By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY October 11, 2005 Hers is a story of legends.
A nun who turned to teaching. A teacher who was called to medicine. A doctor who was pulled by the people who needed her most.
Dr. Katherine Seibert is all of those and more.
When the National Library of Medicine at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., opens its newest exhibit, Changing the Face of Medicine, on Friday, Seibert will become a Local Legend.
The companion exhibition features female physicians nominated by members of Congress for their contributions to their individual communities.
Seiberts nomination came from Congressman Maurice Hinchey.
Seibert, he said, embodies the highest ideals of the medical profession.
That nomination was made in 2003, Seibert recalled, but nothing ever came of it.
I thought it had died, she confessed.
The exhibit was being co-sponsored by the American Medical Womens Association, an organization Seibert never joined.
That, she assumed, had weakened her chances. And when compared with women like Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female M.D., or Virginia Apgar who developed the first test done on babies after birth, Seibert said she was at the bottom of the heap.
But she heard word just recently that her contributions to medicine in Sullivan County werent taken lightly.
The woman who created an oncology program in Sullivan County, the woman responsible for starting from scratch a program that has now achieved the highest possible accreditation with the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons, is a local legend.
For the little people like myself, theres this companion exhibit, Seibert said modestly.
But this little person admits she was the founding mother of cancer care in the region.
Shed been working as chief of oncology at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx when a recruiter came calling.
There was a hospital in upstate New York that needed her.
But with an ailing mother, Seibert was loath to make a move upstate.
I came up here and said, Oh no, its too far, she recalled. But it bothered me, because they had nobody.
Id go to bed at night and think they have nobody.
She could have gone to Sloan-Kettering or New York University Medical Center, joined well-known teams of oncologists.
But the 52-year member of the Sisters of Charity took a chance.
I said to myself, They have nothing, anything I could give would be something.
At the time, there was no oncologist in the county. Today there are two.
At the time, county residents had to travel great distances for treatment. Today chemotherapy is available right in Harris, and Catskill Regional Medical Center will soon add radiation therapy.
Seibert now lives in Liberty she said she loves the area and the people.
Shes left oncology in the capable hands of the CRMC physicians, choosing to put her talents to work at Hudson River Healthcare as a general practitioner providing healthcare to the indigent.
Shes still on the hospitals staff, still on the hospitals cancer committee. Shes teaching ethics at the New York Medical College and working for the Commission on Cancer reviewing other fledgling cancer programs around the country.
And shes still making a difference.
At Hudson River Healthcare, she puts her specialized training to work caring for people who have no health insurance and often little money to pay for healthcare.
To everything, theres a time and a season, and Im glad to be here, Seibert said. I really feel good about it at this time in my life any human being would feel good about it.
I just saw a man this morning, and I picked up a cancer in his throat, Seibert related. Theres so many people out there who dont go to the doctor because they dont have health insurance.
Its unbelievable the things were picking up, she continued. Our country has a mixed-up health system where if you have the money, we have the mercy.
But [Hudson River is] doing really good things.
Even the homeless and migrant workers can stop in the office at 60 Jefferson Street in Monticello for low-cost care and medicines.
The woman who pioneered the outreach to the countys cancer patients is now part of a new outreach to the thousands of county residents who dont have healthcare.
As a sister and as a human being, Seibert said, she realizes shes here to help people.
And shell do it any way she can.
Its better to light a candle than curse the darkness, Seibert noted. As life moves on, you should help people.
The Changing the Face of Medicine exhibit will remain open through Nov. 18. Information is also available online at www.nlm.nih.gov.