Herb and Nikki McMurtry Say Thank You to Their Doctors for Caring with Empathy

Herb McMurtry became a patient at Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) when he started seeing the late Edward Morgan, MD, around 1957. He even traveled to VMMC for care when he lived in Alaska.

He credits the longevity of his health to his doctors and growing up in Nova Scotia, where he and his siblings spent their days outside and on the water.

Now retired and living in Mt. Vernon, Herb and his wife Nikki spend their days with friends and enjoying the view of the San Juan Islands from their living room. Each season has something beautiful to offer and give to the couple, who have been married for 24 happy years.

Both Herb and Nikki have greatly benefited from the care they’ve received at VMMC. In 2015, Herb had some unusual chest pain while bringing in the garbage can. When he called his cardiologist to ask about getting an appointment, the nurse insisted Herb come to the hospital the following day.

“The day after my appointment, I ended up having bypass surgery. If it wasn’t for the nurse telling me how seriously they view my symptoms, I might not be here. There aren’t many providers who have this practice of listening and putting the patient first,” Herb says.

Nikki suffered for decades through seasonal weather changes that caused her sinuses to swell so much it was difficult to breathe. She is extremely grateful to her otolaryngologist, Craig Miller, MD, who found a solution.

“He really understood what was happening in my nose and why it was so hard to breathe. Because he took the time to figure out what was wrong, he was also able to give me a solution,” she says. “With one procedure, he changed my life.”

Herb and Nikki’s value listening and validating others’ feelings guided them into careers of service. And they appreciate their VMMC care team for prioritizing those same values for their patients.

As an Episcopalian priest and psychologist, Herb’s job took him to Alaska, Guam, and Oregon.

“People came to see me with very difficult experiences,” Herb says. “Everyone deserves to be seen as a person, especially when they’ve faced hard challenges. The same is true with our physical health. Not everyone trusts their doctors, but we are lucky and we do.”

Nikki found her calling as a special education teacher.

“People often saw what my students couldn’t do, I saw potential in every child and made sure parents saw the potential for their child to have a meaningful life,” Nikki says.

The couple believes their health and ability to do the things they love have kept them feeling young.

“We married each other later in life, but we live as if we were young thanks to our doctors and nurses at Virginia Mason Medical Center who have kept us feeling good,” Nikki says.  

Young, for 92-year-old Herb, meant building wooden boats in his garage until he was 85. One day, when one of the boats he was building felt particularly heavy, he decided to switch to building musical instruments. He’s currently working on a violin.

For Nikki, young meant teaching well into her 70s. Teaching and fully connecting with her students required Nikki to be on the move every moment of the day.

Feeling young has also allowed the couple to travel the world in retirement. This year, their calendar includes trips to San Diego, Hawaii, Utah and Ireland.

Having found careers prioritizing empathy and trust, the McMurtry’s hope that their annual gifts are more than a thank you for their health, but an endorsement of VMMC’s philosophy of care. They wish to acknowledge everyone at VMMC who works together to create a comforting patient experience.

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