Second Time Around

A top heart researcher turns to family medicine in Grand Valley.

March 22, 2007 | | Back Issues

At age 66, Don Mickle became a family doctor. “It was like a re-birth,” he says, one of several he’s had in a distinguished medical career. Mickle came to family medicine after a long career in clinical bio-chemistry that took him to the top ranks of heart researchers in North America. He holds ten patents and he is a founder of Cardiac Restoration Corporation, a cell tissue engineering company. In animal research projects, it pioneered a process by which genes are planted into cells and cells into heart tissue. It also developed a biodegradable mesh on which cells are grown and which is then sewn into hearts to replace scar tissue. For many years Mickle was biochemist-in-chief at the University Health Network in Toronto.

Now he is seeing patients at the Grand Valley Medical Clinic.

As he approached mandatory retirement from his academic career, Mickle knew he wasn’t ready to put his feet up. Trim and energetic, he preaches the gospel about the need to be constantly learning and growing. “It’s in our DNA,” he says. “For our ancestors it was eat or die. We’re not designed to be inactive.”

But why family medicine?

“I needed a change,” he says. “I didn’t need the money, but I felt it was time to give something back, as a community service.” And, he admits, he was tired of the commute. He and his wife, Sarah Carvalho, live in a beautifully restored stone farmhouse south of Grand Valley. Her “100 Acre Studio Gallery” occupies the top floor of a spacious building adjoining their house.

By chance he saw an ad in the local newspaper for a family doctor. He met Dr. Dan Mallin of the Grand Valley clinic, “liked him a lot,” and decided to go back to school. After a brief stint at Toronto Western Hospital’s training program, Mickle apprenticed for six months under Mallin and now works at the clinic.

“I love the people,” he says “and I have been hugely impressed with the quality of care. People don’t realize how good it is up here.” He acknowledges, though, that the experience has opened his eyes to how much things have changed since he was at medical school in the 1950s.

In those days, 95 per cent of the students were male. Now he says the gender ratio favours women. And, he adds, the younger generation are not as single-minded as his cohort was about climbing the career ladder. They want a more balanced lifestyle that allows time for family and recreation.

He is particularly intrigued by this era’s aging demographic. He jokes that his IQ went up twenty to thirty points when he went back to school. And, he says, that kind of vigorous life change “is going to become more the norm than the exception.” It’s a development he applauds.

Nevertheless, although he enjoys his time at the clinic, he says “If I was making the choice today, I wouldn’t go into medicine. The money’s not there and the bureaucracy is overwhelming.” He entirely underestimated the amount of time doctors spend on paperwork. “It’s 10 to 15 per cent, minimum.”

Aside from the many lives he’s lived in medicine, Mickle is also a passionate woodworker. Largely self-taught, he is restoring a stone house across the road that is almost the mirror image of the one he lives in now. (The same family built both.)

His workshop, below his wife’s studio, is spacious and fully modern. It has radiant heating, fresh air exchange and dust control. With its impressive array of woodworking tools and machines, the overall effect is one of, well, surgical cleanliness and precision.

Later, on the telephone, he refers to his passion for physical activity. “I must still have a little Neanderthal DNA in me.”

Is it fair to say that his several career changes are like a cat using up most of its nine lives?

“No,” he says. “I feel like I’ve added three lives.”

In the background there’s a murmur.

“My wife says – with a tinge of regret – that I might live another thirty years!”

Need a doctor in Headwaters?

Patient forms are available at the inquiry desk at Headwaters Health Care Centre, clinics, doctors’ offices and on-line at (click on “find a doctor”). Fill out the form and mail as directed. One form per family. Don’t wait until you require medical attention to apply.

About the Author More by Tony Maxwell

Tony Maxwell is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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