Lambert Orton a modern-day Doc Willett
Steamboat resident hailed as a personable country doctor
August 31, 2011
Steamboat Springs — William "Gimpy" Yeagher has kept the first and only doctor he's seen in Steamboat Springs up late at night on more than one occasion.
From bloody noses and routine illnesses to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Yeagher has made plenty of visits to Dr. Lambert Orton during the past three decades, sometimes knocking on the door of his physician and friend's ranch house off Colorado Highway 131 well after his office in Steamboat had closed for the night.
"He's there for you thick or thin, any time of day," Yeagher said from an exam room in Orton's office at the Yampa Valley Medical Center campus on Tuesday.
Orton, an internist and emergency physician with Yampa Valley Medical Associates, is a 2011 Doc Willett Award winner. Jan Fritz is the other recipient of the prestigious award given by the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley.
The awards are given each year to individuals who channel the legacy of Doc Willett, who for 56 years tended to patients and made house calls in Routt County by buggy, sleigh, horseback and automobile.
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Yeagher, who has been a patient of Orton's ever since he moved to the Yampa Valley from Aspen in 1977, said his doctor more than deserves the recognition.
"If Doc Willet were here, he'd be proud of Lambert. He deserves this award," Yeagher said.
More recently, the 69-year-old credits Orton with helping to diagnose a lung disease that Yeagher thought would be fatal. But after testing and a biopsy of a lymph node, the sarcoidosis that paralyzed Yeagher's vocal cords and caused him to lose 35 pounds in a month was correctly diagnosed this summer, and Yeagher is on the road to recovery.
"Some doctor's would tell you goodbye and send you on to another doctor to try and figure out what was wrong with you," Yeagher said. "But Lambert and his team never gave up."
Orton, 65, knew he wanted to be a doctor long before he started his practice in Steamboat. As a seventh-grader in Mason City, Iowa, Orton was asked to write a letter outlining his career plans that his teacher would mail back to him years later.
"I wrote that, like my father, I wanted to be a doctor and open a practice with my friends," he said. "My teacher mailed it back to me when I was a sophomore in medical school. I've always looked at medicine as more of a calling than a career."
Orton said Tuesday he was honored by the Doc Willett recognition.
"I'm humbled, to say the least," he said. "It will be an honor to share the stage with Jan Fritz."
Orton's colleagues in Steamboat were quick to offer praise to a man they say is a modern-day version of Doc Willet.
"Lambert is the quintessential country doctor, and I mean that with the greatest of respect," orthopedic spinal surgeon Henry Fabian said. "What Orton brings to the table is that common-sense approach. The guy comes at you with a big heart and a big trunk and cowboy boots on, and that's Lambert."
Fabian, who has worked with Orton since 2004, said that despite advances in technology in the health care industry, a common-sense doctor like Orton will always be valuable.
"You could put Lambert in a time machine and send it backward or forward and he would still be the same doc. He would still be comfortable," Fabian said.
Orton, who started Mountain Medical Associates across the road from Steamboat's old hospital in 1977, said he inherited his love of ranching and medicine from his father.
He said practicing in Steamboat has been rewarding and has exposed him to several areas of medicine.
And Orton's reach isn't limited to medicine. He's maintained his real estate license since 1982, has kept up his hobby ranch south of town since he moved to the Yampa Valley in the '70s and helped erect a steeple on the Priest Creek Chapel where he married his wife, Robyn.
He left the Yampa Valley in 1983 to practice with his father and farm with his family for a few years, and worked at the Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins starting in 1992. In 1996, he returned to Steamboat.
"It's all the friends, relatives and patients that make this place a home, and this has always been home for me," he said.
Orton and Fritz will be honored at 7 p.m. Thursday by the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley during a ceremony at Strings Music Pavilion.
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