Helen Ebert, a tiny woman with striking green eyes, beams out from beneath a crown of white hair, her face radiant and her eyes dancing. In February, she turned 99. "So the countdown is on," Ebert says, flashing a smile as she alludes to the century mark.
A widow, Ebert lives alone in a small, attractively decorated apartment in a retirement community. Pictures of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren decorate the space. So does some of her knitting and crochet work. A current project sits near her easy chair.
After moving to Ellensburg four years ago she and her late husband Wes, who died just two months short of what would have been their 73rd wedding anniversary, went looking for a doctor. At KVH Internal Medicine, one of six clinics operated by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, they found more than just a medical provider. They found people who felt like family.
Chief among them, Ebert says, is Physician Assistant Andy Schock, a man whose professional expertise is, in Ebert's eyes, matched only by the level of his personal caring. "He isn't just your doctor," she says. "You can tell he really cares about you. My husband liked him. I like him. He's been so patient with me. He's made me comfortable. He's gone out of his way to help me."
Case in point: the day she realized her left eye had "gone black. I'd lost my eyesight," says Ebert. It happened during a holiday season. Though the clinic was closing early, Schock worked her in. She was his last appointment.
"Did you drive over?" he asked after examining her. Yes, she told him. "I don't want you to drive home," he said. "So he drove me home in my car with his wife following behind in theirs because they were going to some engagement," Ebert recalls with a smile.
On another occasion, Ebert had a medical condition come up and another provider prescribed a medication. Apprehensive about what she'd heard about possible side effects, she called Schock who reassured her and later rode over to help her set up her pill box.
The personal connection Ebert feels to KVH Internal Medicine extends beyond Schock to other staff members. Ebert has knitted or crocheted items for some of their children. Last Christmas she took gifts to the women who work the front desk. "I just love everyone there," she says. "They are the nicest people."
Schock says that feeling is mutual. "This is one of those women you just have a fondness for," says Schock. "She's sweet and honest and full of joy. She doesn't complain. She's the perfect patient. I tell her if I had 300 or 400 of her that would be perfect -- but then my job would be too easy."