Reunion shows doctor, patients had lasting impactApril 18, 2019
By ALLEN LAMAN
JASPER — Some dates we never forget. Michael Leibering will always remember Feb. 5, 1996.
Thinking he’d contracted mononucleosis, his parents brought him to a family doctor, who directed the then-16-year-old boy to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. After a speedy trip to the state capital, Leibering’s diagnosis was revealed to be much worse than expected.
It was there that doctors discovered he was living with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. And it was on that early February day, one that would forever change his life, that Leibering met Dr. Arthur Provisor.
After only a few conversations, Provisor — who is known for his keen sense of humor — entered a room occupied by Leibering and the boy’s mother to deliver the results of an MRI scan that would essentially reveal the treatability of his leukemia.
“He come into the room after the MRI, and says, ‘We have some unfortunate news about Mike’s MRI,’” Leibering recalled of a quip that caused his mom to melt in her chair. “He goes, ‘Mike has no brain in his head.’”
Funny moments like these are how many of Provisor’s former patients remember the now semi-retired pediatric hematologist and oncologist. They are also why Leibering refers to him as the Patch Adams who practiced long before the Robin Williams film hit the big screen.
Tuesday evening, Provisor spoke at the Dubois County Leukemia Association’s annual meeting — of which about 30 people attended — on the topic of the evolution of childhood cancer treatment. He estimated he treated approximately 20 Dubois County children over the years. A handful of them, all of whom beat the disease into remission under his watch, came to the Schnitzelbank Restaurant meeting room he visited Tuesday for an emotional reunion with the miracle-performing jokester who saved them.
“He reminded me to laugh,” Leibering, who lives in Huntingburg, said of the doctor’s impact on his life. “No matter how bad it gets, there’s always something funny somewhere. Just laugh.”
Provisor looked at his former patients’ faces and instantly recalled their stories. He spewed out old nicknames. Asked about their families. Smiled when he heard how full their lives had become.
For all the pranks he pulled, he also made an effort to be upfront and honest with his patients about their conditions. Nothing was ever hidden, he said, and the kids were told everything about leukemia in terms they could understand.
Tuesday, he shared statistics that showed approximately 15,300 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, equating to about 42 per day. While this number has improved significantly since Provisor’s career began in the 1960s, 12% of newly-diagnosed kids still do not survive the affliction, and 60% of those who enter remission are plagued with side effects such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.
Currently, there are approximately 375,000 adult survivors of children’s cancer in the United States.
Ashley Blessinger of Huntingburg met Provisor when she was diagnosed with leukemia — a cancerous blood and bone marrow disease — at the age of 4 in 1983. The last time she’d seen her former doctor was in 2002 at her wedding ceremony. Knowing that he remembers and still cares for her and all his former patients is a special feeling for her.
“For him to take the time to fly up here says a lot about him,” she said. “We’re not just a number to him. We’re not just another kid that he helped. We left a lasting impression on him as well.”
Provisor now practices at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia. He previously worked at Riley Hospital for Children and Methodist Hospital, both in Indianapolis.
He joked that he could have made more money through other avenues in the medical field. But he has no regrets regarding his professional path.
“If I had to do it all over again, this is just what I would do,” he said.
His former patients are forever grateful for that.
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