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Peorians have it pretty darn good

by Dr. David Tennant |
Peorians have it pretty darn good

Our health care proves it, along with Peoria’s world-changing history

I came to Peoria near six years ago after completing my residency.

What was immediately obvious is that Peoria is a quality regional medical center. A lot of specialist support, a large number of hospital beds, and a children’s hospital. I’ll leave it to the marketing departments to continue singing the city’s virtues.

But good luck convincing anyone from Peoria that we’ve got it good here. That was immediately obvious, too.

Within the first few months of starting my practice, I saw a patient for dizziness. He described all the times he just had to sit down, and all the things he wanted to do but couldn’t, or was afraid to try. It sounded like a lot, but he didn’t ask me what I thought, as people usually do. Why pay to come see me?

“OK,” I said, not totally sure where I came into the equation.

“I’ve been going to Mayo’s for it,” he told me.

Mayo’s? Dizziness is a common thing. Insofar as it requires a doctor at all, it’s not the kind of thing that gets fixed in one appointment. Mayo is five and a half hours away. Gas is expensive. Getting dizzy while driving wouldn’t be great. Life is short, that’s a lot of time commuting, and a lot less time working and being productive.

Even if you were certain you needed a second opinion from an out-of-town medical center, why not Chicago, or St. Louis, or some other place half the distance or less?

Come to think of it, what doctor made that referral? Was I being hazed? Were other doctors having a go at me, the doctor nerd equivalent of a whoopie cushion in my chair?

“I went there because it’s Mayo’s,” the patient basically told me. Nobody local recommended it. He seemed to be going off a vague feeling based on Mayo’s general reputation. I may have laughed.

any story of the origin of antibiotics will feature Peoria prominently

If this were a one-time thing, I would not be writing this. It’s common enough that my laughter has been replaced by a shrug. Common enough that we all need a reminder of how much we have to offer here. It’s a lot. It has been true for decades.

Good minds can disagree on the most important medical advance of the 20th century, but any list is going to include antibiotics. And any story of the origin of antibiotics will feature Peoria prominently.

Penicillin was famously discovered by the Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming in London in the latter days of the 1920s. A left-out petri dish with an area of fungus not surrounded by bacteria, a sense of humor (his initial response was “that’s funny”), and a brilliant deduction: That’s what it took to change medicine forever.

Years of research followed, progress was made, penicillin’s clinical utility was clear, but the problem of mass production remained. It was a challenge in the best of circumstances, and England, now in the midst of World War II, was stressed. A feeler was put out to friends: Can anyone solve this problem?

Enter Peoria’s scientific community. At the Ag Lab on University Street, Dr. Andrew Moyer and his team developed a high-pressure, maize-liquor combination that allowed for rapid growth of the relevant yeast. Put plainly, they addressed the problem with corn. Lots and lots of corn. This is the single most central Illinois thing to have happened ever. There can be no disagreement on this point.

There is no counting how many lives penicillin has saved over the years. It started with the Allied soldiers who liberated Europe and Asia, and continues to this day.

There is a barrage of information detailing one flaw or another of the nation’s health care system, but it also cries out for a gentle reminder of what we have. We live in America, in the service area of a regional medical center, with resources and a rich history.

In Peoria, in 2023, we’ve got it pretty good, and have for a long time.

David Tennant

David Tennant, M.D.

is a family medicine physician at UnityPoint Health who specializes in obesity management. He lives in Trivoli.