Dr. John W. Fague has been giving to his hospital for well over fifty years. When the 89-year-old retired veterinarian received his Doctor’s Day letter in the mail he decided to say ‘thank you’ in a special way to someone from his past.
Even though he hadn’t seen this doctor in decades, he is still grateful for the fine job that doctor did with his back surgery many years ago. He decided to show his appreciation with a gift to Chambersburg Hospital in honor of orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robert N. Richards, Sr.
Dr. Richards, now 91, was stunned by the news. “I haven’t seen John in years,” he exclaimed when he contacted the Development Office for a phone number so he could say thank you. “This is such an honor.”
Helpless & In Pain
As a large animal doctor, John Fague was no stranger to aches and strained muscles. However, in the late 1950s, he turned to local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Robert Richards, Sr., for help with the debilitating pain he was having in his back. “I was in misery,” he recalls. “I was helpless.”
Dr. Richards recalls the case well. “When John came to see me he was in great pain. I was scheduled to attend a surgical conference in Chicago the next day,” Dr. Richards said.
“I admitted him to the Chambersburg Hospital and operated as soon as I got back.” When asked about performing back surgeries like Dr. Fague’s he replied, “It’s rewarding surgery to do because you stop the pain. Relief is almost immediate.”
New Guy in Town
Dr. Richards, Sr. was the first orthopedic surgeon in the region. A Philadelphia native originally, he became familiar with the area on his periodic visits with the state’s Division of Crippled Children.
Soon it became clear – the number of people who needed help here was overwhelming. “I had 125 people to see in a day,” he said. “It was impossible.”
To meet this need, Dr. Richards decided to relocate to Chambersburg permanently. “There were three general surgeons here when I came,” he said, “but no one was trained in orthopedics. It wasn’t easy at first…not everyone was welcoming.”
However, it didn’t take Dr. Richards long to make a place for himself. He and his wife Mary Lou raised their children here. To his delight, his oldest son, Robert Richards, Jr., MD, and granddaughter, Karli Richards, DPM, continue the family medical practice here in the community.
When asked what the key is to building rapport with his colleagues and patients, Dr. Richards will tell you it is to be kind and empathetic. “It’s healing,” he says.
Around the same time, Dr. Fague and his wife Louise were raising their family in Shippensburg. Dr. Fague had served the United States Army in WWII, fighting Hitler’s army at the bloody Battle of the Bulge and had witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps.
After the war years ended, John’s father urged him to pursue veterinary medicine. He did, and returned to his peaceful home town of Shippensburg to start his practice. The next forty years were very, very busy with the veterinary clinic, raising their children, and writing historical books.
Sadly, both men lost their wives in the past ten years. Louise Fague died in 2005, and Mary Lou Richards in 2008. Dr. Fague remarried, and spends his time with his wife, Treva, friends, and family. He writes a weekly column called Do You Remember for the Shippensburg News Chronicle.
Like Dr. Fague, Dr. Richards’ giving to the Chambersburg Hospital dates back to its 1955 expansion. Now he also gives back by volunteering there every Tuesday. He may be retired from medicine but his large family and full schedule keep him very busy as well.
Reunited 50 years later
On February 26, amidst the flurry and hustle of nurses and medical personnel grabbing coffee or a quick bite to eat in the hospital coffee shop, the two retired medical men relax at one of the tables and reminisce. Both are happy their busiest days are behind them now.
After catching up on each other’s lives, Dr. Fague asked, “How old are you now?” Dr. Richards answers with a chuckle, “I’m 91… I have a few years on you.”
After five decades, Dr. Fague remains deeply grateful to the man he credits with getting him back on his feet. Likewise, his Doctor’s Day tribute surprised and delighted his former surgeon. Both are glad that the gift will support the hospital that brought them together years ago.
You can honor your caregiver with a gift to the Grateful Patient Program.
It’s never too late to say “I appreciate you!” Your gift matters