Monday, September 19, 2016

Richard A Kaplan MD: Beyond the degrees

Over the years I have met and worked with many doctors, both in a professional capacity and as a patient or advocate of a patient. It is sad to say that having done so my overall opinion of doctors in general is not a very good one. 

But today I feel the need to raise my voice and tell my story of one of the greatest doctors I have ever had the pleasure of working with, Doctor Richard A Kaplan. A few years back, even though my children were all adults I made a call to his office in Minnesota in to leave a message for him because I knew he would enjoy an update on my youngest who was a bit special to him. His office told me he was out on family medical leave but they would relay the message. I did not hear back and although I worried some and hoped who ever was ill in his family was doing better, I got busy with life and forgot to check back. Then the other night my youngest and I were sharing funny stories of Dr. Kaplan with a family friend when she decided to google him to find an email address to send him a note. What she found rocked us both. Doctor Kaplan had passed away in August 19, 2013, just a few weeks after my attempt to reach him.

In reading the news report and obituary on line not only was I sad because he is no longer with us, but I was disappointed by how cold they were. Sure they told of his many professional accomplishments and of his dedication to children but few spoke of his amazing spirit so full of love and joy, except the one that included comments from a few friends and colleagues. Even those did not even scratch the surface of what it was like to know this amazing man and have him for your doctor. So I would like to share some fond memories of Dr. Rich Kaplan here for all to read.

When our family first moved to Yankton, South Dakota in March of '93 I scheduled an appointment at a local clinic for my four children. At the time I had no idea how fortunate we were that out of all the doctors in the clinic, Doctor Kaplan was the doctor that would be caring for our children. 

I will never forget that first visit, and how I was shocked when the door opened and in walked a rather wild looking man. He wore tan Bermuda shorts a loud Hawaiian T-shirt and if memory serves me correctly argyle socks with bulky sandals. His hair was a bit long and wild, but looked right at home with his bushy beard and multiple earrings in one ear. My shock was quickly replaced by laughter and admiration. Before even that first visit ended I knew that this eccentric man was one of the most down to earth compassionate doctors I had ever met. 

Well check ups were a time not just to make sure everyone was healthy and on the right growth trajectory, but they were also a time to catch up. He would ask the kids what they had been up to and if they had gone on any adventures. Then he would tell them about his latest adventure, sometimes it was bicycling from South Dakota to the east or west coast other times some fun time spent in the Black Hills with his family. But always it was sharing and more times than not it inspired the kids to explore the world around them. 

Over the years, his care was unwavering even when we moved away and "cheated on him" by taking the kids to as he called them "horse doctors". He still considered our children "His kids".  When I found out he was practicing in Sioux Falls I was so excited that the children would be able to see him again. But when I called to set up the appointments the receptionist informed me that he was no longer in general pediatrics but saw only children who were referred by various agencies because of abuse. I was glad he was helping those children but at the same time I was disappointed and I guess it came across in my voice, because she said she would tell him I called and ask him if he wanted to take on my children's medical care. The next day I got a call from the receptionist telling me in a bit of a surprised voice that Doctor Kaplan had instantly said to schedule appointments for the kids because they were "his kids". So even though he was doing some very important work with children who desperately needed his expertise he still cared and made time for those that could be treated by other doctors. Of course well child check-ups sometimes were scheduled way out because he was so busy but if they were sick he always squeezed them in.

The kids were always more than excited to get to go see him. A few times I even suspect they faked being sick just so they could go see him. That may sound odd, but honestly I can not think of a single time the kids complained about having to go see Dr. Kaplan. I am sure the following had a great deal to do with that. What other doctor writes a prescription for a Happy Meal, or gives their patient the silly animal looking flashlight that they just used to peer down the child's throat? Yes, these were common occurrences during visits to Doctor Kaplan. One time when my oldest was a teenager and had a mild case of pneumonia Dr. Kaplan turned to me and said "What K needs is plenty of fluids so I recommend a six pack a day and while you are at it a few extra holes in his head would look good." K's face lit up until Dr. Kaplan finished with "Just make it a six pack of root beer." 

Not long after he began his work as an expert witness in cases of child abuse I ran into him on my lunch break at the county court house. I almost didn't recognize him, he was clean shaven with short hair no earrings and was wearing a three piece suit. To say the least I was shocked and asked what on earth he had done with our Doctor Kaplan. His reply showed just how dedicated he was to the children he cared for. He answered with a flip 'Well, Judges tend to only take one seriously if one looks like this". 

Now don't get me wrong, I am not trying to make light of the extraordinary work Dr. Kaplan did with and for abused children. He was everything the articles and obituary claimed him to be, but he was so much more than an advocate for abused children and an expert in his field. He was a proud husband and father, a roll model to countless children and adults, a joker, an outdoor enthusiast, and most importantly a man who truly cared for his fellow man and touched so many people.

I share this here as a tribute to the whole man that was Richard A. Kaplan and not just the professional Doctor Rich Kaplan, because I want to make sure that there is a lasting public account of more than his degrees and contributions to abused and neglected children. This is also my way of telling his family how very sorry I am for their loss and how much he was loved by our family.

Dr. Richard A Kaplan 

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