For 13 years Dr. Stefan de Swardt has been travelling to two First Nations communities west of Williams Lake doing clinics every two weeks.
On Friday, March 10, that service came to an end, but not before members of Yunesit’in First Nation gathered to honour him with a luncheon at the Atwood Clinic where Dr. de Swardt has his practice.
Yunesit’in elder Valerie Setah, who worked as a home-care nurse in the community, thanked him for properly listening so he could do the right thing to work with them.
“I’m really grateful for that. You made a difference,” she said.
Millie Inyallie said she was also very grateful for de Swardt’s dedication to her community.
“I started going to him after my doctor left. I know him, I am very comfortable with him,” she said.
Thanking de Swardt for his years of service, Yunesit’in councillor Merle Quilt said he will be missed.
Dorothy Myers, also a Yunesit’in elder, drummed and sang a song, she described as spiritual.
“It is to the Creator, God, Christ - who is all powerful. I pray today for everyone that has gone before us and asked the Creator to bless us all, strengthen our minds, spirits and bodies.”
Myers said de Swardt cared for her late husband, Isaac Myers, and late son, Bruce Myers.
“It was a pleasure serving the community,” de Swardt said as he took turns giving out some hugs. “They always made me feel welcome there. We built a lot of trust over the years.”
De Swardt said he has to stop doing the clinics because he is so busy with his office in town, duties with patients at the hospital and in long-term care.
“I have too much stuff going on in town right now to keep going out west. When I am on call I need to be within half an hour of town. Often time I’ll be on call for the hospital and with long-term care and then for two weeks I cannot go out of town and over time it has been becoming a problem.”
De Swardt said it was a pleasure to serve the First Nations.
“They are very special people,” he said.
Fifteen years ago he arrived in Williams Lake from South Africa.
He wanted to come to Canada to work and had a friend in South Africa who had worked as a doctor for a short time in Williams Lake who told him about the community and put him in touch with the doctor who was recruiting.
“That’s how we ended up here,” he said. “We’ve been here since 2008.”
One of the friends he made in Williams Lake, was Dr. Francois Deetlefs, a family doctor who was going out west to Yunesi’tin and Tl’etinqox on a regular basis.
When Deetlefs decided to move away to Vernon he asked de Swardt if he would like to get involved with serving the First Nations.
“I went out with him once and he showed me around,” de Swardt recalled. “After that I went out every two weeks for 13 years.”
Over the years, he has taken medical students, visiting doctors, emergency doctors, pharmacists, even a pastor, with him to the clinic as there has always been a lot of interest.
Both communities have a health clinic, with staff, including nurses.
He said it was a difficult decision to make, to stop the service, but as one of the doctors at Atwood Clinic, he alone has 2,300 patients in his family practice.
Now that he won’t be going out west he plans to open up his clinic to patients from Yunesit’in and Tl’etinqox.
“We will open up an afternoon or so. I will try to continue to serve the communities but just from Williams Lake,” he said.
He and his wife Elisna de Swardt have a six-year-old daughter who will turn seven soon.
They enjoy living in the Cariboo.
“I like the community,” he said. “I like the small town. We live out by 150 Mile House so we have a bit more space. I fish and I hunt so that’s fun. We like the area, we like the people here. We have different cultures here - I like the dynamics.”
Having grown up in Johannesburg, South Africa, which has a population of more than 14 million, he said that is something he does not miss.
“I don’t want live in a big city again,” he said. “I hate traffic. I don’t like big cities. We go to Vancouver for three days and I want to come back home.”