He's a former West Virginia state trooper and SWAT team commander who went on to make headlines as a Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service with what in 1988 was then the biggest drug bust in U.S. history. But Dr. Norman Wood, who recently joined the staff at KVH Family Medicine - Cle Elum, says becoming a doctor "was always in the back of my mind."
Consider it a calling steeped in family tradition.
Raised in rural West Virginia, Wood came from a family that raised Angus cattle and quarter horses. His late father, Norman Wood Sr., was a former welder who became a doctor after breaking his back when a building fell in on him.
As a boy, Norm Jr. loved accompanying his father on house calls, aware even then of the special bond between a family doctor and his patients.
Wood traded in a career in law enforcement for medical school in 1993, enrolling at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. He went on to become the 15th member of his family, including three brothers, to become doctors. His oldest son Matthew is the 16th member.
In 1998 during his residency at the Ohio Valley Medical Center, Wood fell 20 feet out of a tree while working on the family farm, fracturing his pelvis in two places and breaking his left hand. Bleeding internally, Wood pulled himself to his ATV, drove to his cabin and called for help. He spent two weeks in the intensive care unit and four months convalescing. He finished his residency in a wheelchair.
The accident opened an unexpected door. Wood, who had not been wearing safety equipment when he fell - "I thought I was invincible back then," he says with a self-mocking grin - began researching and inventing fall safety equipment. Now a nationally recognized authority on suspension trauma, he holds four U.S. patents. One, inspired by the events of 9/11, is a multi-use emergency descent harness certified to a maximum descent of a thousand feet.
In the years following his residency, Wood went on to own four urgent care clinics with his now ex-wife, also a doctor. "We're still friends," says Wood who began looking to relocate out of West Virginia after their divorce in 2010.
As a Special Agent with the Customs Service, he'd considered Seattle "the most beautiful place I'd ever seen." With his mother and two sisters in the Bay area, a move to the west coast made sense. Recruited to be physician director at the Veterans Administration clinic in Bremerton, he later headed an urgent care clinic in Shoreline before coming to the Upper County.
"This area is beautiful," says Wood, who also loves the lifestyle calling it "homey, low key, low stress. You don't have the uproar of the city and it's easy to get to know people."
An avid bow hunter who also enjoys bird hunting, fishing and horseback riding, he shares the home he leases on 13 acres in the Ellensburg area with a Brittany Spaniel pup named Boo. "I love flowers, especially tulips, and I can sit for hours just reading and writing," says Wood, who is working on a book about international intrigue surrounding the 1988 drug bust.
A ready conversationalist, he's as comfortable talking about hunting and horses as he is about wellness care and why he loves family practice. "I never wanted to be a surgeon standing in one place all day," he says. "With family practice you get to know people and what's going on in their lives."
There's something else, too.
"I love babies. Babies are precious. Children are precious," he says. "I delivered 42 babies during my residency. The nurses made fun of me. I cried at every one of them. Sometimes I cried more than the fathers did. "I'm a simple person. I've got a soft heart - and I love this work."
Wood is working with Dr. Paul Schmitt as Schmitt transitions into retirement. Schmitt served the Upper County for forty years and is beloved - a legacy not lost on Wood. "Those are very big shoes to fill," he says. "It's an honor to be replacing him."