Friday, February 2, 2007

Paris practices the art of rural family medicine

?Today? will feature the flying doctor

Express Staff Writer

Dr. Rich Paris

Television shows don't lie. Doctors have very interesting lives. At least, they do in the wilds of Idaho.

To tend to folks in areas where there are no hospitals, doctors must sometimes be like the old traveling medicine men of yore, journeying to their practices hundreds of miles away. Dr. Richard Paris, of Hailey, flies his Cessna 210 from Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey to Challis, nearly 90 mountainous miles away, twice a month.

"In 1999, the rural health clinic in Challis needed a medical director," Paris said. "It is staffed by a physician's assistant, Ken Hyatt, who is there five days a week. My job is to support him, give medical advice, make visits, see more complicated cases and review charts."

Paris, 56, joined the small Hailey Medical Clinic in 1981. Since then the valley and the need for good doctors has grown. The Hailey Medical Clinic, now part of the St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, expanded to seven physicians, and includes Paris' wife, Kathryn Woods, also a family doctor. The University of Washington's School of Medicine sends medical students to Dr. Paris for six months annually to learn the art of rural family medicine. In 2005, the American Academy of Family Physicians voted Paris the Family Physician of the Year.

The same year, Readers Digest published a story on Paris as part of an "Unforgettable Character" series. Several weeks ago a "Today" show producer, Amanda Marshall, contacted Paris.

She said a copy of the Reader's Digest story was in her desk and she wanted to do a similar story about the challenges of using an airplane to provide medical care to remote Custer County, north of Ketchum. Soon after, he was contact by Bob Dotson, an NBC News correspondent who does the "American Stories" for "Today."

The following week, an NBC News cameraman from Denver spent the day with Paris flying to Challis and as he made his rounds through the clinic. The film crew also chartered a chase plane from Galen Hanselman to fly next to Paris, allowing some air-to-air footage with the mountains on the way to Challis along the Pioneers.

"As luck would have it, it turned out to be one of the clearest and most beautiful days of the entire winter," Paris said. "They have some spectacular footage."

Last week Marshall, Dotson and another crew arrived to conduct interviews with some of Paris' long-time Wood River Valley patients, including Rebecca Kastner and Parkman Brooks.

The segment on Paris will appear on the "Today" show Thursday, Feb. 8, during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. hours of the show.

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