Dr. Meals ending tenure at Mayo

As Dr. Sam Meals, left, has delivered his last baby at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont, Dr. Jonathan Buchholz, right, is just getting started.

Dr. Sam Meals didn’t keep track of the number of babies he delivered during his medical career — he estimates it to be upwards of 5,000 — but he remembers the first one and the last one.

“The first baby I delivered was in September 1961 during Hurricane Carla in Galveston (Texas),” he said. “I was a third-year medical student. There were six or seven Carlas born during the storm, and mine was one of them.”

His last delivery was on Aug. 30 and was for “one of the funnest couples anywhere,” he said. “This was their sixth baby, and she is, I’m sure, a fantastic mom.”

Meals has transitioned to a clinic-only role prior to his eventual retirement. He gives his age as “79 and three-quarters” but says he’s still having too much fun to retire completely.

Meals has been on the obstetrics team at Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont for 15 years, moving here after eight years in Shakopee, and in Dallas before that.

“I got to Minnesota on Nov. 1, 1995,” he said. “It was windy. It was snowing. The winter of 1995-1996 was the coldest winter on record in the 20th century in the Twin Cities area. The next winter was almost as cold and had more snow. I’ve always wondered what caused the Scandinavians, the Norwegians, the Swedes to think, ‘Oh, dis is a nice place.'”

Meals is soft-spoken, but he frequently slips a zinger into the conversation. His penchant for fun is evidenced by his neon green sneakers that match the design in his dark blue bow tie.

He plans to stay around Fairmont “for the time being” and admits he is a stereotypical golfer, “if stereotypical means lousy.”

When he does step away from medicine, it will be the culmination of more than 50 years of delivering babies.

“I’ve essentially done nothing but OB since 1967,” he said.

After Meals finished his internship, he joined the Army for a couple of years. He was told that if you have less than a year to serve, you wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam, but that wasn’t the case. When he returned from Vietnam, he didn’t have a residency lined up.

“The first thing that opened up was an OB residency so that made my decision,” he said.

He worked with a father/son OB team, a stint he truly enjoyed and which he credits with instilling his love for his specialty.

Dr. Jonathan Buccholz joined the Mayo OB to fill Meals’ slot. He delivered his first baby in Fairmont about two months ago and thinks he has delivered about 10 here since then, but he’s far from a novice in his field.

“The most I’ve ever delivered was at a small hospital in Monroe, La.,” Buchholz said. “I did 10 babies in a 12-hour shift. I was the only OB. The most I’ve ever done in a big hospital with about four or five OBs was 28 in one day, and that was chaos.”

Like Meals, Buchholz was a third-year medical student when he delivered his first baby. At that time, he had no idea what field he wanted to specialize in, but he was pretty sure it was not obstetrics.

“But the first day doing my rotation, I had a great doctor in Sioux Falls who got me really, really involved,” he said. “The first day in OR (operating room), you don’t want to mess anything up. You just want to stand there. I thought if I can get my gown and gloves on without touching anything, I’d be great.”

The doctor had other ideas and told Buchholz to do the surgery and she would help.

“Not a lot of doctors would put that much faith in you the first day, but she showed me everything about OB and got me involved,” he said. “I was terrified I was going to mess something up, but it was great.”

Buchholz said the job often entails long and erratic hours, but that doesn’t diminish his love for the job.

“If you don’t like what you do, you’ve wasted your training, but if you do like what you do, that’s how you end up with people practicing until they’re 79 years old,” he said.

He and his wife, Stephany, recently bought a house on Prairie Avenue and enjoy being in a community the size of Fairmont. He’s a native of Huron, S.D., a community very similar in size.

“I love the small town community. I’m glad I found what I was looking for,” he said. “It’s good to be back in the Midwest. You don’t really appreciate it until you move out of the Midwest.”

The couple moved here from Shreveport, La., where he did his four-year residency.

“It’s a different world down there in Louisiana,” Buchholz said. “I told my wife we’re going to an area with very sick people and lots of patients. I saw pretty much every obstetrical emergency that exists. We’d do probably 3,000 deliveries a year in the hospital.”

In 2016, there were 229 births at the Fairmont hospital, which usually has about 300 a year. The total for this year will get a bump in December.

“I’ve had two (deliveries) in the last two days, and I’ll probably have another dozen in the next two weeks,” Buchholz said.

Meals and Buchholz share an admiration for the OB staff. About a dozen nurses work in the department.

“They are good nurses and good people,” Meals said. “I’ve come to think of them as friends, not just co-workers, but good friends.

The caring attitude both Meals and Buchholz display blends with the joy they express when they talk about their job.

“When I do grocery shopping, it’s a rare thing if I don’t see some young mom pushing a cart over with her baby in it and saying, ‘See this man here? He’s the first one who ever saw you.’ That’s a good feeling,” Meals said.

“I always tell my patients I’m glad they let me be a part of their delivery,” Buchholz said. “They’re trusting you not only with their own health but with the health of their baby, which is so much more.”

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