Retirement parties are usually a big deal. When the person retiring has delivered about 12,000 babies, the “big deal” factor grows exponentially.
Though Dr. Kevin Harrington can’t have a retirement party this year because of COVID-19, many will be thinking of him — and will miss him. Thursday was his last day as an OB-GYN partner at Generations after practicing in Yakima for 38 years.
And not that Harrington would want a big party, “but we would have loved to have given him one because he deserves one,” said Generations office supervisor Gayle Schwartz. “We would have given him a big send-off whether he wanted one or not.”
“I’ve been working for him since 1986 and I wish we had many, many more years because it’s been such a great privilege to work for him. But we’re happy for him at the same time,” she said.
Harrington, who grew up in Yakima, knew from a young age he wanted to be a doctor. But he didn’t decide until medical school that he wanted to be a doctor like his dad, longtime OB-GYN Dr. John Harrington. His dad was in practice for 37 years, 11 of them with his son.
Kevin Harrington started in practice with his father in 1982. Since then, he estimates he’s delivered about 12,000 babies.
“I know I’ve delivered a lot of kids ... I never kept track of that too much,” Harrington said. “It’s been very wonderful. I have a lot of patients say, ‘Your dad delivered me.’ Then I delivered their children and grandchildren.”
Kevin isn’t the last Harrington practicing in Yakima, either. His daughter, Seana Moore, is a certified women’s health care nurse practitioner at Generations. His dad started practicing in Yakima in 1958, so a Harrington has delivered babies in Yakima for 62 years. And while Moore doesn’t do deliveries, her dad said, she will continue the Harrington tradition of helping women of all ages stay healthy and navigate health challenges.
Roles in the medical field can infringe on precious family time. Moore remembers her father doing up to 30 deliveries a month while she was growing up, his pager buzzing on nights, weekends and holidays. In 2008, she began working with him.
“It has been an honor to work with Dad and this is the part of my career that I am most proud of,” Moore said in an email. “I am so grateful we were able to work together for the past 12 1/2 years. He will be greatly missed by his patients, our staff and throughout the entire organization.”
‘Great bedside manner’When Generations OB-GYN partner Dr. Roger Rowles retired at the end of June 2017, his staff, family and friends had a big party, Schwartz said. Those were different days, though, so they feted Harrington a “little bit” at a small staff meeting with a certificate, she said.
Rowles, who also retired after 38 years and more than 10,000 deliveries, recorded a video to be shown at the gathering.
“One of my big regrets right now is I’m not going to be there to wish him well. He was very gracious when I retired,” Rowles said.
He came to Yakima in 1979, when Dr. John Harrington was the leader of the OB-GYN community, Rowles said. At that point, Kevin Harrington had finished medical school at the University of Washington and was doing his residency at UCLA. He then returned to Yakima and joined his dad in practice.
“Initially we had kind of a loose relationship where we would cover for each other occasionally. At some point his dad retired and he and I, even though we didn’t do any paperwork, formalized our relationship,” Rowles said. “If I was out of town, he’d cover for me. That’s when our professional relationship started.”
Kevin Harrington and Rowles practiced together, but not in a formalized sense, from 1984 to 2006. They jointly recruited Dr. Anna Dufault three years later, Rowles said, and decided to formalize their practice into a group practice, Generations, in 2010.
Harrington has received awards “too numerous to count” and has been in several leadership positions locally and on the state level, Rowles said. But what really sets him apart from other OB-GYNs is his skill as a surgeon, he added.
“In our practice, doing vaginal surgery is a real challenge, and doing difficult vaginal surgery is a real challenge. Kevin really is a master of that,” Rowles said. “Single-handedly he probably taught a number of residents ... to do good vaginal surgery.”
His interactions with University of Washington medical students and residents during their time in Yakima motivated many to go into obstetrics and gynecology, Rowles said, and helped with recruitment as well.
“That actually allowed us to recruit three of them to our practice. I know a lot of people struggle to get OB-GYNs into their practice,” Rowles said. “The influence that Kevin would have on these students and the residents was significant. The three residents we recruited from the University of Washington have all been outstanding. We also managed to recruit Anna Dufault from the University of Arizona.”
