For Stitt family medicine is a way of life

Paul Stevens

Medicine is firmly implanted in the DNA of the Stitt family. And the Stitt family is equally implanted in the city of Fort Dodge where there’s been a Doctor Stitt on duty for the past 71 years.

Like his father, Dr. Mike Stitt was a physician — each of them engaged in family practice medicine for more than four decades. Like her mother, Carole Stitt worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years.

And like their parents, the Stitts’ four daughters — Kimberly, Stephanie, Alyssa and Kristen — all chose careers in medicine.

“We never pushed them to do it,” said Mike, a lifelong Fort Dodger who retired in 2014 as a physician with Family Practice Associates. His career began with U.S. Army service in Vietnam after graduating 50 years ago from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.

Daughter Dr. Stephanie Stitt Cox, who is a family practice physician with The Iowa Clinic in West Des Moines, agrees:

“Honestly, neither Mom or Dad ever pushed us into medicine or really even encouraged us to follow in their footsteps,” she said. “They just encouraged us to do the best we could and to follow our own aspirations.” Stephanie is married to Kyle Cox; they live in Waukee and have three children: Connor, 15; Aidan, 12, and Lydia, 9.

Mike and Carole’s oldest, Kim Shimkat, is a veterinarian at Family Pet Medical Center in Fort Dodge, which she established in 2007. The Iowa State graduate is married to Bill Shimkat and they have two sons, Ryan, 17, and Jack, 13.

From a young age, Kim loved animals, particularly horses. “When I was 12, they decided I was responsible enough to have a horse of my own and my very non-horsey parents helped me find a young quarter horse and a place to board him. I had that first horse for 27 years and learned a lot about animal care from him. My husband jokes that if my parents had just shown some restraint and said no, he wouldn’t be stuck unloading hay and hauling manure today.”

Dr. Alyssa Stitt is a family practice physician in Mankato, Minnesota, and is married to Garron Williams. They have three children: Noah, 12; Zoe, 10, and Jonah, 6.

Kristen Morrison is a registered nurse in the cardiothoracic and transplant ICU at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and is married to Andy Morrison. They have three children — Louise, 6; Sydney, 4, and Arthur, 2 weeks. “Choosing nursing and following in the footsteps of my mom, as well as her mother,” she said, “has given me the opportunity to provide hands-on care and comfort at the bedside.”

The four women — three of them University of Iowa graduates, like their parents — are the third generation of Stitts in the medical business. Mike’s father, Dr. Paul Stitt, was a physician and surgeon in Fort Dodge for 35 years before retiring in 1982. He was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving as a surgeon in the South Pacific. Mike was born in Seattle to Paul and Marguerite Stitt. He has a brother, Marc, who lives in Fort Dodge and a sister, Jane, in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. A second sister Beth died of lung cancer.

Mike attended Fort Dodge Senior High, as did his four daughters, graduating in 1961. He excelled in basketball under Coach Dutch Huseman: as a 5-foot-10 forward he set a single-season Dodger scoring record his senior year. “It has long been obliterated by a number of players,” he said.

His goal from the outset at the University of Iowa was to become a doctor. His dad was his role model: “He was happy and proud of what he did. He was patient, compassionate and dedicated. He never had an ill word about a patient. I tried to be like him.”

Mike met Carole when he was a junior in medical school and she was a senior in Iowa’s nursing program. Their first date was to the 1966 Iowa homecoming game. They were married 20 months later in her hometown of Iowa City on June 8, 1968, the day after Mike graduated from medical school.

Shortly after the wedding, they drove to Los Angeles where Mike had a one-year internship at Los Angeles County General/USC Medical Center; Carole also worked there, as a registered nurse in a surgical unit.

The Vietnam War was in full force and physicians finishing internships were in demand. Mike signed up hoping for Navy service like his father, but was taken by the Army in August 1969 and quickly received orders for Vietnam.

He served in Vietnam for a year, first as a battalion surgeon with the 1st Infantry Division for five months in Lai Kai. His clinic was on the back of an armored personnel carrier. “I took care of sick people and minor injuries — if anyone got shot up and needed surgery, we medevacked them.” He then served at the 67th Evac Hospital at Qui Nhon. “We were like a MASH unit but with fixed buildings, not tents like in the movie.” Mike completed his second year of Army duty at Sandia Army Base in Albuquerque.

Stitt went to Vietnam clean-shaven and wearing contacts. His colonel boss banned beards but not mustaches — so as a protest of sorts, Stitt grew a mustache “and I’ve had it ever since.” Contact lenses were too difficult to manage in Vietnam so he wore glasses, and never returned to contacts when he got home.

The lure of working with his dad was strong, and the Stitts returned to Fort Dodge to join his father with Doctors Wilbur Thatcher and Hoyt Allen specializing in general and family practice. He worked with his dad from 1971 to 1982. Between the two, Mike estimates, they delivered 1,600 babies.

“I wound up delivering the babies of the babies my dad delivered,” Stitt said.

Alyssa recalls her dad “regularly having to leave the house in the middle of the night to deliver a baby or see a patient in the ER. I was around 6 years old when I learned exactly what that meant. Before then, I honestly had this vivid image of him in brown uniform, driving around a UPS truck full of babies dropping them off at their respective houses. I could not understand why on Earth that could not wait until morning. Twenty-five years later I would graduate from my family medicine program and for the last 12 years I have continued to practice full spectrum family practice and deliver babies as well.”

Carole worked as a nurse in Mike’s practice for 30 years: “I’m sure half the people came in to see her more than they wanted to see me,” he said.

“I was proud to be his nurse,” she said. “I saw daily how he would show respect, compassion and kindness to his patients. I loved to watch him take care of little babies, anxious mothers or elderly people. He treated everyone the same. We dearly miss our patients.”

Medicine changed over the years, not always for the better, Stitt said. “I used to spend an entire day with my patients, scribble notes at each visit, dictate them at the end of the day. Anymore you work with a computer, spending time doing computer stuff. A third of the time with patients, a third of the time satisfying Medicare or an insurance company, a third of the time to satisfy the group to maximize charges. It shouldn’t be that way. You should be spending 80 percent of your time with your patients.”

“Mom certainly deserves some credit, working for years as his RN,” Stephanie said, “keeping their practice moving smoothly. Patients trusted her as much as they trusted him and she was always willing to lend a hand, volunteer, reach out to someone struggling. They both taught us to be compassionate in both our professional and personal lives.”

Since retiring in 2014, the Stitts have pursued a variety of interests — visiting children and grandchildren, traveling, fishing, golfing, gardening, reading, all things Hawkeye and Dodger sports, NCAA wrestling, Olympics.

They’ve been Iowa season ticket holders since 1971 and are regulars on Hawkeye cruises with coaches every February. Mike has been the team doctor for FDSH football for the past 47 years and was awarded the Outstanding Sports Medicine Award by the Iowa High School Athletic Directors Association.

Grandchildren are a big part of their lives, and their 11th grandchild just arrived two weeks ago when Arthur was born to daughter Kristen and her husband, Andy.

On the 10th of December each year, Mike follows a tradition of his grandmother and his father in making peanut brittle — 100 pounds worth, “the world’s best peanut brittle,” he contends. “At least I haven’t tasted any better.” It is delivered in five-pound batches to hospitals and friends and family.

This Stitt tradition is now into its fourth generation: Kim has taken it on as an “apprentice” but not quite to her dad’s scale — yet.

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