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More than a doctor


"They finally got me to quit," says Dr. David Sisler.

It took a heart attack, open heart surgery, cancer and finally a stroke, but Sisler has decided it is time to retire after 60 years service as one of a vanishing breed of general practitioner physicians. Sisler, a founding member of the El Rose Medical Group, has been more than a physician since he landed in Petaluma in 1957. He has been a friend, a neighbor and something of a philosopher, dispensing medical care, good humor and views of politics, sports and life to the thousands of patients he has treated over six decades.

Although family and friends have been urging him to slow down for his own health for the last several years, it was a sudden stroke last month that finally convinced him the time had come to retire to his ranch just west of Petaluma near Helen Putnam Park.

Despite health problems, Sisler maintains, "I have to be he luckiest person I know." He says his luck began very early when he was delivered into this world by his physician father. "I had a very smart and very caring mother," he explains, "and my father was a doctor who really cared. My goal continues to be to be as nice a man as my father."

Sisler had what he calls a "very wonderful high school education," both in the classroom and on the athletic fields. He happily shares how he was a two-way player for the Grand Rapids Braves in Michigan.

"For three years, I played every game and never left the field," he proudly points out.

All three of his brothers wound up in the service during World War II, but the year Sisler graduated from high school the war ended, leaving him free to continue his education at the University of Minnesota.

The way Sisler tells it, he wanted to become a geologist, and couldn't figure out why his classes were so difficult, until someone explained to him that he was enrolled in the pre-med program.

It wasn't all stethoscopes and roses for Sisler, who ran out of money and disappointed his father by turning to the work world for three years, before returning to the University of Minnesota to finish his degree. He graduated from the Minnesota School of Medicine in 1953.

In his second year of medical school, Uncle Sam insisted that Sisler aid in the Korean War effort. That turned out to be a good thing. Not only was he stationed at an Army hospital in Honolulu, but he got married and had two children, starting a family that would grow and grow through the years.

After the Army, Sisler had a short stay in St. Paul before heading to Petaluma. Here, he joined Dr. John Mohrman and began a practice that continued until just last month. Meanwhile, two more children were added to his increasing family.

It was in 1957 that Sisler added what was to become almost a second practice to his career when he was asked to become team doctor for the Petaluma High School football team. So began Sisler's lifelong association with the school. The Petaluma High School Community loved "Doc" Sisler and Sisler loved the Trojans, becoming perhaps their most devoted fan.

Until faulty knees forced him to give up his duties in 2010, Sisler roamed the Petaluma sidelines, caring for injured players, rooting for their success and occasionally questioning his good friend, head coach Steve Ellison, about his reluctance to more frequently employ the forward pass.

"I love the game. I love watching the kids grow up. By the time they are seniors, they are men. I will miss all that — I will miss it a lot," Sisler said just before giving up his sideline duties.

His efforts were honored by induction into the Petaluma High School Athletic Hall of Fame and his selection as a recipient of a Service to Youth Award at the 2011 Community Awards of Excellence. He shared that award with longtime friend and sideline associate, physical therapist Rick Susick.

Sisler still attends every Trojan home football game and now closely follows the basketball team, where one of his grandsons is a promising player who is expected to play for the varsity next season as a sophomore.

Off the football field, he joined Mohrman, Ray Johnson and John Shearer in establishing the El Rose Medical Center.

He also remarried, adding wife Cleo to his life. She brought four children to the family and the couple, who have now been together 47 years, had two more children together.

The Sisler family totals 11 children, 24 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

"My biggest happiness is my wife and my children," Sisler says. "My children are all wonderful good people."

More than a doctor, Sisler has always been a friend to his patients. An office visit often included an examination followed by an extended conversation about sports, politics or anything else Sisler and the patient found interesting.

Between his family, his patients, Petaluma High School athletes and his love of sports, it would seem that Sisler has little room for other activities, but there is one other very important aspect to his life.

"My other great love is my horses," he says. He has been a member of the Sonoma County Trailblazers for 50 years and is now the club's honorary doctor for life.

His age? "It is either 86 or 68. I forget which."

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@ar guscourier.com)