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Retiring surgeon James Kim leaves his mark on Lodi

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Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 12:00 am

Certificates and letters line the wall in the waiting room office of Dr. James Kim. The clicking of a typewriter echoes in the room while rows upon rows of files line the shelves of the administrative office. There are no computers. Kim prefers it that way. He says it’s efficient.

“We are still old-fashioned here,” said Kim’s secretary Donetta Ochsner, while she busily typed.

After struggling through a rough childhood in Korea, Kim rose above his trials and ended up in the U.S., where he began a successful medical career.

For 44 years, he has been a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in Lodi. Ochsner has been Kim’s secretary for all those years. She is retiring soon. The hole her departure will leave means more work for the 81-year-old. Knowing he won’t be able to do it himself, Kim will be closing his practice at the end of the month.

The pages in a photo album display before and after photos of his work over the years. A cut up ear. A severed lip. Deep scars that have faded. His knowledge combined with his talent have erased all evidence of injury.

He gets satisfaction in knowing that in one day he can help people who have suffered for 20 to 30 years. Although soft-spoken, he’s not shy about his talent. He said his patients call him a miracle worker.

“I’m a magician. There’s nothing I cannot fix,” he said.

Dressed in dark gray pants, a pinstriped shirt and light grey jacket, he said he makes his own clothes. He has also cut his own hair for the last 50 years.

“I do it all by feeling around on my head. I don’t even look in the mirror,” he said.

He’s good at what he does because he’s good with his hands, he said. He attributes that to the years he spent cutting up cadavers for pathologists. He knows anatomy back and forth, and knows what to do to help someone as soon as he sees them, he said.

Kim’s wife Yoshi, who often worked as his nurse, said patients love him because he tells it like it is and is very down-to-earth.

“He’s very personable and he’s perceptive. He puts patients at ease and is very quick to evaluate to see what the problem is,” she said.

An orphan turned doctor

Born in Korea, Kim was at first an unlikely candidate for his profession. His mother had passed away, and his father then gave him up. He grew up moving from relative to relative. His education consisted of only six years of grammar school.

Then, in 1944 when he was 12, he began working in farm labor. For three years, he did a full man’s job from dawn to dusk every day with no pay, only earning meals and a place to sleep. After that, he worked in Army barracks as a houseboy, washing dishes and making beds. He eventually began working at the Taejon Army base, where he washed dishes, polished shoes and made beds.

During the Korean War, he met Major General Frank E. Lowe, a military observer for President Truman. Lowe hired Kim, then 17, to work as an interpreter and spy. Kim was able to help Lowe avoid an ambush, which saved both of their lives. This marked a turning point in Kim’s life.

To show gratitude to the boy, Lowe asked Kim what he would like to do. Kim said he wanted to be able to study. So Lowe met with President Truman, who was able to pass a special bill for Kim to come to the United States. After attending Bridgeton Academy in Maine, Kim studied pre-med at Bowdoin College. Following graduation, he moved on to medical school at Columbia University.

He interned and served his residency at Stanford University. Following three years in the U.S. Air Force, Kim came back to Stanford, where he trained in dermatology and plastic surgery. He became a teacher to physicians all over the world. Front pages of medical books in his office display handwritten notes of thanks written by these physicians.

People told Kim he could go anywhere. He was offered a job at the Santa Barbara Medical Clinic but turned it down because he wanted to raise his daughter in a small community — like Lodi.

“People thought I was crazy,” he recalled.

A story of success

For the next 44 years, he settled into his practice. His first seven years were spent in an office on Vine Street; he later relocated to his current location, on the corner of Ham Lane and Tokay Street.

His most favorite part of his career is being a teacher and mentor. Another highlight were his inventions. One was a series of creams to help with acne and dark spots on the skin. He also developed surgery procedures, including a facelift technique now known as Kim’s technique, and a scalp reduction procedure.

For Kim, the most important virtues in life are honesty, compassion and thinking about others before oneself. He says it is important to always help others and never let them down. His philosophy: “I don’t need you, but you need me,” he said.

His mentor in life was Lowe, who he said opened the door to an education and an opportunity to use his talent, which would otherwise have been wasted.

“If he said to jump in a fire, I would jump in for him. He was my salvation,” Kim said.

Joan Morrison has been a patient of Kim’s for 40 years. Over the years, she and her family have visited Kim’s office for everything from acne to poison oak to spider bites and skin cancer.

She appreciates his quick and accurate diagnosis.

“It’s nice to have a doctor that diagnoses so well, treats it and then it’s over. That’s what I really loved about Dr. Kim throughout the years. He has a nice way of going about things,” she said.

Kim and Yoshi have been married for 50 years. The couple have two children and two grandchildren. Kim calls himself a jack of all trades, and in his free time he enjoys photography, traveling, reading, and doing odds and ends such as woodworking and carpentry. He has been a member of Sunwest Athletic Club (now Twin Arbors) since it opened in the early 1970s and has played tennis there ever since. He also enjoys playing golf. He’s more active than some 30-year-olds, he said.

“There’s never a dull moment. I’m always active. I believe in exercising the mind and the brain. The two go hand in hand,” he said.

After closing up shop on July 1, Kim plans to go back to teaching at San Joaquin General Hospital and University of California, Davis. He also hopes to do some volunteer work.

As he glanced through letters of gratitude written by patients, he said he will miss the patient contact the most and being able to help those who are suffering.

“I wish I could live forever to help everybody,” he said. “I feel very sorry I have to leave my patients. I will miss them as much as they will miss me.”

