Tom and Cathern Borne don’t get around much.
The Arthurdale couple aren’t exactly spring chickens anymore. He’s 96. She’s in her 80s. Both are plagued by a host of health problems—Tom more so than his wife.
For elderly folks like the Bornes, who live in more rural pockets of the state, having access to quality healthcare can pose quite the challenge.
Luckily for the Bornes, they can stay put and health care comes to them.
Dr. Cynthia Clarkson makes house calls to the couple’s quaint, beige home. Yes, house calls. Just like in the old days.
The doctor and the couple wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It’s so hard for us to get somebody to come over to take us out,” said Cathern, as Clarkson and her colleague Carolyn Trickett check Tom Borne’s blood pressure. “I’m unable to drive, so it’s very rough.
“But this is fantastic. Cynthia is fantastic.”
Clarkson moves on to question Tom about how he’s been feeling as he relaxes in his recliner chair. He has been experiencing pain. “Which side does it hurt on?” the doctor asks.
Not satisfied with Tom’s answer, Clarkson keeps asking before finally giving up and playfully telling him, “Are you messing with me?”
Clarkson makes regular visits to the Borne household to draw blood, check on their medicines, and to simply catch up on each others’ lives.
When she walks through the front door, they hug. When she leaves, they hug.
It’s a kind of service you wouldn’t get from popping into an urgent care facility, emergency room, or an urban doctor’s office.
“Why would anyone miss out on an opportunity like that?” Clarkson says after leaving the Borne home. “He’s a hospice patient, and she’s frail. So I go to them. Plus, in a person’s home, you get a sense for their values, and what can impact their health. That’s very important.”
Values. That’s certainly a recurring theme in Cynthia Clarkson’s life. She, too, is a product of rural Preston County. She knows the community, its people, its needs, its feelings.
Born in Tunnelton, Clarkson graduated from high school in 1983 and then went to WVU to earn her nursing degree. She returned to Preston County to put her degree to use, but eventually, she felt she could make a bigger impact in her community.
She was 35, married, and with two sons. Most people in that position would never think, ‘Hey, I should go to medical school right now and become a doctor.’
Clarkson did just that.
She’d drive 45 minutes to Morgantown every morning for classes and return home at around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. to meet up with family at her children’s ball practices or other school functions.
You could often spot her at the top of the bleachers studying.
“You can only pull it off if you have strong family support,” Clarkson said. “My parents helped with our sons, and my husband was very supportive. On weekends, we’d all sit at the dining room table and study together. My accomplishment was really our accomplishment.
“I’ll never forget the first time a teacher sent a note home asking my husband to join them on a school trip. I was almost offended (laughing). That was supposed to be my job, but realistically I couldn’t do it.”
Clarkson finished her residency in 2008. Shortly thereafter, WVU Healthcare Chairman of Medicine Dr. Jim Brick and WVU Hospitals President Bruce McClymonds presented her an opportunity she couldn’t turn down. The men voiced an interest in keeping Clarkson affiliated with WVU and considered opening a clinic in Preston County.
Now 48, Clarkson has since spent much of her time as a primary care physician at WVU Healthcare’s Preston County Pediatric and Internal Medicine in Reedsville.
It’s exactly the type of environment she envisioned herself in—still in her community, helping out her fellow Preston County neighbors.
“Rural healthcare can be a real issue,” she said. “Patients have transportation problems, especially with West Virginia’s geography. It’s important that we go to our patients, not just for home visits, but to be visible in the community.”
“I figured I’d be working in a hospital somewhere, but here I feel like I have the best job in the world. I have the best job WVU has to offer.’”
Clarkson and fellow doctor, Melinda Cooper, see patients at the clinic Monday through Friday and are on call 24 hours a day. The clinic strives to see patients the same day and not make them wait more than 20 minutes in the waiting area, which is decked out in gold and blue with even a WVU fish tank.
She usually reserves Friday afternoons for home visits.
Even as a little girl, Clarkson dreamed of becoming a doctor. She didn’t dream about the big city. She wanted to provide healthcare in Preston County, and to make the occasional house call.
“I wanted to be an old-fashioned doctor,” she said. “I have old-fashioned values about healthcare and home visits. I treat patients like I would treat my family. One day, when my parents are older, I’d want people to treat them like family.
“Sometimes they just need a shoulder to cry on. If our patients know we love them unconditionally, we can make them better without medicine.”—Dr. Cynthia Clarkson
“There are no people like rural people. It’s not uncommon for someone to pull up to my office with vegetables in the back of their pickup truck to give me as a token of appreciation. I’ll come in and there will be a bag of corn on my desk. One of my patients has honeybees, so he brings me jars of honey. Another brings walnuts that he has shelled for my Christmas baking. That’s their way of saying, ‘Thank you for being here.’”
But Clarkson won’t necessarily run to your house if you have the sniffles. Patients must meet certain criteria before she’ll consider traveling to their home to treat them.
“After someone is established here and if it’s an inconvenience for them to get here, I’ll go to them,” she said. “Sometimes people just can’t get out. We do it mostly for the elderly.”
The home visits provide that sliver of rural healthcare and community outreach that Clarkson has always held close to her heart. After all, it takes more than just a pill to lift someone up.
“Sometimes they just need a shoulder to cry on,” she said. “If our patients know we love them unconditionally, we can make them better without medicine. To build a personal connection with the patients—from asking about their family or their job—is part of my job.”
Clarkson’s oldest son, Mackenzie, may now be following in her footsteps. He’s a third-year medical student at WVU. Her youngest son, Alexander, is a third-year engineering student.
They know they can accomplish anything in life, just by looking at their mother. But Clarkson insists she couldn’t have reached her goal without the help of her sons and her husband.
“You have to handle your life so that you don’t close doors behind you,” she said. “We can always change our minds about what we do. I’m not finished learning.”