Meet Dr. David Welch. Well, actually, he would prefer it if you just called him Dave.
On a beautiful day in mid-October, I caught up with Dave, and Astrid, his spouse of over 30 years, as they were jet boating up the mighty Peace to the Smoky River.
Surrounded by peaceful woodlands and with no cell phone in tow, you may wonder what Dr. Welch is thinking about.
“Nothing,” said Dave, gliding along the glistening waters of the Peace. “And it’s so nice to think about nothing sometimes.”
That’s unusual, because night and day, Dave is usually thinking about his patients.
Dave’s days often start early at the Peace River Community Health Centre, where he has practised for nearly 25 years.
It was concern for his patients’ welfare that prompted Dave to introduce the cardiac stress testing program to Peace River over 20 years ago. Not only has it saved patients long commutes to Grande Prairie or Edmonton, it’s also saved lives.
“If you can have a patient screened and identify cardiac disease well in advance then we are able to get them out and get them treated sooner before they have an event,” explains Joan Petluk, RN, Cardiac Rehabilitation, at Peace River Community Health Centre.
Dr. Karen Lundgard, Dave’s colleague and Community Medical Director for Grimshaw-Peace River, speaks highly of the good doctor. She recalls at least one occasion when the cardiac stress testing he introduced saved a patient’s life.
“I know I’ve sent him one gentleman from [emergency] that was having angina,” explains Dr. Lundgard. “Dave stress tested him and he was out to the city that day and had his stinting done. And he may well have died had he not been recognized and treated that quickly.”
Dave also spends time in emergency and obstetrics at the hospital. He is recognized for setting up a diabetic clinic here, where a diabetic educator teaches patients new and better ways to self-manage their diabetes.
Lorraine Cloutier is a Certified Diabetes Educator at Peace River Community Health Centre. She says Dr. Welch has been “a wonderful mentor.”
“I had the honour of working with him on acute care before I moved over to this position and I must say I was pleasantly surprised [at] his passion for his patients in this area,” says Cloutier.
Dr. Welch is an amazing physician to work with and work for … and his patients love him. — Lana deBoon
Lana deBoon, shares similar sentiments about Dr. Welch over at Peace River Medical Clinic.
“Dr. Welch is an amazing physician to work with and work for,” says deBoon, the clinic manager. “And his patients love him.”
What about when he calls late at night with lab results?
“Patients don’t seem to mind,” deBoon adds. “They just say ‘Dr. Welch, it’s one-o-clock in the morning!’”
This affection for Dr. Welch is on full display at the clinic on this day.
One of his patients is Ashlea Huberts, who brought some baking to Dr. Welch on the day of our visit, which Dave jokingly calls “contraband.”
“He has a bit of a sweet tooth so we bring him baking quite often,” jokes Huberts. “He’s just so thorough and he’s very good with our kids and he’s a really good family person.”
Barb Allen has been a patient of Dave’s for 20 years.
“He is an incredible physician and incredible man,” Allan explains. “He is so kind and he takes the time to discuss all of your options and I just always loved him.”
Dave is so trusted, he is the doctor that other doctors come to see.
Donna Brunham’s husband, Terry, was a patient of Dr. Welch.
“My husband had cancer and Dave saw him through those two-and-a-half years of trying to beat it. Dave was always willing to take a phone call whether he was running. Whether he was at hockey. Whether he was at work,” Donna recalls. “I remember the day that he died, that Terry passed away, and Dave was quick to be at the house. I remember the tears that he shed. The encouragement he gave to the family as we were all there. He was just a very remarkable doctor for Terry.”
Dave is so trusted, he is the doctor that other doctors come to see.
“He became my family physician and my family’s family doctor. So, he actually delivered our five children,” says Dr. Rob Greidanus, Dave’s good friend, and teammate in “the NHL”—the Nampa Hockey League.
According to Dr. Greidanus, Dave always gives 100 per cent.
“He’s a good player. There’s no one that gives more effort than Dave. So even as the knees are getting older and squeak a little bit.”
Yet even when he’s winding up for another rush down the ice, Dave’s patients are never far from his mind.
“Three-quarters of the players you see are patients and, from a doctor’s point of view, I think that’s really neat. Where you can treat and help your friends,” says Welch, #22 for the Dogs.
Dave’s focus is always on giving back to his community. Growing up on the west coast of British Columbia, he became an avid collector of plains and west coast Indigenous artifacts. Not long ago, he donated his huge collection to the Nampa and District Museum.
He is also very involved with his church, and, as an accomplished pianist, he sometimes plays with his church’s music team. He also donates his time to practise medicine for Samaritan’s Purse. On his most recent trip to Togo, accompanied by Astrid, David worked with physicians from all around the world, learning how they do medicine in their home countries.
A big part of Dave’s success in medicine is thanks to the support of his wife, Astrid, who understands how important her husband is to the community.
“One time a patient sought me out and said, ‘I have to let you know thank you for giving up your husband so much,’” Astrid explains. “She said ‘I know, and people know that here, if you are going to die you go see Dr. Welch and he’ll try and help you not die. And if he can’t do it then you are meant to die.’ Which sounds sort of odd. I was kind of shocked by that. But she says, ‘No, really, your husband is so thorough.’”
Astrid recalls how the couple received a gift two years ago from a five-year-old child who was delivered by Dr. Welch on their wedding anniversary.
“We have a beautiful plaque around the corner, and it says ‘Welch, established 1986,’’ and a patient made it for Dave and gave it to us two years ago. And we got it with a letter and it said, ‘Happy Anniversary, my name is so-and-so and I’m five years old and it’s my birth day. And the reason I know it’s your birthday is because I was born on your anniversary. And you were trying to go out for supper and then I came along so you didn’t get to have an anniversary supper,’” Astrid relates with a laugh. “So, she said, ‘Thank you very much. I’m sorry for ruining your anniversary.’”
Astrid enjoys the “close-knit atmosphere” in Peace River, where everyone knows everyone.
“We chose to come here. We were excited to come here. And it has been good. It’s been a wonderful community to raise a family.”
Congratulations to Dr. Welch, the 2018 recipient of the Rhapsody Physician Award.
- Video and article by Bobby Jones