August 2017

Senior living resident named ‘Healthcare Hero’ for lifetime of achievements

Dr. Richard Snyder, Healthcare Hero

Dr. Richard K. Snyder summarizes his medical career with a simple statement: “The gift I received of spending most of my life being a healer is not my gift. It is a gift given to me by God. I must never forget that.”

Snyder, a resident at Luther Crest, earlier this year received a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the 2017 Lehigh Valley Business Healthcare Heroes awards, which honors individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on the quality of health care in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

Snyder’s medical career spans more than forty years. Its impetus began in his junior year at Allentown High School, when his family doctor convinced him he should study medicine.

“The thing that appealed to me about being a doctor is that I would be able to help people,” Snyder says. “It was never about money.” 

Yet family money was tight at the time, so after high-school graduation, Snyder met with the dean of Muhlenberg College. He told the dean he needed to get all the credits required to attend medical school in two-and-one-half to three years, but the dean said it couldn’t be done.

Not one to give up, Snyder approached Dean of Students Haps Benfer, who agreed to work with him. 

While attending college, Snyder worked nights and weekends on the switchboard at the Allentown Osteopathic Hospital. While he did not gain enough credits for an undergraduate degree, he did earn what was required to enter the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy. 

He and his wife, Audrey, were married shortly after that (they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary this past August). Mrs. Snyder worked and was instrumental in helping him graduate from the medical school in 1956, acquiring his Doctor of Osteopathy degree.

In 1957, after serving his internship at Allentown Osteopathic Hospital, Snyder opened a private practice in the lower level of his south Allentown split-level home. At the time, office visits were $3 and house calls were $5. He says, “If ‘Grandma’ could not pay me a few days later, she would send her best chocolate cake, and that was payment enough.” 

Snyder worked hard. As a solo practitioner, he was called out at all hours of the day and night. There were no cell phones or answering services in those early days. “The phone rang right alongside the bed,” he says.

Snyder delivered many babies and helped many individuals and families make the various transitions that occur in the period from birth to death. The practice became very busy very quickly. After a number of years and the birth of three children, his wife told him: “We need you.” 

Fortunately, the Allentown Osteopathic Hospital in 1966 was creating a new medical director/director of medical education position and offered Snyder the role. After much prayer, he accepted the position even though it resulted in a decrease in income. But his wife had reiterated, “We don’t want the money; we want you.”

Snyder was responsible for ensuring the quality of health care within the hospital and recruiting, training and mentoring new interns and staff physicians. He built up the intern program and partnered with the Philadelphia College of Osteopathy to enable third- and fourth-year medical students to expand their experience at the Allentown facility. 

Eventually, Snyder became president of the national organization known as the Academy of Osteopathic Directors of Medical Education.

“Not only were you my doctor, but you also were my friend ....”

Following the osteopathic tradition, Snyder embraced a different approach to illness, keeping in mind that inside the body with the disease was a human being with all kinds of questions and concerns. He believed it was the physician’s responsibility to see the individual as a whole person.

“I loved to teach, and one of my questions to the neophyte physicians would be ‘What diseases are most prevalent in the elderly?’ The young physicians would name diseases such as diabetes or heart failure, which I wrote on the blackboard. When they were done, I would slowly erase those words and replaced them with one word: loneliness. Then I would create an environment for us to discuss how to handle a lonely grandmother living alone in a second-floor apartment,” he says.

In the 1980s, sensing the impending change of medicine into a corporate structure, Snyder resigned his hospital position and opened a private practice again. He continued in that practice until his retirement in 1998, when he turned it over to his son-in-law, Dr. Rob Matta.  

Throughout most of his career, Snyder donated time and service to the Allentown Fire Department. At the time, EMS services didn’t exist as they do today, so the Allentown Communications Center called Snyder out for every three-plus-alarm fire and he remained on the scene providing care until the fire was extinguished.  

