Meet our Docs: How Dr. Wesley Hiser, the ‘Godfather of outreach,’ built Casper’s cardiac program
By Kristy Bleizeffer Jun 15, 2015
When Dr. Wesley Hiser first came to Casper in 1976, he was the only cardiologist or pulmonologist in town. He’d spend 18 hours a day at Wyoming Medical Center, then spend several hours on call. But the young doctor chose Casper because he saw potential for growth here.
In 1980, he created a model of outreach clinics still used today by specialty doctors across the state. The model brings physicians to patients in their hometowns, cutting patients’ travel for specialty care while increasing the volume of patients so hospitals can offer even more specialty services. The model is one reason Wyoming Medical Center can offer top-notch cardiac care to patients from around the region. Today, his practice has seven physicians and three mid-level providers.
On June 6, the Wyoming Medical Society named him the 2015 Wyoming Physician of the Year at its annual meeting in Jackson. He as nominated by cardiologist Dr. Nick Stamato from Gillette and Dr. Lanny Reimer of Newcastle.
“(Dr. Hiser) personally guided the modernization of intensive care in Casper and throughout Wyoming during the same time period. He taught us in Newcastle how to do intravenous thrombolysis to treat acute myocardial infarction before the procedure was available in surrounding major hospitals,” Dr. Reimer told the Wyoming Medical Society. (Read more in the medical society’s press release here.)
“Dr. Wes Hiser is an outstanding Wyoming physician and his CV speaks for itself,” Reimer said.
The Pulse recently sat down with Dr. Hiser to talk about being a combat doctor in Vietnam and pioneering cardiac care in Wyoming.
How did you become interested in medicine?
I grew up as a farm boy in Ohio. From the seventh grade on, I wanted to be a large-animal veterinarian and, for that reason, I went to Ohio State. After two years of courses, I had only one more requirement to complete the necessary prerequisites for applying to a veterinary school. One requirement also was to have three letters from active veterinarians in support. Three local veterinarians in my hometown area, upon speaking with them, said they would not do it again. They said you are called out all kinds of hours, drag around the mud and are not well compensated. The part about the mud did not bother me, but I respected the veterinarians and felt that this argued against going into the field I had chosen.
So why choose medicine after deciding against veterinary school?
I had a lot of pre-medicine friends in college and drove back and forth to home with them on several occasions. I knew very little about human medicine other than having standard vaccinations. At home, we rarely went to a physician, partly on a monetary basis. These people with whom I rode told me switching to pre-medicine would appear to be to my favor. In medical school, one of my instructors actually said to me I did not have enough medical language. Not having grown up amongst professional people, that was true. I went back to my room and, in spare time, started reading through Dorland’s dictionary. I did get about a third of the way through it. I did go to Ohio State medical school and obtain my degree there.
During your internship in Los Angeles, you went into the Army. Did you join or were you drafted?
Uncle Sam thought I should spend some time with him so I received a draft notice in early 1967. It was a time that LBJ was cranking up the war. They were taking 600 physicians, veterinarians or dentists every month from March through October of that year. After completing my internship, I was sent to Fort Sam Houston with order then to airborne school at Fort Benning and then to Fort Bragg to the 7th Special Forces.
Did you choose the Special Forces?
I had a brother who had been in the Army and came home talking about the guys that had all the best equipment jumped out of airplanes and wore the green berets. When I received my draft notice, there was a questionnaire that came with it. There were questions about where I would like to go and, of course, I put down Alaska, Japan and Germany. With the Vietnam War going on and a draftee, that was kind of a ludicrous point. However, on the back page, there was a thing about what I would like to know about the service. I answered, “Is there a role for physicians in the special forces, if so, please send me information.” The orders came in just sending me.
After being sent to the 7th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, I applied to go to special warfare course for officers. With some discussion, I was permitted to go there along with a surgeon who was a major. We both went through the special warfare course. Later, I applied to go to the Walter Reed Tropical Medicine Course for four months and was accepted. After that, I was assigned to the Institute of Research in Vietnam attached to the 5th Special Forces. I spent a tour of 13 months in Vietnam treating multiple tropical diseases and combat injuries in our striker forces. The striker forces were mercenaries of the special forces. Most of our equipment was rudimentary for this care. It is noteworthy that each of the companies in Vietnam did have their own indigenous hospitals where they support troopers.
Tell me about your Bronze Star.
I did receive the Bronze Star for service in Vietnam, but this is a service award and not a valor award. There is a V on the Bronze Star if it is for valor.
How did you come to Casper?
Initially, I was looking through many places in the west to be able to perform my capabilities in both lung and heart diseases. As time went on, I sought to do only cardiology. Initially, I did only critical care medicine until the cardiology developed.
The outreach clinic model you set up for cardiac services has served as a blueprint other specialties. Tell me a little about that model.
I did not originate that model but had seen it performing at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. Most of their clinics were in the Appalachian areas. The outreach clinics started in 1980, and we persisted through the years going to about 10 towns on a regular basis around the state. Casper is not large enough by itself to support a cardiac surgery program, so we did require more patient volume in order to have such a program. By going to the patients, we saved a number of patients per day to have to drive to Casper.
What would you consider the milestones of your 39 years in Casper?
Milestones for Casper in development of a cardiac catheterization laboratory occurring in October of 1978 with surgery starting in 1983 with a man that did not fit in well. Dr. Steplock was recruited in June of 1985. This was a major step forward in our progress.
I understand also that you raise cattle and horses?
The horses were first. We have around 30 Arabian horses now. We breed and show them. I ride rarely, but my wife, Velvet, and one of the daughters ride quite a bit.
How many children do you have?
I have six, plus a stepson. I also have three grandchildren, two of whom are in California and one in New York City.
Why did you stay in Wyoming all these years, even during the years you weren’t getting any sleep?
At one point, in the late 1970s, I did look at other places. There are things about Wyoming that make it difficult, which are the winters. I never found anything that would match all the things I find of value here. For this reason, I stayed.
What do you think about the honor bestowed up on you by the Wyoming Medical Society?
I am proud of it. I think it shows respect from my colleagues.
Are you resting now or cutting back? You know four decades is a long time.
I am working as previously. Having partners has been a real benefit. I am also still trying to complete development of my ranch lands.
Dr. Hiser is board certified in cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, internal medicine and interventional cardiology. He served in the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces, 5th Special Forces and 10th Special Forces. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star and Combat Medics Badge. He is an attending physician at Wyoming Medical Center and a consulting cardiologist at seven other Wyoming hospitals. He is founder of Wyoming Cardiopulmonary Services in Casper where he still practices.