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The end of an era ~ Dr. Soriano retires

IT WAS A rare sight – Dr. Luis E. Soriano at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital without his white coat. Deciding that he “had to retire sometime,” Dr. Soriano chose August 31 as the day. Over the past couple of weeks, he has been the guest of honor at luncheons and receptions, as staff, co-workers and friends share stories and wish him well. J. Graham photo

Jaynell Graham

What have you been doing for the past 42 years?

Over that past few weeks, Dr. Luis E. Soriano’s 42-year medical career has been the topic of conversation at several social gatherings, and, as it turns out, he’s been pretty darn busy.

Deciding that he needed to retire at some point, he chose August 31 of this year as the date.

Talking with him on his last day at the office, I asked what caused him the most stress in his practice. He said there was no stress.

“Medicine is important,” he said. “I go to my office, then I forget about it and golf.”

I guess that’s what you do when you are one of the best.

Several years ago, there was an article in a Charleston newspaper that talked about Dr. Soriano’s expertise when it came to cardiology.

That article reported that if he’d practiced at a large hospital, which had the necessary equipment, he would’ve been one of the best cardiologists in the state.

Several of his heart patients can attest to that fact. When referred to larger facilities, other doctors were impressed by his care and diagnoses.

Having received his degree in the Dominican Republic, Dr. Soriano came to Marlinton in 1976. He went to New York to gain a year’s hospital training.

“I went to New York for a year,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to come back to Marlinton.”

And what did he do in Marlinton?

Well, he slept about three hours a night, and he tended to patients in his office at the Lois McElwee Clinic, at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, at the Denmar Hospital for the Chronically Ill until it closed in 1989 and at Pocahontas Center – which he will continue to do through the month of September.

He has also served as the county’s Health Officer since 1983.

Jessica McLaughlin is the County Health Nurse. At that department’s reception, she showed a scar on her ankle where Dr. Soriano had “stitched her up” when she was 14 years old.

It seems everyone has a “Dr. Soriano story.”

When Dr. Pedro Gonzales, who tended to OB patients, left the practice in 1981, Dr. Soriano took up that duty as well and delivered babies until 1986.

In 1986, he said, “No more babies!”

In the early days of his practice, doctors were on call 24 hours a day for the emergency room.

“Day or night,” Dr. Soriano said. “It didn’t matter.”

Even when he was not “on call,” his patients felt they could call him at home – and many of them did.

But that was okay, because, he said, one of the best things about working in a rural area is that he became a part of everyone’s family.

THE STAFF at Pocahontas County Health Department hosted a luncheon September 7 for Dr. Luis Soriano to wish him well in his retirement. In addition to his many duties and responsibilities at his clinic, PMH and Pocahontas Center, Dr. Soriano has also served as the county’s health officer since 1983. The message in the card he is holding brought tears to his eyes, he said. J. Graham photos

Dr. Soriano believes folks need to be responsible when it comes to their healthcare.

“Your brain will tell you that something is not right,” he said. “You don’t have to be too smart to know when something is different.”

When it comes to his part in healthcare, he said “experience tells you what to do.”

When people suspect something is wrong, tests will tell the story.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, tests are negative, but they have to be done,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time they will give you peace of mind. There is only one percent that is not good.”

Dr. Soriano has seen a lot of changes in the past 10 years when it comes to recordkeeping. Hand written notes have been replaced by electronic medical records.

While he credits his sisters for insisting he take two years’ of typing lessons beginning when he was 13 years old, he does feel that the amount of time required for those typed notes reduced the number of patients that could be seen in a day’s time.

So, what lies in store in the coming months and years?

He said he will “just be around, playing golf,” and continuing to work with the Marlinton Lions Club, which he joined in 1981.

“I will be home for a change,” he said. “I have work to do at home.”

POCAHONTAS MEMORIAL HOSPITAL hosted a reception last Wednesday to express the community’s appreciation for Dr. Soriano’s many years of dedicated service to his patients and the hospital. August 31 was his official retirement date, and since that time, he has spent a considerable amount of time cutting cakes.

And to be sure, you will find him at Camp Broken Antler during hunting season, and at fish camp near Thornwood.

