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Legacy of Dr. Robert Huebner

Sarah Gooding, Hometown Girard

 In recent weeks, the Girard community has mourned the loss of a man whose profound influence on the area’s medical community helped make Girard Medical Center what it is today.

Dr. Robert Huebner passed away Nov. 13 at Girard Medical Center at the age of 73, and will be remembered in Southeast Kansas for his dedication to surgery and saving lives.

“Dr. Huebner was a very dedicated surgeon. He was always available, whether he was on call or not,” said Dr. Adam Paoni, who worked with Huebner and practices alongside Huebner’s wife, Dr. Lisa Salvador. “He was an invaluable asset to us as the medical community/medical staff. If we needed someone in an emergency situation, whether he was on call or not, he was there.”

“He would just pop up in the ER,” said Connie Little, manager of medical records at Girard Medical Center. “He was a lifesaver.”

Huebner’s colleagues remember his unrivaled passion for surgery, his steady presence and his willingness to take on challenging procedures in order to save lives.

“His real asset for us was that he was willing to do the difficult cases,” Paoni said. “He was just very confident and his confidence was based on his experience and his skill level.”

“He was the only one in our area for many years who would do vascular surgery,” noted Joyce Geier, interim director of nurses at Girard Medical Center, with others adding that Huebner also was willing to perform many other types of surgery at Girard Medical Center and Via Christi Hospital that other surgeons wouldn’t  perform locally.

This led to many patients requesting that he be the one to perform their surgeries, according to Jerry Hanson, lab director at GMC.

“He put everyone at ease,” Hanson said. “You felt like, when he was here, everything was going to be fine.”

“I think there was an air of confidence if they found out he was going to be their consultant,” Little said.

Coworkers also said that, while Huebner had a very commanding personality, he provided those around him with a sense of comfort as he sought out opinions and then used that information to make decisions.

“He just treated everyone great,” Hanson said. “He was a pleasure to be around. He was in command, he was calm and he could make a decision.”

Hanson added that in Huebner’s profession the decisions often had to be made without a knowledge of the end results, but that he wasn’t afraid to proceed.

Colleagues noted that Huebner used the same decision-making process when it came to his own health.

Paoni said that most patients weren’t aware that Huebner had struggled with a long-term illness throughout the past decade, but that Huebner used every medical opportunity to maximize his time with his family, including his youngest son, Mason.

“He personally took a lot of surgical risks to be able to spend as much time as possible with his family,” Paoni said. “He never missed a beat as a dad. He always made sure they went fishing and on trips. He’d take him to Bears games in Chicago. They didn’t miss a thing.

“Balancing his professional responsibilities with his illness, it was amazing,” Paoni continued. “I never, once, in the entire time I knew him, ever heard him complain.”

That work-life balance also earned Huebner respect, as he strove to enjoy his family while also bettering the hospitals he worked with and raising the bar on trauma care in the region.

“Dr. Huebner contributed to Girard Medical Center’s success, mostly in ways that did not attract public notice,” said Nancy George, a Girard Medical Center trustee. “He was very supportive of the Girard Medical Center board of trustees’ strategic goal to survive as an independent organization while continuing to provide high quality medical care to our patients.”

“He was a visionary also,” said Hanson. “He instituted many new services within the community.”

Paoni said it was Huebner’s passion that both GMC and Via Christi (at that time Mt. Carmel) receive trauma center designations, and that he served on related boards and task forces until the time of his death.

Even as his extended illness took its toll, Huebner was out and about in the community celebrating healthcare.

“I last saw Dr. Huebner, when he was one of the Girard Medical Center Grand Marshals of the Girard Homecoming parade, which carried a theme of “Healthcare Heroes,” George said. “I thanked him for being a healthcare hero to my own family members and so many others in this region. We will greatly miss his commitment and contributions to keeping quality health care in Southeast Kansas.”   

Paoni said Huebner’s loss will be felt for some time to come, but that it also opens the opportunity for those who admired his work to carry it forward.

“It’s really hard for me to wake up each day and imagine Southeast Kansas medicine without him in it,” Paoni said. “He was such a big part of it for us and he was there for us and there for our patients. He genuinely cared for them.

“It’s going to be a matter of the other surgeons taking the torch and doing the same thing, which I have no doubt they will.”