At WestSound Home & Garden, we frequently hear about people doing interesting community work. When the idea was presented to highlight local physicians who do work worthy of praise in and out of their communities, we immediately gave it the thumbs up. Although doctors are expected to reach out by the nature of their profession, many are going above and beyond the call of duty.
We asked our readers to nominate physicians who are doing good works behind the scenes and should be in the spotlight. The result is “Doctors Making A Difference,” and we are proud to present the stories of local doctors who’ve impacted others in different ways.
Dr. Sheila Lally is a general surgeon who has been in solo practice in Poulsbo for almost 20 years. She specializes in breast cancer surgery, outpatient surgery and gastrointestinal endoscopy. As a co-founder of the Peninsula Breast Center, she helped bring a multidisciplinary approach to breast cancer treatment in Kitsap County.
Lally became interested in medicine while pursuing a degree in biology and environmental studies and working during summers as a certified mountaineering guide in the Rocky Mountains.
“As I was finishing up college, I became more and more interested in physiology, especially in emergency medicine,” she says.
Lally enjoyed providing emergency care but she became attracted to general surgery because it gave her the opportunity to build a stronger rapport with the patients. As her two children became older, she decided to switch to outpatient surgery so she could have a more structured schedule.
Treating breast cancer is especially a passion for Dr. Lally. She watched her sister struggle through the diagnosis and she felt she could offer women more support to help them get through those emotional times. That was one of the drivers behind the Peninsula Breast Center and its wellness program, Survive and Thrive.
“The Breast Center is fantastic because we can review the patients’ records with a panel of experts. They can see several specialists in one afternoon and leave with the knowledge (of their diagnosis) — they’re not left with wondering and worry,” she says.
Lally, who has climbed Mount Rainier and Mount McKinley and is an avid runner, wanted to share both her compassion and her passion for fitness with breast cancer survivors. The Survive and Thrive program helps women get back to a normal life and provides professional and peer support to help them be successful in that transition physically and emotionally.
The program is a labor of love — all the coordinators are volunteers — and Lally says she’s excited to see it grow. “We want to spawn it to other areas of the peninsula so it’s more accessible and available,” she says.
For Lally, the best part of being a physician is the interaction with patients and her professional peers. She loves being able to live in a beautiful location and balance a satisfying career with being a mother to two boys. She also tries to find time for watercolor paintings — she recently finished an online diploma course in botanical painting through the Society of Botanical Artists in London.
Dr. John Olsson has been in solo practice in Key Center since 1985, serving as the only dentist on the Key Peninsula.
He decided to be a dentist before his freshman year in high school. “My father believed you should start making plans before high school,” he says.
While serving in the Army, Olsson was stationed in a small town that had only a few dentists. He became involved in the community, helping create a preventive program in the local schools.
“I loved it that everyone knew me,” he says. When he was ready to start his own practice after the Army, he looked around for a place that had the feeling of a small community but wasn’t too far from a big city — and found it on the Key Peninsula.
Olsson has thousands of patients of all ages and from all backgrounds, from brush pickers to investors. He keeps his prices affordable since half of the patients don’t have insurance, and he’s even known to barter for services.
The practice has six chairs — an unusual number for a small office — and three dental hygienists.
“My practice goals are around optimal health. My goals are to get my patients so healthy that all we have to do is clean their teeth every six months,” he says.
The best part of his job is working with people, Olsson says. “I love my role. You have people who are fearful and you get to help them through it,” he says.
Olsson credits his faith in God for all he does. “My faith drives who I am,” he says. He has a full family life, with seven children and five grandchildren. Three of his children were adopted from a Russian orphanage, and Olsson has been active in the adoption community for 14 years. He’s also sponsored adoption events and has been involved with different churches.
Olsson’s office plays a major part every year during Key Peninsula’s Christmas tree lighting celebration. The practice donates the use of space at KC Corral and decorates the area for the festivities, getting it ready for Santa’s arrival.
Being the only dentist in an area with about 18,000 residents keeps him quite busy, and Olsson doesn’t see himself retiring any time soon. He hopes to find a second dentist, however, so he could slow down a bit. He says he couldn’t do his job without his staff.
“We have fun here,” he says. “I have a wonderful group of people and I love working with them.”
Dr. Dale Holdren has been in practice for 20 years. As an ophthalmologist with Kitsap Eye Physicians, he has an emphasis in cataract surgery. And he’s used his specialty not only to treat his patients in Port Orchard and Bremerton but also to provide medical care for impoverished people in other countries.
Holdren pursued an interest in biology and physiology in undergraduate and graduate school. While studying at the University of Washington for a master’s degree in bioengineering, he became interested in being a doctor and wanted a specialty where he could both have contact with patients and pursue his interest in the technical side of medicine. Ophthalmology fit the bill.
“I like talking with patients and knowing I’m helping them and making a big difference in their lives,” Holdren says. “It’s very enjoyable. And I still get to do technical work in the operating room.”
He has volunteered his time on several mission trips to the Dominican Republic with the Silverdale-based Children of the Nations, and has also served in Haiti and a youth clinic in Seattle. Closer to home, he’s the president-elect for Bremerton Rotary and has served as the president of WestSound FC Premier Youth Soccer Club.
During his four trips to the Dominican Republic, Holdren performed surgery and removal of scar tissue on cornea. Working in conditions that had unreliable electricity and limited equipment, the physicians had to treat patients with much more advanced cases than they typically see back home.
“You have much more impact on the people and families there,” he says. “We go for about a week and do as many surgeries as we can. It’s exhausting but very rewarding.”
As the president of WestSound FC for four years, Holdren had a full schedule helping manage daily operations, leading the board and looking for ways to consolidate resources with other clubs so the program runs more efficiently.
“Both of my kids played in the club so it got me involved,” says Holdren, whose youngest daughter is a high school senior.
The club is working on raising funds for turf fields at Pendergast Park. Although Holdren’s term as president ended recently, he continues to lead the fundraising committee.
Dr. Holdren may not have a lot of spare time on his hands but when he does, he likes to spend it with the family as well as gardening and kayaking.