Beginning in 1981, he fell in with a motely crew, including the late Arch Wooddell, Ernie Shaw, Dan Curry, the late Bob Keller, Roger Trusler, Delmas Barb, Bill Beckley, Ted Stewart, Dave Curry and others.

And it was at Camp Broken Antler where one of the most famous hunting accidents in the county took place.

One year, during turkey season, Dr. Soriano was accidentally shot by one of his hunting buddies.

But he said it was totally his fault. Fortunately his injuries were not serious, and, although he had a lot of “shot” in his arms, neck and torso, like a good hunter/doctor, he removed it all himself.

Even though Dr. Soriano said he leaves his work behind when he leaves the office, that might not be so. He has been known to leave “camp” the evening of the first day of hunting season to get back to his patients, or to drive until he gets a cell signal to check on a patient.

“In all the years he’s gone to camp, he had his patients on his mind,” Trusler said. “He had to go to the Scenic Highway to get a cell signal, or go to the hospital – always in a white coat, dressed professionally and always on time. On the first day of deer camp, we would have seafood, steak – a nice meal – but Doc would say, ‘Can’t stay. Gotta go to work.’ But we appreciate his dedication to the profession.”

Shaw said the hunters will be expecting Doc earlier at camp this year, since he won’t have work as an excuse.

There is a saying, “Will work for food,” but in the last few weeks it seems like Dr. Soriano “retired for cake!”

He has been the guest at least three receptions where people wanted to show their appreciation for his work
Pocahontas Center indulged him at a luncheon a couple of weeks ago.

The county health department treated him to lunch at its office, and on Wednesday, they pulled out all the stops for him at Pocahontas Memorial Hospital.

PMH CEO Barbara Lay welcomed Dr. Soriano to the reception at PMH.

“In your forty-two year career, you have helped thousands of people in this county, and had an impact on so many lives.”

Lay presented a plaque to him, which now hangs in the entrance of the hospital. Written on it are these words: “In appreciation of Dr. Luis Soriano For His Infinite Dedication to his Patients, Pocahontas Memorial Hospital and the Community 1976 – 2018. Your years of Service Have Been a True Blessing to our County.”

Pocahontas Center Administrator Jud Worth was also on hand at that reception.

Worth recalled Dr. Soriano’s years of service to Denmar, the Lois McElwee Clinic and the hospital in addition to his 35 years as staff physician at Pocahontas Center.

“Dr. Soriano has been very professional, reliable, and on the money for the twenty years I’ve worked with him,” Worth said.

Perhaps one of Dr. Soriano’s greatest gifts to the county was in what he did not give.

“Twenty years ago, Dr. Soriano was on board, pushing back on what soon became an opioid epidemic,” Worth noted.

Kyna Moore, RN, has known Dr. Soriano throughout his career in Marlinton.

“I remember when he first came to the hospital,” she said. “I could call Dr. Soriano in the middle of the night. I could call if there was a problem in the ER. I remember when he worked for free, because we had no money.

“He could deliver babies in the middle of the night and still make rounds at 7:30.

“I know what he could do. I know what he has done.”

Many families – for generations – have stories of how they have been helped and or consoled by Dr. Soriano.

I certainly have mine.

What are yours?

But Dr. Soriano’s compassion extended beyond humans.

“I remember when the vet told me my dog was going to die,” Moore said. “Dr. Soriano saved my dog’s life. That dog lived another ten years.”

Terry Wagner, RN, added her story.

“My cat went missing for a few days and came back sick,” Wagner said.  “She sat in the floor screaming. I called the vet and they said to ‘bring her in tomorrow.’ I took the cat to Dr. Soriano’s house. He got out his stethoscope and listened. ‘I think she has pneumonia,’ he said. He gave her a shot and gave me meds to take home for her, and sure enough, the cat got better.

“A few days later, there was a knock on the door. It was Dr. Soriano. He came to see how the cat was doing.”

When he spent that year in New York,  Dr. Soriano said he couldn’t wait to get back to Marlinton  – and the community has been all the better for it.

His parting words to his patients pretty much sum up his 42 years of dedication in tending to us:

“I have had the privilege of meeting many wonderful people and developing lifelong friendships. Thank you for trusting me with your healthcare needs throughout the years. It has been my pleasure caring for you. I wish you continued health and happiness.”

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