Celebrating Dr. Heather Wellwood

By Lee-Ann Cudmore.
Registered Acupuncturist, Call/text: 902-300-5100 valleyacu.ca

It’s a Thursday around 9pm, and I am sitting around the kitchen table with Sarah and Alison Wellwood contemplating how to present this article. We are thirty-somethings (actually let’s be honest, we are in our mid-thirties), and we are friends and full-time working Mamas with a handful of kids between the three of us. We are perplexed, and the words “How did she do it?” come up a number of times. Their mother, Dr. Heather Wellwood, pulled off the glorious feat that we women often struggle with. “She focused on two very important things: her family and her work, and she did them both very well”, her daughters say.

I think it is vital to recognize, appreciate, and celebrate the contribution that people make in our community, and so I proposed the idea of an article to Sarah and Alison so that we can collectively celebrate their mother. Dr. Heather Wellwood, is modest, kind, and elegantly understated, and I am so happy to publicly recognize and thank her.

Dr. Heather Wellwood started her family practice in 1975 here in Wolfville and has remained a Family Physician in this community for the past 41 years. She practices the “old school family practice model”, which means a practice that has included: in-patient care, OR assists, house calls, nursing home care, palliative care, ER rotations, obstetrics, and clinical care. This is not a 40-hour a week job. In addition, she served as university physician at Acadia University for 25 years, 10 of which, she was the Physician Director of Student Health Services. A job she did in addition to her regular practice and above-mentioned roles.

Dr. Wellwood has recently received recognition by her colleagues as the recipient of the Rural Physician of the Year award from Doctors Nova Scotia for 2016. This recognizes her for “outstanding contribution to the health of individuals, to various community groups, and/or to non-profit organizations in rural communities of Nova Scotia.”

When asked about her legacy, as she retires this month, she responded with “My legacy, if there is one, is that I did it (her career) with a very busy “other life”. This “other life” includes her husband Bruce, and their four children Richard, Alison, Sarah, and Tyler, and grandchildren Sam, Sophie, and Ben.

As we sat around the kitchen table, her daughters paint a picture of a household with two full-time working parents and four children who were, at one time, all under the age of five. They describe their mom as very loving, supportive, giving, and self-less. She was never “too busy” for her family. We marvel at the balance and dance that must have taken place within her personal and professional lives. Some of the balance may have come from the late Mrs. Delthea (Del) O’Brien, whom they feel became part of their family.

“We had a sense of how busy our Mom was… but she consciously made a decision to put family first” her daughters say. They describe her coming home with “an ever present stack of paperwork” that she did in the mornings before the family got up. Despite her busy schedule, she drove the kids to early morning practices, came to after-school games, and made a point to always take their personal calls when she was working at the office. The remarkable way they linger on the idea that “she was present”, makes me reflect on my own interactions at home with my own kids.

I have known Sarah and Ali (Heather’s daughters) for the majority of my life. They have a beautiful dynamic as twins. They interrupt each other, they try to finish each other’s stories, and they listen intently as each describes her feelings about their mother. I have never seen them so sincere and oozing with pride. “I was always proud that she was my mother”, says Sarah. “She was always there. Ever present. We were always the centre of her attention.”   

“I cannot tell you what it has meant to practice these last seven years with my Mom”, says Alison, who is also a Family Physician. “It is such a gift in this profession to have a colleague to confide in and to use as a sounding board. Mom and I have a relationship that is void of judgement. Working together made it fun and I have savoured every minute of it. We were true partners. It may be the best thing about my career to date.”

When we talked about their mother’s legacy they describe “the thousands of relationships that she has built with her patients.” That, they feel, is her professional legacy. “These relationships weave this beautiful tapestry that is her career history.” They explain that “this is what she loves about her work as a family doctor.”  

They say that Heather is excited to have more time to spend with their Dad, Bruce playing tennis, being in the garden, going to see live music, and learning to cook “adventurously.” And of course spending time with her children and grandchildren.

Dr. Wellwood, thank you!

Photo Credit: Bruce Wellwood.
Photo Caption: Richard, Heather, Alison (R), Sarah (L) and Tyler Wellwood