LINCOLN CITY — After months of pregnancy and hours of labor, the moment when a newborn takes the first gulp of air is pivotal and emotional for the family. Imagine witnessing this process not once or twice but thousands of times over the years.
While he didn’t keep precise count, Dr. Michael Cheek estimates that he has assisted with the delivery of around 2,800 babies during his long career as Lincoln City’s first full-time obstetrician and gynecologist, plus another 500 during medical training and two years of practice in Pacific City.
Cheek officially retired on Aug. 5, but he will continue to provide on-call coverage and surgical assistance to his colleagues at Samaritan Women’s Health Center.
“It has been my pleasure to serve our community for the past 36 years. I have had the privilege of meeting a great many people and developing lifelong friendships with many patients here in Lincoln and Tillamook counties,” he said. “I have also had the great honor of delivering the children of the babies I delivered years ago at the start of my career in Lincoln City.”
The number of “second generation” deliveries is 20. He would have to work another 10 years or so before he would begin seeing the third generation, he said.
Pondering his service to one community for nearly four decades, Cheek commented, “The great part about living in a rural community like this is helping people through some very hard times in their life, seeing the results of your work, and the connections made. I have had thousands upon thousands of patients. I may not remember all the names, but I remember their faces and their conditions.”
The difficult part of living in a rural community and having a mostly solo practice is that it requires a lot of his personal time and time away from his own family, he said.
Helping ease this burden was his wife of 44 years, Greta. Early in their married life, she worked as a registered nurse while he finished medical education and training at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, outside of Los Angeles. Three of their four children were born in California, with the youngest born at North Lincoln Hospital 30 years ago.
Now, two of their children live in the Portland area: a son who works in information technology and a daughter who is a dental hygienist. Two live in Spokane, Washington: a son who is a physical therapist and another who is a retinal surgeon. Greta and Michael’s three grandchildren, ages seven, five and two are also in Spokane.
Cheek explained that he found his way from his native San Francisco to the central Oregon Coast when the National Health Service Corps recruited him to work in the underserved community of Pacific City as payback for helping him through medical school. He did this for two years before joining other physicians in private practice at Lincoln City Medical Center in July 1983. In 2003, he stopped seeing obstetrical patients — because the insurance was cost-prohibitive and the burden of being on-call 24/7 wore him out — and began a successful cosmetics practice which served the community for 14 years.
Meanwhile, Samaritan Health Services took over operations at North Lincoln Hospital and later absorbed the Lincoln City Medical Center. When Samaritan was able to recruit other full-time OB/GYNs to serve Lincoln City, Cheek returned to delivering babies knowing that he had capable backup. This allowed him to enjoy some of his personal passions: being with his grandchildren, gardening, playing the viola, singing tenor, directing choir and traveling to places such as Ethiopia, the Amazon, New Guinea and Thailand as a medical missionary.
“Over the past four decades I have had the privilege to watch and help many families in the area grow and have shared both the heartaches and joys of life with many of you. I appreciate your loyalty throughout the years and will take the memories of all that I have experienced with me into my retirement,” he wrote to his patients when announcing his retirement.
Samaritan Women’s Health Center OB/GYN providers that are available for transition of care are Drs. Meredith Mann and Danielle King. They can be reached at 541-994-4440.
— Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital