End-of-life doctor, his wife remembered
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although Dr. Bruce Foster specialized in end-of-life care, a St. Albans woman said the late doctor saved her life.
Dawna Kessler of St. Albans stood proudly in the Pavillion at Thomas Memorial Hospital Tuesday evening talking about Foster and how his attention to detail and his insistence on routine blood work led to the early detection of a disease that would have otherwise killed her.
Foster operated his family medicine practice and served as the chairman of the hospital's ethics and institutional review board. He was known for his views on end-of-life care and was a supporter of living wills and medical powers of attorney.
The group of more than 60 people gathered Tuesday evening at the hospital to remember the doctor and his wife Marlise. The two were found dead at their home in February of a murder-suicide. Marlise had worked in her husband's office until recently, when she reportedly was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
A neighbor went to check on the couple on Feb. 18 when the doctor didn't show up for work. He found Bruce and Marlise dead in their rural Cross Lanes area home.
Both were found with apparent gunshot wounds. The doctor had his arm around his wife.
Kessler was shocked when she heard the news but knew she had to attend Tuesday's memorial service. The couple moved to West Virginia from Delaware and did not have any immediate family here. But those who gathered Tuesday said the couple treated the people who they saw in their office like family.
"I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Bruce," she told the group. "I have terminal cancer and from a simple blood test, he found that and caught it early."
She said his insistence on blood work every six months caught her multiple myeloma in October 2011. After the first test, she said he called and said her blood looked "funky" and asked her to come back two days later for a second test. After that test, Kessler went to Florida to spend time with her daughter.
She was lying on a table at a spa getting a facial when Foster called again. This time to tell her he thought he knew what the problem was.
"He ruined my facial," Kessler said, earning a laugh from the others. Her voice shook as she continued to speak. "That man called me several times that day just to check on me."
Kessler said he met with her the next week when she returned and immediately began setting up appointments with other doctors. Soon, she found herself at Duke University where she underwent treatment for the normally fatal disease. She's now in remission after a stem cell transplant and is coming up on her one-year anniversary of the procedure.
She said the doctor and his wife kept in contact with her and always offered her support and prayers as she battled her illness. Once when she was feeling symptoms while shopping in Cross Lanes with her family, she called Foster. He told her to come to his house and to bring her family, that he would check her out.
"That's just the kind of man he was," she said.
Dale Eskew, a phlebotomist at Thomas, said Foster always showed his patients and his staff how much he cared about them. He choked up as he called the doctor a good teacher and friend.
Others spoke about how they would miss him and his wife, who they affectionately called Lissie. Several of the patients said they knew him from his days at Union Carbide, where he was an engineer before leaving to practice medicine.
Cathy Ramsey worked with the Fosters for more than 10 years. She said when she first started working for them she told them she was just helping out short term, but she found a home in their office.
"You couldn't ask for better people to work for," Ramsey said. "They very quickly went from our employer, to our friends, to our family. They've been through our children getting married, divorced and us becoming grandparents. They've been through it all and it just made us closer."
Ramsey said not a day has gone by that she hasn't thought about the couple.
A dinner was held at the hospital after the short service.
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at 304-348-4850 or firstname.lastname@example.org.