Russell Dohner, a beloved local doctor in a tiny Illinois town who garnered national attention for charging $5 per medical visit until he retired at the age of 88 in November 2013, died Friday morning at the age of 90, the Journal-Courier reported. He died peacefully and in his sleep, a local CBS station reported.
In an age of notoriously and sometimes unpredictably expensive medical care, Dohner was an anomaly, a family physician who steadfastly adhered to his principles and eschewed the bureaucracy and rigid protocols that have become synonymous with modern medicine. His office did not take appointments. Instead, Dohner saw patients on a first-come, first-served basis. Medical records consisted of notes on index cards collected in filing cabinets, the Associated Press reported in a profile of Dohner in 2012.
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"I always just wanted to be a doctor to help people with their medical problems and that's all it's for," Dohner told the Associated Press. "It was never intended to make a lot of money."
Dohner was born in 1925, the Journal-Courier reported, and he grew up on a farm in a small town in Illinois not far from the town of Rushville, population 3,100, where he would eventually spend his medical career. He served in the U.S. Army in World War II and later attended medical school at Northwestern University in Illinois. Then, he headed back toward home, for what was supposed to be a temporary stint at a medical practice in Rushville. He never left.
"He's going to be dearly missed, not just in town but the three- or four-county area around the town, you know, because people come from all over just to him," Robert Utter, an emergency medical technician who had been Dohner's patient since childhood, told the AP in 2012, a year before Dohner retired.
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When he first began seeing patients in 1955, Dohner charged $2 per visit, a fee he reluctantly raised to $5 in the 1970s.
During the nearly six decades he practiced medicine, Dohner delivered an estimated 4,000 babies. He made house calls and saw patients seven days a week, taking them on even if they couldn't afford to pay the $5 fee, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2013.
"He's the closest thing we have to a saint," Tim Ward, the director of the foundation for Culbertson Memorial Hospital in Rushville, told the Chicago Tribune when Dohner retired. "He has dedicated his life to healing and medicine."