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Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010 06:48 am

‘Medicine was doing God’s work.’

DR. JAMES DOVE Aug. 2, 1939 - Nov. 7, 2010

“He was the whole package” is Dr. Marc Shelton’s description of cardiologist Dr. James Dove, founder of Prairie Cardiovascular Consultants, who died Nov. 7 at age 71, one year to the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“I’ve known one or two academicians who were as smart as Jim,” says Shelton. “But no one as bright who was also as good with people. He was so easy to relate to. Warm and honest and likeable. There wasn’t anyone who couldn’t talk to him.”

Dove, an Ohio native, was a force that changed the medical landscape of Springfield.

He moved here in 1973 to work at the Springfield Clinic. By 1979, he had established Prairie, with the goal to deliver state of the art critical medical care to people outside metropolitan areas, according to Shelton, who was recruited by Dove 18 years ago to become Prairie’s 12th physician. The group now numbers 50 physicians, and Shelton is its president.

“We serve all of Illinois south of I-80. Because of Prairie, people now come to Springfield for other kinds of care as well as heart – pulmonary, gastrointestinal, oncology, surgery. It’s uncommon for a medical group to extend itself to 43 rural areas the way Prairie does. We have 400 employees, with hubs in Springfield, Decatur, Carbondale, Effingham and Streator. This was Jim’s vision all along, but even he had to be a little surprised at how it has grown. We easily count more than 100,000 patient visits every year.”

Dove’s reach extended far beyond Illinois. He served as president of the American College of Cardiologists, which has 39,000 members. “They don’t take each other lightly,” says Shelton. “Jim was exceptionally hard working. Cardiologists often work all day and all night. I don’t think Jim ever worked less than a 12-hour day.”

Steven Dove, 41, struggles to talk about his father. His death was recent, and it’s the holiday season. His pride in an extraordinary father is palpable, but it’s tinged with regret for time not spent together. He talks about his father’s commitment to his patients, how he often came home from work at 10:30 p.m. only to be called back to the hospital at 2 a.m.

“Growing up was tough, “he says. “I was four years old when we moved here and because of Dad’s dedication and work ethic, he gave 110 per cent to what he believed in. Sometimes ours was more like a one-parent household.”

Dove laughs a little when he talks about his capable father helping him assemble a soapbox derby car in the family’s basement.

 “For all his talent – he really was a force working with computer programmers and date bases in developing electronic medical records to improve patient care – he just wasn’t mechanically inclined. He tried to spend time with us, and he made it to my baseball games when he could, even if it was only one out of five.”

Steven recalls his father as a mentor and a role model who sometimes took his young son along visiting patients. He recalls how patients’ faces would light up when his father entered their hospital rooms. Once, when an 80-year-old woman flatlined – in the middle of a conversation with Dr. Dove – he called for a crash cart and resuscitated her, only to have her open her eyes and say, “Oh, I’m sorry. What was I talking about?”

“To me, it was a miracle,” says Steven. “Everything else goes by the wayside when you see something like that.”

Steven praises his parents’ partnership – a unique pairing of two people born on the same day in Mansfield, Ohio, just six minutes apart. Steven says Jim and Carol Ann met in the sixth grade. When they brought Steven and their daughter, Laura, to Springfield in the early 1970s they were looking for good schools, a lake for recreation and a town with potential.

Once a practicing architect, Steven is now a real estate broker and serves as an alderman on the Springfield City Council. He spent a year of college in pre-med – enough to decide he wanted more time for other things in life.

Jim Dove’s battle with cancer, with only a five percent chance of longevity, was a shared experience with his family, especially his six grandchildren. Steven talks freely about the pain and the poignancy of having a last chance to spend time together. He says that final year gave them some of their best times to talk, and gave him his clearest insights into how his father wanted life to be.

“He was humble. He created things that weren’t there before, but he never did it for the accolades. He helped so many people. Paid for college for kids who couldn’t have gone otherwise. Told people who couldn’t pay for their medical treatment not to worry about it.”

How would Dr. Jim Dove want to be remembered?

“In the end,” Steven says, “I think he would say that for him medicine was doing God’s work.”

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