Tuesday, March 31, 2020

PART 1: Friends, patients, staffers share stories and tributes about Dr. Tom Coburn


Dr. Tom Coburn passed away on Saturday, leaving behind his cancer-ridden body as he entered into eternity with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Those of us who remain behind now gaze at the full measure of his life, and the tremendous legacy that he leaves behind.

In the time since the news broke, I have received numerous press releases from elected officials and politicians, all lauding Dr. Coburn, his life, and his career. A perusal of media interviews and Twitter feeds with show comments from many people in politics all remembering Coburn fondly, even though many of those same individuals fought his efforts tooth-and-nail when he was in office.

I wanted to get reactions from "real" people, folks who were medical patients during Coburn's career, friends from the community, people who worked on his congressional or campaign staffs. I received so many responses and stories, some including photos, that I'll be breaking this into two posts.

Thanks to all who sent in their stories and memories. Dr. Coburn was a truly great man who touched countless lives.


Muskogee Family Medicine, Dr. Coburn's old practice:
It is with great sadness we mark the passing of the founder of Muskogee Family Medicine, Thomas Allen Coburn, MD. Dr. Coburn began what became Muskogee Family Medicine in 1986 at the corner of 12th and Broadway in Muskogee with only three employees. In 1990 he moved the practice to its current location.

“Dr. Tom” , as we call him, pursued the practice of family medicine with a passion and was an inspiration to us all. He entered his medical career after success in his family’s optical business. A victory over melanoma inspired him to become a physician. He stated that “he wanted to give back, because he had been given to”.

His dedication to his patients was inexhaustible. Over his career he delivered some 4,000 babies and would often see over 30 patients per day in his office. After election to the US House of Representatives in 1994, he would fly to and from Washington DC every week so that he could continue to serve his patients. He maintained this schedule for the entire six year term.

Few men have better lived Jesus’ description of self-sacrifice noted in John 15:13—“No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Tom was an example to us all of a life well lived. He was a great physician because he was a great man.

Jane Treat (Broken Arrow, OK):
His generosity.

I moved from VA to Oklahoma to work to help him get elected in 2004. He was a legend. His character, courage, and conviction earned him a reputation of trust and action among DC conservatives. I moved from DC, planning to work for free (even though I had 3 paid job offers at the time) to get this citizen legislator who believed in term limits elected to the Senate.

I had worked at the RNC and on several political campaigns. I coordinated pastor breakfasts with David Barton for the RNC. I tested get out the vote strategies in MO and VA in several different campaigns. I was naively a Party (Republican) girl. Then I met Dr. Coburn. I learned quickly that the Party is not the answer. I was shocked that a man of such deep conviction and fidelity to conservative principles had a life long registered Democrat (think pro-life Reagan Democrat) as a close friend, mentor, and Congressional employee - who eventually led our Senate offices. This rocked my paradigm. Dr. Coburn was so nuanced but consistent. My fidelity began to shift away from Party affiliations, closer to the Constitution, and I became convinced that term limits were essential to change in DC. Dr. Coburn convinced me. Term limits not faithfulness to a party platform were what made Dr. Coburn so unique and effective. I had never thought or cared about term limits, but I came to see first hand working for him in the Senate and hearing his heart over and over that term limits are in fact revolutionary and effective in helping steer our country to a better place.

My world was rocked as a just out of college person to learn that the LEGENDARY Conservative Republican, who shut down committee hearings and used rules to out whit the Republican Leadership, had a Democrat policy leader in his House office and committed to running his Senate office if elected to the Senate (which turned out pretty well!). This rocked my world at the time - but I came to see the wisdom in his decisions. Definitely an out of the box type of person.

As I went around the state campaigning for him (in t-shirts with his logo), I never heard a snide comment - in fact just the opposite. People everywhere revered him. Trusted him. Dare I say loved him.

So many people organically gave and contributed to the culture and success he enjoyed. One such person was Ruth Gianta, an 80 something lady who adored Dr. Coburn. She had several of us to her home to show us video tapes of his interviews from the House days, she set a culture, shared faith in Christ, and impacted so much of what we did. She believed he was the answer to her prayers. She prayed for someone like him before he ran for Congress and she encouraged us to all be prayer warriors too.

Every Tuesday we would have a campaign volunteer night called: "Tuesday's for Tom" at the headquarters in Muskogee. The volunteers became a sort of family. Not a usual political activists but people who he had personally impacted and touched. There was a couple, that came faithfully, even though they were registered Democrats. They loved Dr. Tom because he had somehow helped the wife medically. There was a lady who he had touched by giving surgery for free because she could not afford it. A lady who told me after many nights together that the truck she drove used to be his and that she needed it to go to and from work and that he had heard of the need and gave it to her. Or the older single lady who was in the hospital with no family and she was scared so he stayed by her side all night. All. Night. Or the lady whose baby he saved during delivery. Or the firefighter who had had him as a doctor growing up and he delivered their twin boys. Story after story of people who would walk through fire for a man who did good to them.

