PORTAGE, MI â€”Â After Â 38 years of work as a pediatrician, on his last half-day of seeing patients Dr. Allan LaReau took the luck of the draw â€” and ended up with one of the dozen patients on his docket being a child whose mother had once been one of his patients, too.
“It’s like coming full circle,” he said Tuesday, during a brief office break. “I’m Â trying to savor the moment.”
LaReau’s day ended early to allow him time to go home, pick up his wife, and head to a reception in his honor hosted by Bronson Methodist Hospital.
“Dr. LaReau’s involvement in the Bronson Children’s Hospital as a medical director (for about 10 years, beginning in 1993) has made an impact on all children in our community,” said Linda Hutchinson,
director of practice operations. “He has touched the lives of many pediatric patients over the years providing them with the best care possible.”
Sarah Ridge, 11, was one of them, in attendance at the reception with her mother, Kylee Ridge. Her twin sister, Sophie, was out of town and unable to attend. Her girls, especially Sarah, are “major Dr. LaReau fans,” Kylee Ridge said. He has cared for them since infancy, and has coordinated the various specialist care Sarah requires for multiple health issues, she said.Â
“‘He takes his time, answers all of our questions, and has gone above and beyond to keep us in the loop” with the many doctors caring for Sarah, she said. She teared up at the farewell gathering, and noted that she was not alone among the colleagues and parents and kids who shed tears.
“I can’t even put into words how special it has been for him to take care of our girls,” she said.
LaReau came to practice pediatrics in the Kalamazoo area on July 11, 1977, after undergraduate education at the University of Notre Dame, medical school at Indiana University and a residency in pediatrics at the University of Michigan. Until 1993, he worked in private practice with four other pediatricians before merging with Bronson Rambling Road Pediatrics.
Children’s health has changed during those years. “The buzzword is changing morbidities,” he said.
In the 1970s, infectious diseases were a larger threat to children than they are now that so many are preventable by vaccine, he said. He is a strong advocate for vaccination, and his office was one of the first in Kalamazoo County to require that parents agree to vaccinate their children or seek another practice.
These days, challenges include lifestyle issues such as screen time, nutrition and family stresses having an impact on the children he sees. His healthy nutrition efforts are well known, he said, with a family friend’s child recentlyÂ asking: “When Dr. Al retires, can we drink juice again?”
He tries to encourage parents to strictly limit their children’s screen time, too â€“ none at all for babies, and no more than an hour a day for older children, a bar he knows he sets very high.
“I think (electronic media) has had a huge impact, almost all negative, on kids,” he said. “Attention span, mood and adolescent social development have all suffered from too much time on electronic media.”
“I’m sure I will have a reputation for being the bad guy” who puts the kibosh on sugary drinks and video games, he said.
He devotes time to the positive influences on children, too. Childhood literacy and the need for children to experience playtime outdoors are two current passions, he said. Every year since 1998, LaReau has read to children in the annual Ready to ReadÂ Â Stand for ChildrenÂ Day celebrating the importance of early reading to children.Â
“I always read Shades of People,” a collection of photographs of children with a message of diversity that his own grandchildren now enjoy.
He is also an avid supporter of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources “No Child Left Indoors” program. He and his wife plan to stay in the Kalamazoo area, and he hopes to Â devote more time in retirement to such causes.
He may work a little part time, too, perhaps in the newborn nursery or the after-hours clinic. And he plans to spend time with his four grandchildren, and the fifth due later this year.
He has another little project in mindâ€”compiling the box full of notes, pictures, and cards from parents that he has saved over the years into a scrapbook of memories.
“In middle of my career, when I was going to work every day, at times I would wonder if should have chosen a specialty with a little more drama,”LaReau said. “But the last few months I have done a lot of reflecting, and I really deeply appreciate my relationship with families and kids.”
Those strong, deep relationships built over timeâ€”even generations– are what really make pediatrics so rewarding, he said. “I feel very thankful, very blessed. Kalamazoo has been a terrific community.”