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Dr. Duke's knowledge continues to save lives

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By The Staff

There are so many who could share their story about Dr. William Duke’s influence on their lives. I can only tell a brief overview of my story. The whole story would take hundreds of pens and miles of paper.

I came to work in Marion Sims Memorial Hospital in 1967, two weeks after graduating from nursing at USC. Although I graduated on campus in Columbia, many of my classes were at the Universtiy of South Carolina at Lancaster with Caroline Funderburk as my instructor.

Dr. Duke was one of the very first people I came to know and love. He was highly respected by all who knew him. Very quickly we developed a bond and he became a wonderful mentor for me. I don’t know what he saw in me to merit the time and energy he spent imparting a measure of his vast knowledge to me, but I have always been so very grateful to him for taking the time and interest in me to help me excel in my work.

When I had been out of school for about two or three months, Dr. Duke informed the hospital administrator that he wanted to begin a coronary care unit in our hospital.

This was a new concept in the United States hospitals to decrease the percentage of deaths from complications after a heart attack. It had only been implemented in the large hospitals in the Northeast for a few years at this time. It had been proven to reduce cardiac deaths by 30 percent in the hospital.

He was given the opportunity, and he was the one who picked the nurses to be trained for this. I was among the very first group. I was both very thrilled and scared to death at the same time.

As the learning process began, he gave up to 2 1/2 hours of his time for three days each week over a period of about 12 weeks until we had completed the basic class. He also brought equipment to the classroom for hands-on practice.

He taught us to read electrocardiograms and to recognize and treat life-threatening and death-producing cardiac arrhythmias. Before the last class had begun, I had a patient from my own community come into my unit with a heart attack. An older physician (now deceased) had admitted this man and he and I were at the bedside when suddenly the patient had a death-producing arrhythmia which we observed on his heart monitor.

The older doctor had never used that type of equipment because it was fairly new to the profession and very new to our hospital. With my new knowledge from Dr. Duke’s class, I immediately recognized the arrhythmia and took immediate action.

While explaining everything to the physician beside me, I performed the first cardiac defibrillation by a registered nurse at Marion Sims Memorial Hospital. My patient’s life was saved immediately. I felt as if I would melt down. The doctor was amazed. He called Dr. “Billy” (as he called him) right away and sung my praises to the rafters while my knees knocked together in the background. This was truly a triumphant day for me, Dr. Duke, my wonderful neighbor, and Marion Sims Hospital.

Most of all I realized, as Dr. Duke did every day that God was behind it all. That is something he nor I ever forgot during our careers; that without the Lord’s help we can do nothing. I began to see at that point and for the rest of my life how we are instruments in God’s hands when we put our fears aside and surrender to his will.

I was by Dr. Duke’s side during hundreds of other situations of the same magnitude. I continued more in-depth study with Dr. Duke as well as classes away in other cities and states by renown cardiologists until within three years Dr. Duke turned over the coronary care classes at our hospital to me.

I continued those classes for many years, and solicited Dr. Duke’s help with more specialized classes to build a critical care department which was quite impressive to the cardiologist who later joined Dr. Duke’s practice.

I, too, had experience with the lady from Charlotte described by Judy Hinson, another of my very best friends at the hospital, in her letter printed on Aug. 18, as many other firsts during Dr. Duke’s and my career of more than 30 years. I, too, am now retired and so proud to have been in his life for so many years.

Dr. Duke freely imparted his knowledge to many doctors and nurses. They, in turn, passed it on and shared his knowledge with countless hundreds. He will be missed by so many, but rest assured, he will never be forgotten.

Dorothy Gregory is Kershaw resident.