A Face for the Isolated

Brent Kimberly standing in front of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center

Brent Kimberly (G95) had certainly connected with patients before the onslaught of COVID-19. As a hospitalist at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland the past 17 years, he’s stood bedside countless times to offer treatment, an encouraging word and a reassuring presence in the midst of crisis.

But there was something different about this disease. Something that distinguished the coronavirus from all the other ailments he’d encountered. For, until now, nothing had so drastically disconnected his patients from the outside world.

Suddenly, he was the one point of contact – the one face – many of his patients would see for weeks, even months, on end. The gravity of that reality has deepened his connections to those in his care and hammered home a reminder never to take anything – particularly relationships – for granted.

“COVID makes you reflect on what’s important in life and opens your eyes to what we take for granted,” says Kimberly, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and an alumnus of George Fox’s biology program. “I hope, long term, that’s the thing that sticks with us – that we better learn to appreciate the people in our lives and the simple pleasures that are lost in something like this.”

Kimberly suspected the emotional and psychological ramifications of this virus were unique when, one day, the hospital received a phone call. It was from a patient he had treated three months before – a man who insisted he meet the one doctor who had seen him through those weeks of isolation.

Kimberly tried to satisfy the patient’s need by taking a phone call. But that wouldn’t do. The man insisted he meet Kimberly face-to-face. The ensuing meeting included a photo of patient and doc and a hearty “thank you.”

“First time in 17 years that a patient actually tracked me down and insisted on meeting me,” Kimberly says. “Sometimes when you’re doing your job, you don’t realize what impact you’re making on people. The guy just wanted to thank me and shake my hand. And he wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer.”Kimberly’s empathy for his patients deepened when, in early December, he contracted COVID himself. The result was a 10-day quarantine at home, isolated from even his wife Cindy (G94) and teenage kids, Chase and Elle. “Let’s just say it was a very different Christmas this year,” he sighs. “Fortunately I had recovered by the end of the month, but the whole season had a different feel.”

As a hospitalist, Kimberly treats a wide range of patients, from heart attack and stroke victims to those with pneumonia and other infectious diseases. It’s a job that combines his two passions: science and helping others.

“I come by it honestly,” says Kimberly – the son of longtime George Fox biology professor Dwight Kimberly – of his devotion to medicine. “And while some people might see science as a threat to their faith, for me it’s the opposite – it’s the validation of it. I think it’s a reflection of the creative work of God.”

Faith has always been a part of Kimberly’s practice, but in recent months it’s taken on a deeper meaning. “Ironically, I think I’ve connected more deeply with COVID patients because of the isolation factor,” he says. “And there have been more interactions where I’ve connected with someone over our shared faith.

“I try to approach my day differently than someone who isn’t focused on Christ. That can be challenging, because you’re always busy and pressed for time, but when you realize you might be the only person this patient sees today … well, you just ache for them. You just want to be the tool God uses to remind them that somebody cares.”