.
In 2012, I made the shocking change to my practice to a membership model, where patients pay a monthly fee and still use insurance. This allowed me to go from almost 3000 patients to 500. It meant patients could spend two hours with me if they needed it, and I could still take home a salary. Some thought this was pure greed, but the truth is, my take home pay was in the lowest brackets for family practice doctors before and after this change. I did it for my patients, my family, and me.
Me. I became a different “me” in 2009. Slowly I began to have double vision at night, couldn’t exercise quite as well, and when I played tennis, I was missing my shots. I figured I was just not really watching the ball. I later realized I was seeing two balls when I looked down to hit it. I figured I was too tired, stressed, working long hours and lots on weekends. But as it got worse, I had to face the reality that something wasn’t right. I gave the list of symptoms to Jeremy and Melinda and asked them what they thought this “patient” had? Myasthenia Gravis. An autoimmune disease that doesn’t let your nerves tell the muscles to work and you get gradually weaker throughout the day, like waking, writing, seeing, and breathing. I had a major chest surgery and said I had a tumor on my heart, which was an enlarged thymus, classic for Myasthenia Gravis. It’s a part of the immune system that really should have been shrunk to nothing. Having it out can help symptoms in some. At this point it was wasn’t affecting my patient care and I could manage the symptoms fairly well.
In 2014, the disease decided to overwhelm my body, not even being able to breathe. The next several years were multiple hospital stays on life support, complications, and trying to find anything to help reverse it. I always had the mindset that I could beat it and be back working and doing what I love with a group of patients that were a joy to help. And with my sidekick Joey, always dependable 24/7, and Kathy Mortenson and Crystal Peppe helping me in any way to adjust or help. I strived for our great team to thrive, but the disease finally forced me to reality, and I had to stop seeing patients.
Stone Creek Family Medicine was my 4th child, it was my dream I made come true and I did it my way, for my patients. It will always be my gem in my heart, but I am so lucky to have Dr, McWilliams, a true friend and colleague, take over Stone Creek to even higher levels. I am still licensed and board certified, but not very reliable, but he lets me help him out when he needs it or not!
I’m not sure what my next chapter is in life, but for now the silver lining is seeing my kids grow up, sending them off to college, and spending quality time with my family. I’m still searching for that “cure” and maybe someday that will let me come back to Stone Creek, and work for Jeremy! Dream going around full circle.