Rowles said Harrington is a really good doctor with great bedside manner. That came across on the phone as well, he said.
“I used to tell the medical students ... go in and listen how Dr. Harrington talks to his patients on the telephone. He had that ability for that bedside manner to come through the phone,” Rowles said. “He really had empathy and he really cared about the patients he was talking to.”
Marianne and Daniel Kihn will never forget Harrington’s care and attention through some difficult pregnancies and the birth of their “miracle baby,” Tommy.
A Type 1 diabetic, Marianne had a complicated first pregnancy, which was also a surprise as she was on birth control; even with that, she wasn’t sure she could ever get pregnant. That came after other health issues that Harrington took care of before she became pregnant.
After learning their child was not growing at 25 weeks, “Dr. Harrington made sure I saw all the appropriate people at the University of Washington and advocated for me all the way,” Marianne Kihn said. “Dr. Harrington checked on me every single day I was over there, though I wasn’t technically his patient. He made sure to call every single day.
“I had our son early, at 27 1/2 weeks. When he was four days old ... he got a very rare infection. He just couldn’t fight it and passed away. Dr. Harrington would not charge us anything for our prenatal care,” she said.
After a molar pregnancy and miscarriage, Marianne became pregnant with Tommy, who is 1 1/2 and was recently diagnosed as diabetic. Throughout that pregnancy, Harrington continued his care and close attention, seeing her every week, including ultrasounds he didn’t charge her for.
“It’s just the level of care he gives his patients, and I know I’m not the only one. He makes you feel like you are the most important patient when you walk into his office,” she said. “He is the most compassionate person and doctor, just as a person in general.”
Kihn is glad Harrington will be able to spend more time with his wife of 46 years, Rena, their three children and seven grandchildren (with another on the way). But his retirement is “a real loss,” she said.
They don’t plan to have another child, in large part because of Harrington’s retirement, Kihn said.
“I would never trust anyone else. Nobody that I have ever known gives the level of care that Kevin Harrington gives,” she said. “He is just one of a kind.”
The Kihns exchange Christmas cards with Harrington, and Rena “almost became part of the practice because she’d always be bringing in cupcakes and celebrating people’s birthdays,” Rowles said. “He is a great family man, at the same time being a really, really busy practitioner.”
Family is important. Born in St. Louis while his dad was in medical school, Harrington was 5 1/2 when they moved to Yakima in 1958. His parents grew up in Seattle and knew of the Yakima Valley, said Harrington, who has five brothers and two sisters.
After medical school at the University of Washington and his residency at UCLA, Harrington and Rena — who both grew up in Yakima — wanted to return. “My dad was extremely accommodating and absolutely wonderful to work with. He taught me a lot about surgery. It was just a perfect partnership,” he said.
As it has with every aspect of life, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his last several months in practice. Harrington and others at Generations worried about their patients and pregnant clients. They made an accommodation with telemedicine, but he had a “really hard time with that.”
“It’s better for me to see somebody face to face,” he said. “You can’t do a lot of things over the computer. The patients that we could see that way, our office did. I was not one that utilized that technology as some of the people in our office had to do.”
Also because of COVID-19, traveling won’t be part of retirement right away. Harrington’s son and sons-in-law want him to take up golf. “We’ll see what kind of disaster that is,” he said. He likes to read and exercise, Harrington added, and will probably continue teaching medical students.
Obstetrics and gynecology has been “ a fantastic profession” and it’s been a privilege to be involved in his patients’ lives, Harrington said.
“The role I’ve played is very small. Women are amazing. Being able to go through pregnancy, labor and delivery, it’s not an easy thing. I’ve just been amazed how brave, resilient and strong people are,” he said.
Pregnancy and delivery aren’t always happy times, Harrington said; there are sad times, too. “You have to be there for the sad times as well as the happy times,” he said.
“It’s just been a privilege and I’ll never forget that.”