“I’ve seen some bad things,” Snyder says. He recalls a fire in which several children perished. Recognizing the expressions on firefighters’ faces, he confirmed their evaluation but immediately advised that the children be transported to an emergency room so that pronouncements could take place there and not in front of the crowd that had gathered. 

Similarly, he handled a tragic bus accident involving the death of children from the New York area. “I remained in the morgue until all the families had arrived to identify their deceased children,” he says, “It’s something you never forget.” 

Upon his retirement, Snyder was named the first honorary commissioner of fire in the Allentown Fire Department. 

His many accomplishments extend beyond medicine. 

Shortly after his retirement, Dr. Snyder’s oldest son—a teacher and head basketball coach at William Allen High School—asked him to develop a mentoring program for members of the high school basketball team.

The doctor traveled to Philadelphia to become certified as a trainer of mentors.  He then created a mentoring program, which when it began nearly 10 years ago was one of just a handful of such programs for high-school basketball teams across the country. In fact, the group still meets monthly in the Bistro at Luther Crest.  

Today, “Doc Snyder” (as he is lovingly called at Luther Crest) arises every morning at 4 a.m. and spends his first few hours in prayer, meditation and Bible study. He also is active in his church and spends as much time as he can with his wife, three children, and three granddaughters.

He notes that he also reads whatever he wishes—a selection that no longer includes medical texts.

Occasionally, however, Snyder reads through cards his patients gave him over the years. “The ones that still touch my heart,” he says, “are those that read, ‘Not only were you my doctor, but you also were my friend.’”

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Retired nurse, now in nursing care, recalls career as she celebrates 100th birthday

Helen Buck was just 5 or 6 when her mother was contacted by her teacher.

“I wondered if I had done something wrong, but my teacher just wanted to tell her that I was a good reader!”

And, over the next 94 or 95 years, she has remained a lover of reading. In fact, as she recounted her life experiences after having turned 100 in early June, she sat with a book on her lap.

Smiling, the Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village resident held up the hardcover, entitled Little High, by Luanne Rice.

“I just started this one,” she says. “I read whatever the librarian gives me. She knows what I like.”  Pointing to a copy of The Choice by Nicholas Sparks that lay on her bed, she notes that “I just finished that one.”

Born in Philadelphia, Helen and her family moved to Bloomsburg when she was just a child.

Just as her love for reading began at a young age, so did her desire to become a nurse.

“I knew early on that I wanted to help people. It all started when we were visiting my great aunt, who lived on a farm. My younger brother, who was only about 6 or 7 at the time, was running through the barn. He didn’t know anything about farming. He fell through a hay hole and broke his leg,” she says. “My parents sent me for the doctor and from that point on, I wanted to learn how to take care of others.”

After completing high school, she began nurse training and was immediately hired by Geisinger Hospital as a pediatric nurse. In fact, she spent much of her adult life as a Geisinger nurse.

“There was such a need for pediatric nurses that I almost always had to work overtime,” she says.

“I feel well ... and am just happy to be here!”

Her job responsibilities varied from day to day. She could administer medicines, monitor temperatures, clean wounds or help clear airways of children who accidently ingested objects.

“I gave babies their shots—DPT then MMR.” she says still remembering the acronyms for the diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus vaccines as well as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

 “Seeing entirely pediatric patients, I never knew what to expect. All in the same day I could hear ‘I don’t like you’ from one little kid I gave a shot to … to another child saying, ‘You have helped me so much. I want to give you a kiss.’”

Mrs. Buck has been an avid reader all her life.

Despite the highs and lows of her career, she says, “I never thought of nursing as being a privilege. I looked at it as my obligation.”

Equally important has been her love for family. She and her late husband, Miller Buck, had a son, Charles Raymond Buck, who died from complications of diabetes.

“Faith in God gets you through those hard times,” Mrs. Buck says today.  

Surveying the many cards she received for her recent birthday, she adds that “friends are important too. I feel blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life. They keep me going.”

In fact, she notes, “turning 100 doesn’t bother me one bit. I feel well. I guess I have a positive outlook on life. I am just happy to be here!”

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