As part of Magoffin County Founders Day this year, the community is honoring “Pioneers in Health Care,” which could not be done without honoring Mildred Sizemore. Since she was almost 18 years, Sizemore has worked in the medical field, and at 83 years old she still practices family medicine in Magoffin County to this day.
At just 11 years old, Mildred Patrick Sizemore looked down at a little brochure she found in a one-room schoolhouse up Puncheon and knew what she wanted to do with her life.
“I found this little brochure with Mary Breckinridge, who came to Hyden and started the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing, and the picture was of her on horseback, going to help people and I wanted to be like that,” Sizemore said. “I saw her and I didn’t know where Hyden was, but that she had given her life to people after her children died, which is so tragic, but she did such amazing things and I wanted to be like her.”
Sizemore’s family was from Magoffin County but had moved to Michigan for work prior to her birth. When she was 11 years old, her family picked up and moved back to Magoffin to help take care of her grandfather. She spent the rest of that school year in the one-room schoolhouse on Puncheon, but its affects carry on to this day.
The following year, Sizemore attended the Kentucky Mountain Gospel Crusade, a small school about a mile up Puncheon, from which she graduated the eighth grade and high school.
Just two weeks after graduating high school, a family friend from Chelsea, Michigan, was visiting Puncheon and Sizemore hitched a ride with her to go to Michigan in hopes of finding work. Her friend took her for job interviews, but there weren’t many takers for the not-quite-18-year-old with no experience, so she talked her friend into taking her to the Chelsea Methodist Home, where she was hired as a nurse’s aide.
“It was a really nice old people’s home for the aged, where most of it was healthy, older individuals, but the second floor was the convalescent floor for the sick, which is where I worked for the next year,” Sizemore said.
“I took care of Cora Simpson,” Sizemore remembered. “She was a US missionary and built the first nursing school in China. I remember her like it was yesterday.”
She worked there a year, with the Methodist Home providing Sizemore with a lot of training and experience, which she brought back to Kentucky, enrolling in the second LPN class at Mayo Vocational School.
During the year-long program, she did her clinicals at the old Paul B. Hall Hospital, doing everything registered nurses are trained to do now, with Dr. Morris Hall noticing her skill early on.
“He had an 8-year-old child who had been hit by a car and I was a student, but he told me to special this patient, and we had good RN supervision, and I had a background working at the Methodist Home, so I took care of that patient.”
Sizemore married that June and after receiving her LPN license in 1958, she and her husband moved to Richmond for her husband to finish his education, but she went to work at the old Pattie A. Clay Hospital.
“OB always drew me, but I also worked in Med-Surg and I was even an E.R. nurse for a while at Pattie A. Clay,” Sizemore said, explaining the different roles she held at an LPN at the hospital.
The couple and their now two children moved back to the left fork of Puncheon Creek.
“In 1963, an exciting patient up the right fork of Puncheon asked me to deliver her baby,” Sizemore said. “I told her I wasn’t licensed, but she asked if I could still come be with her, so I did and she got a midwife, who came and delivered the baby and I was just there to help.”
Sizemore kept a close eye on the baby, noticing shortly after the delivery the baby was turning black, so she alerted the midwife.
“She looked at me and I can remember it like it was yesterday, she said, ‘Mildred, you’ll always lose some,’” Sizemore remembered. “I pulled the little shirt up they just had put on the baby and retied the umbilical cord and saved it. The midwife was clean and good, but she was getting older and she couldn’t see well, with bad diabetes, but I saved that baby’s life.”
A month later another girl up the left fork of Puncheon asked her to deliver her baby, as well, and Sizemore, once again, told the girl she wasn’t a lay midwife, but she agreed to be there with the woman when she delivered.
