EMU alum, local doctor makes lifetime commitment to health

Dr. Linford Gehman has been a doctor in the Bergton area for many years. He settled there after spending time in Vietnam and Nigeria with Mennonite Central Committee. During the Vietnam War, he was a conscientious objector and worked in a mental hospital, an experience that encouraged him on the path to medical school.

Bergton local Dr. Linford Gehman graduated from high school in the early 1950s. Much like many recent high school graduates today, the then 18-year-old Gehman was unsure about what to study in college.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he admits.

Gehman decided to take a break before pursing a degree, and spent the next two years working at a porcelain plant in Pennsylvania.

However, before he could decide on a career path, Gehman was drafted into the Korean War. As a member of the Mennonite Church, he was granted status as a conscientious objector, and was assigned alternative service at a veteran’s mental hospital on Long Island, N.Y.

“I assisted with the care of the residents,” he recalled. “I provided for their meals, their toiletries, bathing — things like that.”

After two years of helping the doctors, nurses and patients, Gehman had a clear vision of his own future.

“At that point, I felt I could be of service to people by becoming a physician,” he said.

With a clear goal in mind, he enrolled at Eastern Mennonite University — graduating four years later with a degree in pre-med. He continued his education at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, and eventually completed an internship and residency at St. Luke’s Hospital in Pennsylvania.

“It’s where I met my future wife,” he said, smiling, adding that she worked as an obstetrics nurse.

The couple had a long courtship — due to Gehman’s decision to volunteer with the Mennonite Central Committee — they would wait seven years to be married.

Despite the time apart from his loved ones, Gehman felt called to serve with the MCC — which he says is an “agency that helps to take care of refugees or persons in countries that have great need.”

“I always took an interest in programs overseas,” he explained. “I was influenced in part by other physicians who had served.”

In 1965, Gehman was sent to serve at a hospital in Nha Trang — a coastal city in Vietnam. With the help of an interpreter, he treated a variety of medical issues-including tuberculosis, malaria, cataracts and respiratory disorders.

During his three and half years in the city, Gehman recalls how the Vietnam War slowly affected the hospital staff more frequently.

“When I first [arrived], I could travel almost anywhere I wanted,” he recalled. “Then, the war gradually built up and after that, travel was limited.”

After he returned from Vietnam, the MCC immediately offered him another volunteer opportunity in Nigeria, which was ravaged by civil war. Gehman agreed to go and spent a turbulent year in the southern part of the country.

“I was forced to treat things surgically that I had only assisted with as an intern or a resident,” he remarked.

After a marketplace was bombed, he remembers operating on limbs with “a textbook on one side and the anesthesiologists on the other.”

Gehman said he stayed calm by focusing on the singular task at hand, and credits his assisting staff for their service.

“I had good assistants I could rely on in the operating room,” he praised.

Although the work was challenging, he considered it a “rewarding” experience, and has no regrets about going on either trip.

After returning from Nigeria, he married Becky and settled in the Bergton area, where he still practices.

After decades of working as a doctor, some might ask why the 80-year-old physician doesn’t want to retire — but for Gehman, the answer is simple.

“What keeps me practicing medicine here is the tremendous relationships I have with my patients,” he explained. “That’s why I’m still working.”

This article was first published with permission from the Daily News Record on Sept. 26, 2013.