Dr. Coburn did mini in home town hall type fundraisers. Most had small donors giving anywhere from $25 to $250. It was totally unconventional to do these but he would share his heart and answer questions. A fire was lit in the hearts of those who heart from him directly. People wanted to do all they could to help him reach the Senate and be their representative. In Atoka one day we handed out more voter registration cards, as person after person changed their party affiliation to be able to vote for Dr. Coburn. I sat with a man, a veteran, whose wife was ill and who traveled to the VA to get free treatment and collect his VA check. He talked about the high cost of gas and how he didn't know how he could get by. Later at that event the host made a pitch for everyone to reach in their pockets to give all they could. I walked around this time with donor cards. The older, veteran asked for one and carefully wrote out a check. His cursive was bumpy and he was very deliberate. He wrote the check for seventeen dollars and some change. I think it was $17.23. I immediately took off chasing down Dr. Coburn's car as he was off to another event and said, "please come meet this donor - he's given so much. Take a picture with him." And he had. He was the person Dr. Coburn carried in his heart. It was promises in homes across the state to defend and protect the Constitution that seared his heart and conscience. It was these people he never betrayed.

Usually when someone is on a high pedestal they fall and they fall hard if you give them enough time. My husband and/or I worked for Dr. Tom during the entirety of his time in office and even afterward. Our admiration and respect ended as strong as our optimism when we started, only we grew to know him as family not just as a modern day hero.

Sue Dobson, LPN (Checotah, OK):
I write you with tears in my eyes, and severe sadness in my heart, that my champion has passed.

It was my privilege to work with Dr. Coburn, at Muskogee Hospital when he started his practice.  I worked in the OR, side by side with him during C-sections, normal surgeries, and occasionally, child birth. He was the most caring, selfless, compassionate doctor I ever worked with.

Several years later, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, during a routine physical, by Dr. Coburn.   Although, I had no medical insurance at the time, he guided and made sure I received surgery, treatments, and saw me thru my cancer. This was over 20 years ago. I am still alive and well, thanks to him I have been able to see my son graduate high school, watch my grandsons being born, and watch them grow.

I also cheered for him when he went off to Washington, even though it meant losing my doctor.  He was an honest man, in  a bed of snakes.  He left his mark on many and Oklahoma was proud to call him one of ours. May he rest in peace, his faith strong and sure.  Our world is a little less, with his passing, but better for having him for the years we did.

Donna Morbitzer-Thompson:
Dr Coburn was my doctor and allergist for many years. He always gave it to you straight. I will always remember his quote, “If you don’t do anything different, nothing will change”. Such a simple true statement.

Martin Updike (Fort Gibson, OK):
Jamison, I had almost forgot about this, but it came to mind this week.   In 2006, Dr. Coburn and emerging political star Senator Barack Obama co-authored the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.   The bill passed and a signing ceremony was set at the White House.  I was on the Coburn Staff at the time and the office only had a handful of tickets and I didn’t make the cut.  I did get the job of driving Dr. Coburn to the White House.  When we pulled up right behind Obama’s car and there was a little confusion on which gate we should go in.  Eventually a secret service car pulls out on Pennsylvania Ave and has a us follow him through the correct gate.  I dropped off Dr. Coburn and I parked the car and start talking with my Obama counterpart.  After the Secret Service Officer escorted the Senators to the signing ceremony room, he comes back out and says, “What are you guys doing just standing there?  Follow me.”  He takes us right in, with no security check whatsoever, and finds us a couple of seats in the maybe 100 seat room.  I sit down and George Bush walks in a few seconds later and the short ceremony begins.  Looking back at it, the coolest part of the story is that I was in a small room in the White House with two men that would occupy the most powerful position in the world for 16 years.       

Celeste Anderson:
Dr. Tom Coburn was my family physician until he was a congressman and a senator.  I have never stopped wishing he was my physician!!!

He cared for both of my children as babies and teenagers.  There were two (2) different times when my oldest child was a baby and toddler.  One time my oldest, Tyler has been so so sick and wasn’t getting better.  Dr Coburn told me what to do that day and told me if he wasn’t better by that evening to call and I could bring him to his house. I did not end up needing to see him and got better.  This happened two different times.

Another memorable time was when my youngest son was born.  My son and me were supposed to go home that evening.  It was getting very late. Doctor arrived in my hospital room at 10:30PM just to dismiss me from the hospital so I wouldn’t have to pay for another day.  If I had not been dismissed by 11PM I would have been charged an entire new day.  You see Dr Coburn had worked in his practice all day then after work he had to go mend fence so his cattle wouldn’t get out,  There were no other patients he came to the hospital for; just me.  How do I know?  Because I asked him.

Dr Coburn was for the people and always thought of saving money for his patients.  He had money because he earned it but looked after those with less!

He was also a man of God and loved people!  He was for the people even in government!!!

You are in a better place Tom Coburn!!!

Terry Hackworth (Fort Gibson):
My wife and I struggled to have children. Several miscarriages, pregnancy problems and specialists dominated our lives for years. Then in January of 1995 Dr. Tom Coburn delivered our first baby at 1:42am. We named him Hunter.  Dr. Tom had previously informed us that he was going to be running for Congress but that he would do everything possible to deliver our baby. He kept his word! Not only did he deliver our firstborn and several other babies that night-he stayed at the hospital until 5:00 am.  I remember talking to him in the nursery when he told me he was going to have to leave.  He commented that he had to be in Tulsa to catch a flight to D.C. because at 10:00am he was going to be inaugurated into Congress. Dr. Tom over the next five years would deliver our other two children. In 1997 he delivered Hayden and in 2000 he delivered Hannah. I am forever thankful for this Godly man and for the family that I have.  Here is one of my last family pics while visiting with our firstborn and his precious wife Hannah Jane. Rest In Peace Dr. Tom.

Angela Beck (Broken Arrow, OK):
He delivered my son and helped me through my struggles and even offered to help me find an adoptive family but instead of doing that I chose to keep him and Dr. Coburn was there for me every step of the way. No more pain, but much deserved rest now. You will be missed. 

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