“She got another midwife, and this one wasn’t as good,” Sizemore said. “She wasn’t clean and when the contractions started to get bad, she sent someone out after an ax, putting the ax under the bed to ‘cut the pains.’ The delivery went okay, and the baby was viable but the following week I went to Dr. Lloyd Hall’s office and explained the last two deliveries I had witnessed on Puncheon Creek. He had an office in town and we discussed the two experiences, with two midwives and two deliveries and he and I decided I would go to lay midwifery training and become licensed to do home deliveries in Magoffin and he would cover me. Dr. Ronald Leslie at the hospital would cover me if I had a patient that needed admitted, and the Magoffin County Health Department committed to doing the bloodwork.”
Sizemore took classes at the health department and became a lay midwife, delivering 50 babies via home deliveries from 1963 through 1975. Of the 50 deliveries, only one of the patients had insurance.
“These women were desperate and needed care,” Sizemore said. “It was a different time. I charged $20 per delivery, no matter how many hours I was there or times I had to go.”
Somehow through the deliveries, she often worked weekends and took classes from Prestonsburg Community College, receiving her RN degree in 1975.
After graduating with her RN license, she worked for the hospital in Louisa as a charge nurse on the Med-Surg floor, and then at Highlands Regional.
In 1976, Kentucky did away with the licensing lay midwifes, and that same year on April 1, she went to work at Big Sandy Health Care, where she still practices medicine.
At the time, the office was called the Magoffin County Clinic and it was located where the old county water office was located (now Parkway Peddlers).
“We had LPNs , an RN and office staff, and we were doing early pediatric screenings in schools, but we didn’t have a doctor when I came on board,” Sizemore said. “We didn’t’ have much except a dirty building. Dr. Anderson came on with us and Dr. Ross, the pediatrician.”
In 1980 she went to Hyden to work a year, still staying with Big Sandy Health Care, and then enrolled in the family nurse practitioner program at the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing – the very school she had vowed to attend at 11 years old after seeing the brochure in a one-room school up Puncheon. There she received her certified nurse midwife degree and her nurse practitioner’s license.
“I said ‘I have to be a midwife, but I can’t be one without a nurse practitioner’s license,’ but if I have both I can do anything,” Sizemore said.
“At the time, Magoffin County didn’t have a certified family nurse practitioner or a certified nursing midwife and I felt there was a great need here for nurse practitioners here that I could fill,” Sizemore said.
Sizemore stayed with Big Sandy Health Care, while also working in Morehead as a midwife on weekends and filling in for Frontier Nursing or other nursing needs in the area, and juggling her now four sons.
“My four sons are and have always been my greatest support system,” Sizemore said. “They never discouraged me from working or going back to school and truly supported me every step of the way.”
Now, 46 years after starting with Big Sandy Health Care, she still practices family medicine for the Hope Family Medical Center in the Mildred Patrick Sizemore Building, named after her this month.
“I realized really early on I wanted to take care of patients,” Sizemore said. “Here [at Hope] I can do OB, midwifery (except delivery), and family nursing. I don’t work Mondays and go home early on Tuesdays, but then I work most weekends. It’s all I’ve ever known.”
When asked, she said the patients keep her coming to work each week.
“I have patients from Magoffin, Johnson and Floyd, and my love for my patients is why I’m here now,” Sizemore said. “People have no idea how special these patients are. My patients and the Magoffin County people feel like my extended family, and I love them.”
Along the way, Sizemore also went on four medical mission trips to Peru in the early 2000s, treating patients in poor communities in South America, staying in what she calls “interesting” locations and soaking in as much as she could from the interpreters and the communities.
“They were four great trips, and the patients were a lot like the people here,” Sizemore said. “Lovely, caring people.”
Even into her 70s she was traveling, visiting every continent except Africa and Antarctica. She’s backpacked through Europe. You’ll be hard-pressed to name a place she hasn’t visited – China, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Sweden, Norway – just to name a few.
While she’s slowed down on traveling due to having a pacemaker now, she still has no plans of retiring.
“It depends on my health, of course, but this is my life,” Sizemore said. “I have gone to school or work every year since I was six years old – never missing a year. Helping people is my life and has always been. You hear of doctors retiring and going off to live somewhere else, but I’m still under contract and I don’t want to think about retiring.”