Mountain City physician driven by adventure, faith

MOUNTAIN CITY -- There are slight hints in the office of Dr. Michael Kimbro which give him away. On a bookshelf filled with the ordinary medical manuals is a well used copy of the "Wilderness Medicine Book."
   On the wall there is a large photograph of buffalo crossing a western river. Covering the rest of the walls and his desk are photographs of his two sons and his adopted 3-year-old daughter from Guatemala.
   A doctor whose undergraduate degree was in forestry and soil science, Kimbro has taken anything but the traditional path for a physician.
   "I never got into this with medicine being the whole focus of my life to the exclusion of my family and the other things which make us well balanced people," he said recently from his office inside the Johnson County Health Center.
   And for Kimbro, finding balance means following adventure.
   After graduating from medical school at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Kimbro worked for several months at a hospital in Africa inside the western border of Tanzania. There he treated nearly 200 people a day suffering from illnesses rarely seen in the United States while Kimbro himself caught malaria, a fever which often results in death.
   The realities of what he saw there taught him a lesson about life and how many of the people in the world live outside America's borders.
   "I was very idealistic when I went to Africa," he said. "People here in the U.S. don't know what poor is. It was frustrating treating people for things like worms only to see them go back into an environment where they would become sick again."
   Coming back to the United States, Kimbro went to live on a Native American reservation in Nevada where he served the Washoe Tribe for two years.
   It was an experience which is now helping him in Johnson County.
   "The problems on the reservation were very much like what we are treating here," Kimbro said of his work at the JCHC. "Diabetes, high blood pressure, drug and alcohol abuse, heart problems."
   After leaving Nevada, Kimbro came back East and worked in Damascus, Va., for a short time before another opportunity for adventure opened up for him.
   "I went to Yellowstone National Park for six years and worked in the year-round clinic. I was the only doctor there all year," he said.
   Working in Yellowstone offered some unusual experiences. During the summer months, Kimbro worked treating the huge influx of tourists and seasonal employees. In the winter -- which lasts about eight months in the park -- Kimbro sometimes worked off his snowmobile.
   "Old Faithful was 52 miles from where I lived, and I had to go there about every two weeks," he said. "So I had to snowmobile 52 miles one way, work the whole day and then snowmobile 52 miles back that evening."
   But with two growing children and family roots back in the Appalachian Mountains, Kimbro started to think it might be time to move back home after six years in Yellowstone.
   After visiting family in the area in late 2000, this physician was driving through Mountain City and saw the newly constructed JCHC. He stopped to look around and found the center was looking for a new doctor.
   "So I set up an interview and then started in January 2001," he said.
   One of the important aspects of Kimbro's decision to take the position at JCHC was his opportunity to work just three days a week.
   "We home school our children and it's important for me to be able to play a part in that," he said.
   Also during his time off from the JCHC, Kimbro works as the physician for Cherokee Park, a youth detention center for wards of the state and juvenile offenders.
   "That's the thing he does here that is really different from the rest of us," said Dr. Jim Shine, who is the center's chief of staff. "Working at Cherokee Park is a difficult position because all the kids there have been in trouble or their parents have been in trouble. That weighs on your shoulders more than somebody who is just sick."
   Kimbro said his work at Cherokee Park is much like treating a young prison population and is comprised mostly of dealing with emotional issues.
   "There's tons of it and that becomes the lion's share of the work over there," he said of the psychological services he performs at the youth center.
   As Kimbro talked about his adventures and the different paths he has chosen, he said his faith has been the guiding force throughout his life.
   "My Christian convictions drive me for all this. That's just it for me. That's what brings the joy into my life."