Physician and late husband honor hospital and its patients

Linda Campbell, MD

Linda Campbell, MD

Linda Campbell, MD, describes her late husband, Bob, as a “plucky soul.” From a young age, he faced every obstacle with dogged determination. Whether his boots were on the ground in Vietnam or his body was failing him due to several illnesses, Bob found a way to get through each day with dignity.

Love blooms

Bob and Linda met relatively late in life. He was 39 and she was 35. As they shared dinner at a mutual friend’s home, they also shared their life stories.

During college, Bob had enlisted in the United States Marine Corp as a private. He served three tours in Vietnam, earning three Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. After his medical discharge as a captain, Bob completed a bachelor’s degree at Chaminade University in Hawaii, a master of business administration at the University of Chicago and a master of science degree in education at the University of Kansas.

Linda had grown up in Ohio, but left home to attend the University of Kansas. She was the fourth generation — and the fourth woman — in her family to graduate from KU. After earning a medical technology degree, she continued her education at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, where she specialized in oncology.

In sickness and in health

Bob and Linda waited a year to marry so Linda could complete her internship. But the couple didn’t have much time together before Bob’s health started to decline. In 1986, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a documented complication of exposure to the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. “During the war, Bob experienced the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Linda.

In 1996, Bob was diagnosed with leukemia. He and Linda were told the median survival rate was just three years — but Bob overcame those odds. In 1997, Linda began working as a clinical oncologist and hospitalist at The University of Kansas Health System.

Around the same time, Bob became a regular patient in oncology, cardiology and several other areas. He was treated for leukemia, plus complications related to diabetes including infections, nerve damage, kidney disease, heart disease and ultimately, blindness.

“As a physician, I know how complicated it is to coordinate treatment for patients like Bob who have exceedingly complex diagnoses,” said Linda. “Receiving multidisciplinary care at an academic medical center made all the difference. And every team member cared for him with great skill, compassion and kindness.”

In 2002, Bob became legally blind. That’s when Linda retired from The University of Kansas Health System. “Bob was still self-sufficient, but he needed a chauffeur. And I signed up for the job.”

Never a dull moment

According to Linda, Bob had a dry sense of humor that helped him deal with adversity. One day, he asked his pharmacist at the health system for a chemotherapy mixture that would “taste great, have no side effects and make him look like Robert Redford.” Of course, the team couldn’t grant any of those wishes, but they did find ways to make him smile by creating imaginative flavor labels for each dose of his chemo medicine. Some of his favorites were Roast Turkey and Cornbread Dressing, Deep-Dish Pumpkin Pie and Six-Tier Wedding Cake.

“So many folks at the health system took such good care of Bob,” said Linda. “They did everything they could to keep him as happy and healthy as possible for his last 20 years.”

Philanthropy imitates life

One of Bob’s goals before he died on June 2, 2017, was to leave a planned gift to The University of Kansas Health System. He asked that his gift go directly to cardiac and cancer patients in need. The Veterans Administration paid for many of Bob’s expensive medicines, but he knew other patients struggled to pay for vital treatment.

In addition to Bob’s generous donation, Linda has set up a planned gift for her alma mater, the University of Kansas School of Medicine. Her funds will assist future medical and nursing students who experience an unforeseen calamity.

“Bob and I felt good about where our gifts were assigned,” said Linda. “We wanted to help patients because we understood how hard it can be to deal with illness and hospital care. We also wanted to benefit physicians and nurses because they helped us both so much. Our contributions really match our experience.”