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Local general surgeon retires after 37 years

John Carlson retired this month after 37 years as a general surgeon in the Hastings community. Submitted photo

After 37 years of service in the Hastings community, general surgeon John Carlson retired July 21. Throughout his decades long career, he has completed around 16,000 surgeries; sometimes he would complete two or three surgeries in one day.

Carlson was originally going to retire from his position at Regina Hospital, part of Allina Health, back in May, but the surgeons who are taking over for him were not starting until later in the summer. It was an easy decision for Carlson to keep working for two more months because, according to him, "since I enjoy this so much, I really don't work any day."

Carlson first got an interest in the medical field when he took biology his freshman year of high school. His teacher was very inspiring to him.

"He loved biology, he loved science, he loved the complexity of the human body and mammals," Carlson said.

Carlson grew to share his teacher's love for science and decided that he would want to be a doctor. He went on to get his undergraduate degree, go through medical school and complete his residency at St. Paul Ramsey Hospital, which is now called Regions Hospital.

In his last year of residency, Carlson visited Hastings to see if he wanted to practice in the city. He said that he fell in love with the city and has worked here ever since.

"It's a very special place, these are special people, these are salt of the earth, hardworking, honest, motivated kind people and I see it everyday when I see them," Carlson said. "It's an honor taking care of them; I couldn't be more honored."

With nearly four decades of experience in general surgery, Carlson said that he remembers when surgery changed in a big way during the 1980s. It was at that time that the technique of surgery was transitioning to the use of a laparoscope — a flexible fiberoptic instrument that can be inserted through a small incision. With the new technique, people would be able to leave within a few hours after their surgery rather than staying the hospital for two weeks, Carlson said.

"I kind of embraced that probably before a lot of people did," Carlson said.

Once he understood the laparoscopic technique and knew that it would work, he ran with it. It was exciting to him because people would get better faster and there was less risk. Carlson said he recalls performing a surgery on a man, who then, just a week later, played Carlson in a game of volleyball and was able to dive on his belly.

Now that he has retired, Carlson said that he and his wife, Mary Jo, plan to travel more. They started with a trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota with one of their sons and his family. He will also continue ballroom dancing and playing volleyball.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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