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Dr. Arnett to fulfill a longtime dream with missionary tour in

by Gail Marsh

STAFF WRITER

I enjoy it when people stop me on the street and ask me to consider writing an article about a local person who is celebrating a milestone.

Whether it's a distinctive accomplishment, an important birthday or a retirement, people enjoy hearing about what their neighbors are doing. It's fun to see someone you care about make the news.

There's a public reception this afternoon at 2 p.m. at Duff Street United Methodist Church for a couple who a lot of people care about. I got phone calls, e-mails and several in-person requests to write something about the impending retirement of Dr. Charles Arnett, associate director of the family practice residency at United Hospital Center.

At the end of the month, Dr. Arnett will vacate the position he's held for 10 years to fulfill a longtime dream. He and his wife, Pearl, will be leaving next month for a three-year missionary tour to Nigeria, a country of more than 100 million people located on the west coast of Africa.

Though many residents, including the director of the family practice residency, Dr. Eric Radcliffe, will be saddened to see Arnett go, they all wish him well in what will be a challenging endeavor.

In fact, Dr. Radcliffe said he has no plans to replace the good doctor.

"We'll have to reconstruct the program and adjust to working without him, but we can't replace him. We can hire another faculty member, but we can't replace Dr. Arnett and his years of experience. He's a kind, caring doctor who has been a tremendous role model for the residents," Radcliffe said.

Dr. Arnett was born in the small town of Piney in Wetzel County and said he recognized at an early age that he wanted to be a medical missionary to Africa, saying, "I knew that for certain before I even knew where it was."

He and his wife first went to Nigeria in 1967, where Dr. Arnett worked at a small bush hospital. They returned home in the 1980s to put their three children through school, and Arnett took up an obstetrics practice at the Myers Clinic and Broaddus Hospital in Philippi.

After the hospital closed its obstetrics practice, Arnett came to Clarksburg, where he's remained ever since. He estimates that he's participated in about 3,000 births during his years of practice.

When I spoke with Dr. Arnett at his office and asked him why, after all this time, he was returning to Africa, he had a quick reply.

"I think that is what God has called me to do. He's not through with me yet, and He has something more for me to do," he said.

With his children out of the house and his mother in good health, Arnett is looking forward to returning to a small town in Nigeria near where the couple lived before.

He explained that in Africa missionaries would establish small clinics in many of the villages as a way to respond to the medical needs there. Most of the health care in Africa is done in these small, village clinics, he said.

Arnett will be helping to develop review courses for the village medical workers and to try to teach those courses according to the level of the workers' education. He said the workers do a fantastic job with little or no help or supervision.

"I am going to encourage them and to reassure them of what they do know and that they can do a lot to help," he said.

Malaria is the No.1 treatable disease in that area, with No. 2 being eye diseases. The doctor will also be dealing with numerous tropical illnesses and meningitis, along with a lengthy list of viruses and infections that most of us have never heard of.

His biggest concern? Leaving family, friends and a home he loves. But he's looking forward to the challenge and to learning more about traditional African herbal medicine. He's one of the few doctors I've spoken with who takes stock in herbal medicine and recognizes its therapeutic effect for a wide range of complaints.

He said he'll miss his practice here and the opportunities he's had to encourage new doctors and take some of the fear out of delivering babies. But he's said he and his wife are ready to go.

I know he'll be missed greatly by his co-workers and colleagues.

The reception runs until 4 p.m., so if you have a chance, stop by and wish them well. I'm sure many of you feel like Dr. Radcliffe, who said, "He'll be greatly missed, but there's an overwhelming reason for him to go and to help with the health care there. I only hope he'll put in his three years there and choose to come back."

Staff writer Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447.

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