Dr. Dallas Lovelace III beams with joy when he thinks about the many patients who have been benefited from early detection of cancers through technology he helped introduce to the Orangeburg community.
He takes pride in this as he looks back over a long career in medicine, including when he first began working at the old hospital on Carolina Avenue in Orangeburg in 1972.
“I think one of the most rewarding things that any physician can have is seeing a patient that really appreciates what you do. I can talk about a lot of aspects of it, but it’s easier for me to talk about women’s breast imaging because when you do a good job and they know that you care about them, they just appreciate it. You see that and feel good about it,” Lovelace said.
He retired about two years ago from the Regional Medical Center, but you wouldn’t know that by the amount of time he still spends at the radiology department.
“I really do miss the work and I miss the people,” Lovelace said, adding that he still goes over to talk to staff members and even looks at cases involving some patients who have built a trusted relationship with him over the years and request that he observe their charts.
“I don’t interpret anymore as far as giving an official report and dictating something, and I don’t get paid for any of it. But there was someone the other day who called me and said she had a mammogram," he said.
“I’ve known her for a number of years and she said, ‘They’re calling me back. Do you mind taking a look?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t mind.’ So, again, I went over to the hospital and looked at the mammogram images and thought it didn’t look good. So one of my guys that I worked with before biopsied it and, sure enough, it was cancer,” Lovelace said.
“She went to see a surgeon in Columbia and after that I talked to her again. I enjoyed talking to her about it and explaining to her about what I thought she should do,” he said.
“And she’s called me back after that and was just so appreciative, saying, ‘Well, you know, I was really concerned. And now you’ve made me feel so much better because I think the female surgeon I have is very good, but I don’t know her and I know you.’"
It’s all about relationship building for Lovelace, something he said he particularly loves about “small-town radiology.”
“In most big centers, you look at the X-rays and CT scans and so forth and you give a report, and that’s fine. You do a good job, but in a community like this, you know so many people. I get calls. I go back in. I know all the people in the community and, whether rightly or wrongly, they think I know what I’m doing," he said.
“So they’ll call me and say, ‘Dallas, I had a CT scan and I know it’s in. I got the report, but do you mind looking at it?’ And I say, ‘No, of course I don’t,’ and I go back and do that."
Lovelace added, “When I first got here, I found a very small cancer on a gentleman’s kidney. He’s alive today because of something like that. And I’m not saying it’s anything good that I did. Anybody could have done it, but I knew him."
“And so I talked to him about it and he said, ‘Well, what would you do?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’d get it out,’ because there was some question at that time about whether something that small should be really taken out.”
Lovelace added, “When you start thinking about the people that you develop relationships with over the years, that’s what makes it so important to me to live in a community and not travel in like so many of the doctors do now.”
‘I like the smaller community’
Born in Dublin, Georgia, in 1940, the 78-year-old graduated from Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School before graduating from The Citadel and then the Medical University of South Carolina.
“I went to Madigan General Hospital up in Washington State, then I went down to Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco to do residency. During that time, I trained at places like the University of California, San Francisco and over at Oakland Children’s Hospital," he said.
“And then once I was here, I became very interested in women’s health and really enjoyed doing breast mammography and that type of thing. So I made two special trips to Sweden to train with Lazlo Tabar, who was foremost in mammography at the time,” Lovelace said.
“That was very interesting and, of course, I was the one who basically started the Breast Center at the hospital years ago … . I ended up coming here permanently in 1972. I was over at Eisenhower Medical Center in Augusta as the chairman of radiology there.”
Before deciding to come to Orangeburg to practice, Lovelace said he declined offers he received in Augusta and others from Savannah, Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston. He said he did it for a reason.
“I really wanted something where I would be part of the community and be with friends that I knew, take care of patients that I knew rather than being in a big hospital. I looked closely at Columbia, but you don't really know the people you're taking care of," he said.
“They're coming from all over, whereas in this community, you're here and you know who it is. You work with them, you play sports with them and do things in the community. I think that's why I did it. I've never regretted it. I really love that."
Lovelace said hetakes pride in having had a hand in the development and design of the radiology department at the current Regional Medical Center.
“At the old hospital over on Carolina, I was the chairman of radiology, and helped design the place that they’re working in now. It was very enjoyable to do that and to work with certain people,” he said.
He had received other offers from as far away as Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Columbia before relocating to the newly built hospital in approximately 1980.
“I had considered on two occasions possibly going somewhere else, and that was probably because of family issues and stuff like that at the time. But I like the smaller community and still do,” Lovelace said.
While he had always worked at the hospital, he also maintained and owned a private office in what is now the Advanced Diagnostic Imaging Center in The Village. He would end up selling the center, and worked for its new owners “for a few years before realizing they were not progressing with the equipment the way I thought they should as far as what we needed for breast health.”
Lovelace added, “Then I began working full time at the hospital and did not work anywhere else except the hospital. I then developed the Breast Center and helped put in the first digital equipment there."
“Digital breast imaging is big, and now you’ve probably read about digital breast tomosynthesis. That is the thing that we need right now to make sure that women get the proper treatment because those who have breasts that are somewhat dense, you really have a hard time seeing good images with those unless you have DBT,” he said.
“Jim Edinger was the first person that I brought in to practice here in 1980. He was highly sought after, and I was able to convince him of what the community could do,” Lovelace said.
He recalled when the hospital brought in its first computed tomography scanner, its first magnetic resonance imaging machine and its first positron emission tomography scanner.
“I think those are some of the accomplishments you feel good about. It’s the same thing with the Breast Center and doing digital imaging for breasts and that kind of thing,” Lovelace said.
‘It gives you a good feeling’
Lovelace said the people he has worked with over the years have been the most fulfilling part of his work.
“I’ve been a member of Rotary since 1972 or 1973, and I’m still an active member of Rotary. That’s how you build relationships in the community … . I made so many friends playing city league basketball, volleyball and softball. That’s how you get a community together,” he said, noting that helping people improve their health has also been fulfilling.
“It gives you a good feeling when you can make a good diagnosis and improve someone’s life. I’ve enjoyed what I do. So probably the most unfulfilling part about it is seeing the change in medicine over the years that has taken away from the patient-doctor relationship,” Lovelace said.
He said many physicians are now on “more of a treadmill where you have to produce.”
“And if you’re in private practice now, it’s the same way because of the restrictions by the government and on reimbursements and things like that, and especially with all the paperwork that goes on now and all the liabilities associated with it,” Lovelace said.
He said he has tried to accomplish as much as he could for the local community.
“Other than the things like bringing new modalities to our community, I’ve tried to maintain my continuing education. So I took far more continuing medical education than was ever required and continue to do that," Lovelace said. "And as I got older, we have quality assurance to make sure that you’re doing a good job. I doubled the number of cases that I was doing for that kind of thing."
Lovelace is the married father of four children. His retirement is filled with boating, hunting, skiing, going to the beach and, of course, visiting the hospital.
Smiling, he said, “That’s why I think people don’t think I’m retired, but there’s still some good friends there."