Over the Hill

Phil Dirkx: M.D.s were among Paso’s top pioneers

I admit feeling some hometown pride in being able to remind you that a Paso Robles doctor performed the first blood transfusion in this county. I read about it in The Tribune in 2007. I have two excuses for bringing it up now: America’s current health care debate and the rapid approach of Paso Robles Pioneer Day.

The pioneering blood transfusion was performed in 1927 by Dr. Alvin H. Wilmar, who’d been practicing in Paso Robles since 1915.

His office was over a drugstore on 12th Street. He had taken a trip to France and had come back with the transfusion equipment.

The procedure was completely unlike today’s blood banks, where they collect donors’ blood in plastic bags for future use.

His equipment pulled the blood from a donor’s vein and impelled it directly into one of the patient’s veins.

Another pioneer Paso Robles doctor was Dr. Dresser, who also had an upstairs office on 12th Street across from the park. I heard about him from the late Walt Freeman back in 2006.

This case happened in 1925 when Freeman was 9 years old. He and his family lived on a ranch on McMillan Canyon Road north of Shandon. One day he and his father were roping cattle that needed their heads doctored after being dehorned.

Things were going fine until he roped this one steer. As usual, he wound his lariat around the saddle horn, but this time his right thumb also got wrapped up with it.

The steer jumped forward. The lariat tightened. His thumb was mashed.

His father drove him 26 slow miles over the dirt roads to Paso Robles.

In 1925, Paso Robles didn’t have a hospital. Dr. Dresser operated on young Freeman in his office. He gave him a few whiffs of ether, amputated the thumb and sent him home.

I don’t know how much Dr. Dresser charged.

But I do know some of the fees Wilmar charged 14 years later.

In 1939, he and his colleague, Dr. Frederick Ragsdale, charged $2.50 for an office visit, $75 to remove tonsils (in a chair in the office) and $125 for a maternity, including prenatal and postnatal care as well as the delivery.

If you’d like to see the kind of equipment doctors used in those good-old days, just go to the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum after the Pioneer Day Parade on Oct. 10. The museum is on Riverside Avenue near the fairgrounds.

You’ll find a complete list of Pioneer Day events at www.pasoroblespioneerday.org and more about the museum at www.pasoroblespioneermuseum.org.

Phil Dirkx has lived in Paso Robles for more than four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.