Dr. Elmer Teofilo Vega came from humble beginnings in South America. But a drive he possessed from his youth led him to become not only a successful physician, but also an important figure in the history of medicine in Huntington.
Dr. Vega was born Feb. 9, 1928, in Bolivia. His parents realized he was gifted and sent him to a boarding school, where he received the best grades in his class. Dr. Vega earned a dental degree concurrently with his medical degree in 1957 from Universidad Mayor de San Simón in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Following completion of a family practice residency in the United States, an obstacle arose with his visa application. This led his wife, Mary, and three young children, to relocate to Canada. There he discovered anesthesiology, completing a residency in the discipline at McGill University in Montreal.
Upon coming to Huntington after being contacted about a position, Dr. Vega fell in love with the city’s brick streets and Marshall University. Motivated to help the area, Vega became Huntington’s first board-certified anesthesiologist.
Dr. Vega helped establish the first anesthesia group in Huntington and would later form Huntington Anesthesia Group, Inc. He performed the region’s first epidural anesthetic and helped pioneer St. Mary’s open heart surgery program, the first — and at the time only — program of its kind in Huntington. At St. Mary’s, he served faithfully as chief of the anesthesia department for 25 years. Dr. Vega was also instrumental in founding Marshall’s medical school. Education was extremely important to him, and he enjoyed training medical students and residents in anesthesia.
Known for his calming influence in the operating room, Dr. Vega was well-respected for not only his skill, but also his work ethic, high morals and compassion for his patients. He is still remembered for always taking time for people. Dr. Vega led by serving, believing that if he jumped in to help, others would follow. Dr. Vega’s dedication was to his faith first, his family second and then his profession. He never took credit for his success, always attributing it to God.
After his retirement, Dr. Vega spent the next decade making trips to his native Bolivia to provide free health care for families in his hometown.
Dr. Vega and Mary, his wife of 59 years, had three children — Mary Elizabeth, Michael and Magaly — and 14 grandchildren. Vega went to be with his Lord Jesus Christ June 16, 2016.
St. Mary’s Medical Center is proud to induct Dr. Elmer Teofilo Vega into our Wall of Fame.
Summarizing the life of William J. Echols, MD, is a fairly difficult task, as he was truly larger than life, always having a story to tell. His own story is one of great success as a cardiologist and as a pioneer in the Huntington medical community, making several important contributions that are still shaping Tri-State health care today.
Dr. Echols was born March 3, 1938, in Richwood, W.Va. He graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan College in 1960 with a double major in biology and chemistry, and in 1964, he earned his medical degree from West Virginia Wesleyan Medical School, making him the third generation in his family to become a physician. After post-graduate studies at the University of Iowa and the Mayo Clinic, Echols served his country as a captain in the United States Air Force as a base physician in Selma, Ala.
In 1970, Echols came to Huntington to join a practice with Dr. Herbert “Pete” Proctor and Dr. Zeb Burton. Dr. Proctor, who was also a physician for the Marshall University football team, died Nov, 14, 1970, in the Marshall plane crash. Dr. Echols himself was supposed to be on the plane, but did not make the trip to East Carolina. After Dr. Proctor’s death, Dr. Echols and Dr. Burton joined six other Huntington physicians to form Huntington Internal Medicine Group (HIMG).
Dr. Echols provided many firsts for cardiology in Huntington. He started the cardiac rehabilitation programs at the Huntington YMCA, St. Mary’s Hospital, and Cabell Huntington Hospital. Dr. Echols also developed the echocardiology, vascular duplex studies, and nuclear cardiology programs at HIMG and St. Mary’s. He also cared for the Pallottine Missionary Sisters at their infirmary at St. Mary’s and was very active with the Marshall University School of Medicine.
Having a true passion for his job, Dr. Echols never viewed his work as a chore. Patients recall him always having a smile on his face, as he loved helping people. Having seemingly boundless energy, Dr. Echols was almost always on the move, but if he was sitting still, he was reading. Continuous learning was extremely important to him, as evidenced through his philosophy group studies. Dr. Echols also loved to travel, taking his beloved wife of 56 years, Nancy Williams Echols, all over the world.
Though he was not born in Huntington, it truly became home for Dr. Echols and his family. He supported many organizations in the community, including the Huntington YMCA, the Huntington Museum of Art, and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Echols was also a member of Guyan Golf and Country Club, where he loved to play golf.
Dr. Echols and Nancy had three daughters: Elizabeth, Virginia, and Sandra, who was inspired by her father to become a fourth-generation physician. Echols passed away June 27, 2016.
St. Mary’s Medical Center is proud to induct William J. Echols, MD, into our Wall of Fame.
With more than 62 years of service as a Pallottine Missionary Sister and almost 60 years at St. Mary’s Medical Center, Sister Diane Bushee, S.A.C., has inspired and mentored thousands of St. Mary’s employees, students, and community members. Over the years at St. Mary’s she has served in a number of leadership roles helping to guide St. Mary’s Medical Center into the institution it is today. But maybe none of her roles has been more important than her current one, serving as the moral compass for all who enter the medical center.
Sister Diane was born December 24, 1934, in Princeton, W.Va. After helping her mother care for her ailing grandmother, she realized she, too, wanted to help those in need by becoming a nurse. In 1952, she came to Huntington to attend St. Mary’s School of Nursing. But Sister Diane’s plans were changed when she encountered Catholic Sisters for the first time at St. Mary’s. After seeing how the Sisters cared for the sick, she answered a calling from God to become a Sister herself. Her parents were against her decision, but the calling was too strong for her to ignore and she became a Pallottine Missionary Sister in 1953.
After her first profession as a Pallottine Sister in 1956, Sister Diane returned to St. Mary’s School of Nursing, where she graduated in December 1958, and went to work as a nurse at St. Mary’s. But her Pallottine superiors felt she had leadership potential and sent her to The Catholic University of America where she received her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in nursing service administration. She was Associate Director of Nursing for 10 years before moving on to other administrative positions, always playing a key role in the expansion projects and other changes that grew St. Mary’s Hospital into St. Mary’s Medical Center. She also helped foster the growth of the St. Mary’s Department of Spiritual Care and Mission, allowing patients of all faiths and denominations to have their spiritual needs attended to in addition to their physical ones. And, she was Provincial of the Pallottine Missionary Sisters, overseeing the healthcare and educational ministries of the Sisters from 1977 to 1986.
In her current role as the Vice President for Mission Integration at St. Mary’s, Sister Diane is the voice of the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, making sure that all administrators, clinical staff and non-clinical staff understand the importance of the directives. Each day, her mere presence is a reminder to all who enter the doors of St. Mary’s of the values the medical center stands for and was founded upon — Compassion, Hospitality, Reverence, Interdependence, Stewardship and Trust. At each new employee orientation, Sister Diane explains those values and the importance of employees reflecting them in their daily work.
Sister Diane has also been of great service to the community, providing emotional and spiritual support in times of tragedy, including after the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, W.Va., in 1967, the Marshall University Football plane crash in 1970, and the Buffalo Creek, W.Va., flood disaster in 1972. She has also supported a number of community organizations and their humanitarian and healthcare efforts, including the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, United Way of the River Cities and the American Heart Association.
Still working tirelessly when most people would have long since retired, Sister Diane continues to heed the calling she first heard more than six decades earlier, not yet ready to leave St. Mary’s, the place she believes is exactly where God wants her to be.
St. Mary’s Medical Center is proud to induct Sister Diane Bushee into our Wall of Fame.