Contact reporter Pam Bauserman at pamelab@lodinews.com.Retiring surgeon James Kim leaves his mark on Lodi

By Pam Bauserman/News-Sentinel Features Editor

Certificates and letters line the wall in the waiting room office of Dr. James Kim. The clicking of a typewriter echoes in the room while rows upon rows of files line the shelves of the administrative office. There are no computers. Kim prefers it that way. He says it’s efficient.

“We are still old-fashioned here,” said Kim’s secretary Donetta Ochsner, while she busily typed.

After struggling through a rough childhood in Korea, Kim rose above his trials and ended up in the U.S., where he began a successful medical career.

For 44 years, he has been a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon in Lodi. Ochsner has been Kim’s secretary for all those years. She is retiring soon. The hole her departure will leave means more work for the 81-year-old. Knowing he won’t be able to do it himself, Kim will be closing his practice at the end of the month.

The pages in a photo album display before and after photos of his work over the years. A cut up ear. A severed lip. Deep scars that have faded. His knowledge combined with his talent have erased all evidence of injury.

He gets satisfaction in knowing that in one day he can help people who have suffered for 20 to 30 years. Although soft-spoken, he’s not shy about his talent. He said his patients call him a miracle worker.

“I’m a magician. There’s nothing I cannot fix,” he said.

Dressed in dark grey pants, a pinstriped shirt and light grey jacket, he said he makes his own clothes. He has also cut his own hair for the last 50 years.

“I do it all by feeling around on my head. I don’t even look in the mirror,” he said.

He’s good at what he does because he’s good with his hands, he said. He attributes that to the years he spent cutting up cadavers for pathologists. He knows anatomy back and forth, and knows what to do to help someone as soon as he sees them, he said.

Kim’s wife Yoshi, who often worked as his nurse, said patients love him because he tells it like it is and is very down-to-earth.

“He’s very personable and he’s perceptive. He puts patients at ease and is very quick to evaluate to see what the problem is,” she said.

An orphan turned doctor

Born in Korea, Kim was at first an unlikely candidate for his profession. His mother had passed away, and his father then gave him up. He grew up moving from relative to relative. His education consisted of only six years of grammar school.

Then, in 1944 when he was 12, he began working in farm labor. For three years, he did a full man’s job from dawn to dusk every day with no pay, only earning meals and a place to sleep. After that, he worked in Army barracks as a houseboy, washing dishes and making beds. He eventually began working at the Taejon Army base, where he washed dishes, polished shoes and made beds.

During the Korean War, he met Major General Frank E. Lowe, a military observer for President Truman. Lowe hired Kim, then 17, to work as an interpreter and spy. Kim was able to help Lowe avoid an ambush, which saved both of their lives. This marked a turning point in Kim’s life.

To show gratitude to the boy, Lowe asked Kim what he would like to do. Kim said he wanted to be able to study. So Lowe met with President Truman, who was able to pass a special bill for Kim to come to the United States. After attending Bridgeton Academy in Maine, Kim studied pre-med at Bowdoin College. Following graduation, he moved on to medical school at Columbia University.

He interned and served his residency at Stanford University. Following three years in the U.S. Air Force, Kim came back to Stanford, where he trained in dermatology and plastic surgery. He became a teacher to physicians all over the world. Front pages of medical books in his office display handwritten notes of thanks written by these physicians.

People told Kim he could go anywhere. He was offered a job at the Santa Barbara Medical Clinic but turned it down because he wanted to raise his daughter in a small community — like Lodi.

“People thought I was crazy,” he recalled.

A story of success

For the next 44 years, he settled into his practice. His first seven years were spent in an office on Vine Street; he later relocated to his current location, on the corner of Ham Lane and Tokay Street.

His most favorite part of his career is being a teacher and mentor. Another highlight were his inventions. One was a series of creams to help with acne and dark spots on the skin. He also developed surgery procedures, including a facelift technique now known as Kim’s technique, and a scalp reduction procedure.

For Kim, the most important virtues in life are honesty, compassion and thinking about others before oneself. He says it is important to always help others and never let them down. His philosophy: “I don’t need you, but you need me,” he said.

His mentor in life was Lowe, who he said opened the door to an education and an opportunity to use his talent, which would otherwise have been wasted.

“If he said to jump in a fire, I would jump in for him. He was my salvation,” Kim said.

Joan Morrison has been a patient of Kim’s for 40 years. Over the years, she and her family have visited Kim’s office for everything from acne to poison oak to spider bites and skin cancer.

She appreciates his quick and accurate diagnosis.

“It’s nice to have a doctor that diagnoses so well, treats it and then it’s over. That’s what I really loved about Dr. Kim throughout the years. He has a nice way of going about things,” she said.

Kim and Yoshi have been married for 50 years. The couple have two children and two grandchildren. Kim calls himself a jack of all trades, and in his free time he enjoys photography, traveling, reading, and doing odds and ends such as woodworking and carpentry. He has been a member of Sunwest Athletic Club (now Twin Arbors) since it opened in the early 1970s and has played tennis there ever since. He also enjoys playing golf. He’s more active than some 30-year-olds, he said.

“There’s never a dull moment. I’m always active. I believe in exercising the mind and the brain. The two go hand in hand,” he said.

After closing up shop on July 1, Kim plans to go back to teaching at San Joaquin General Hospital and University of California, Davis. He also hopes to do some volunteer work.

As he glanced through letters of gratitude written by patients, he said he will miss the patient contact the most and being able to help those who are suffering.

“I wish I could live forever to help everybody,” he said. “I feel very sorry I have to leave my patients. I will miss them as much as they will miss me.”

Contact reporter Pam Bauserman at pamelab@lodinews.com.

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