Cardiologist Roger Evans never was interested in becoming a pilot, but once he did in 1977, he discovered it could help him in his career.
Evans, who is with Cypress Heart, spends more than half of his week flying among almost a dozen clinics around the state.
When did you realize you wanted to go into medicine?
“When I was a high school student, I had an unusual infection in my mouth called trench mouth. It was because I was working long hours in high school. … That was basically my life. …And I got run down.
“I saw two doctors. … One was a new graduate who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, and then I saw the old, grumpy family doctor of ours, and he knew right away what I had. I said, ‘I want to be able to help people like he helped me. I want to be able to see what’s wrong and help people get better.’ ”
Why did you decide to specialize in cardiology?
“That’s even more interesting. When I was a medicine resident, about halfway through my medicine training, I was in … a cardiology clinic, and I saw this 16-year-old boy who was overweight, and he had been told he had a murmur, and it scared him. And he decided he was going to do nothing but sit, and so he got out of shape really bad, and so he came to see us in the clinic to see what we could do to help him.”
And you determined he was perfectly fine except for an innocent murmur?
“We convinced him, and then I said, ‘I think I should go into cardiology so people aren’t misled about how healthy they really can be.’ … We need to get them motivated.”
When did you decide you wanted to become a pilot?
“Actually, I get motion sick in cars and ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds, and my wife one spring went out on a ride in a small Piper Cub with a friend … and she came back home and said, ‘I’m going to learn how to fly,’ and I said, ‘Go ahead. I’m not interested.’ ”
But you changed your mind when you realized she was serious?
“I thought I better learn also just to protect myself.”
When did you decide to combine medicine and aviation?
“I was up in Wisconsin, and the roads there are not straight. It takes a long time to come to a doctor. A 20-minute flight covers … probably about two hours of driving. I realized it would save patients the trouble of spending so long on the road driving in. … So I decided to go to them.”
Isn’t that costly?
“No, not if you’re seeing, like, a dozen patients in a morning. It broke even. It was cost effective.”
How is it part of your job now?
“Probably three days a week I fly out somewhere in Kansas to see people.”
What does that mean for your practice?
“Several things. One, it fulfills my desire to serve patients, and secondly, it saves patients time on the road. Third, for patients who are frightened of going to see the doctor about their heart, we can break the ice and go see them, do tests locally in their own hospital, and then if they need to come to Wichita, they’ve already had a chance to discuss the whole thing, and they know … who I am when they come to Wichita.”
What would you say to people who are afraid to see a cardiologist – or any doctor?
“If you think you have something wrong, remember what (President Franklin Roosevelt) said. ‘The greatest thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Maybe it’s not bad. Maybe something can be done early. Solve the problem before it gets worse. It’s human nature to think the very worst about what might happen.”
What kind of plane do you fly?
“It’s a Cessna turboprop. … So I’m using something that was made in Kansas that I can use to serve Kansans.”
Why is it important to you to serve anybody?
“That’s my goal in life. My mantra. I try not to get a lot of notoriety or anything like that. I don’t want it.”
Anything left you hope to accomplish in your career?
“When I finished high school, I wanted to be three things: A captain in the Army. I was a lieutenant colonel. … A doctor and a missionary. And I’ve gone on a number of mission trips. Many, many physicians in Wichita do that.”
What was your most interesting trip?
“I would say it would be Africa. When I was there, there was a girl who had a congenital heart defect. She needed surgery. We arranged for her to come to Wichita to stay with us.
“She’s done really well. It’s been 25 years. She writes every year. Tells us what’s going on in Africa.”
What’s one thing few people know about you?
“I’m afraid of heights. … I wouldn’t say paranoid afraid. I just always have been concerned about being high, like on a tall building.
“If I were to have to change a light bulb ... 10-foot off the ground, I would probably tie the ladder to the pole and park my car at the bottom … of that ladder so I wouldn’t slip.
“But in an airplane, there are no lines … that connect you to the ground, so I’m not afraid of heights in an airplane.”