Dozens of family and friends, many of them medical professionals, gathered on Friday, July 9, at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District to bid farewell to recently retired practitioner, Dr. David Hodge.
Hodge served the Fresno area community as a humble physician for more than 52 years, specializing in pediatric surgery.
Starting his medical career following his graduation from the University of Kansas School of Medicine in 1969, Dr. Hodge traveled across the country and world, providing care wherever he could, serving stints in Minneapolis at Hennepin County General Hospital, Lajes Air Force Base in Lajes, Portugal, and in Philadelphia at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, before settling in Fresno in July of 1979.
“The idea of being able to work in a children’s hospital and a big farm town was very attractive,” Hodge said.
While in Fresno, Hodge had affiliations with Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC) and Valley Children’s Hospital (VCH).
Hodge said he was drawn to pediatric surgery after witnessing surgeons fix anomalies in kids, providing them with normal lifespans that otherwise would not occur.
Among the attendees at Hodge’s celebration was Carlos Torres, the father of Parker-James Gooler, a patient Dr. Hodge had operated on numerous times.
In 2014, Gooler was born with several medical issues.
First, he suffered from a diaphragmatic hernia, which occurs when one or more abdominal organs move upward into the chest area through an opening in the diaphragm. He also had an omphalocele—a congenital disability of the abdominal wall— and a partial lung.
Gooler was transferred to VCH because they had the facilities to help him, but while at VCH, he died and was brought back to life. Then doctors presented Torres with a do-not-resuscitate order, but he refused to sign it.
While Gooler lived at VCH for 11 months, a tracheotomy was performed on him, and he would be dependent on a ventilator and oxygen tank, which doctors said he would need for the rest of his life.
“Within that time frame, he [Gooler] was on the machinery, and Dr. Hodge was helping throughout the whole thing,” Torres said. “If it weren’t for Dr. Hodge, he would have never made it.”
As Gooler’s body grew, he became less dependent on the ventilator and oxygen tank, which Torres said led to his son being able to run, dance, and play, all while having a smile on his face.
Torres was able to take his son to the beach—which doctors advised against— and travel to Disneyland, allowing Gooler to experience the Magic Kingdom once in his lifetime.
“Dr. Hodge said, ‘You don’t know how long you’re going to have him. Enjoy him. Have him experience things,’” Torres said.
Unfortunately, in 2018, Gooler was stricken with gastroparesis—a condition affecting the stomach muscles and preventing proper stomach emptying— and his condition worsened rapidly, and he succumbed to the illness.
Gooler was only four years old when he passed.
“Even though it was such a hard thing to go through, I had never had anybody like Parker influence my life in so many different ways,” Torres said.
Gooler is just one of the thousands of kids Hodge provided an opportunity to live life, no matter how short of a time.
Hodge’s son, David Hodge Jr.—vice president of clinical operations and ancillary services at VCH—was unable to attend the engagement but spoke on his father’s behalf in a six-minute video.
When his father retired, Hodge Jr. began to visualize the number of children his father operated on during his 42 years in Fresno and estimates his father worked on at least 20,000 kids.
“That’s 20,000 kids he operated on. That number is staggering. And the more impressive part of it is that it’s likely more,” Hodge Jr. said. “So many lives given that might otherwise not have been.”
While holding an administrative position at VCH, Hodge Jr. often worked alongside his father.
“What I remember most is just having him stop by my office for about 10 seconds to complain about something he wanted me to fix,” Hodge Jr. said. “Then shooting the breeze about whatever topic happened to cross our mind.”
Outgoing CalViva Health CEO Greg Hund—host for the evening festivities—recounted experiences he and Hodge shared during their years of friendship.
Hund recounts Hodge’s work with the Fresno Rotary Club’s Project Nino. Hodge organized a group to travel to Mexico and provide medical, vision, and dental services to locals without access to such services.
According to Hund, Hodge provided Project Nino services for 30 years uninterrupted until political issues, and the pandemic arose, causing a gap in his efforts.
Berj Apkarian—vice president of physicians and international health relations at CRMC—describes Hodge as a giant who served his community with his heart, dedication, and commitment.
Additionally, Apkarian serves as the first Honorary Consul to the Republic of Armenia in the U.S.
Hodge has worked closely with Apkarian locally and abroad on the Doctors Without Borders project, joining Apkarian on two occasions for medical missionary work in Armenia. Apkarian said since Hodge’s first mission, he has contributed to Armenia every year.
“He contributes by purchasing specialty supplies that are needed over there,” Apkarian said. “And that speaks volumes for his generosity and for what Dr. Hodge stands for.”
Hodge was presented a proclamation by the County of Fresno Board of Supervisors declaring July 9 would be known as Dr. David Hodge Day.
“As a passionate medical advocate, you’re recognized in the community for the passion you have as a leader,” the proclamation read. “You deserve as much thoughtful care and attention. And of course, rest, as you have always advocated for your patients.”
Incoming CalViva CEO Jeffery Nkansah presented Hodge with a plaque on behalf of the Fresno-Kings-Madera Regional Health Authority for his work in medicine.
“It’s been a great ride, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Hodge said. “It was time to pass the torch to the younger generation…Children in this Valley are in good hands.”
Hodge, 78, said relaxation is in his future as he hopes to begin traveling once the pandemic subsides.
“There are still some places that I haven’t seen that I’d like to go to,” Hodge said.
Mark Hodge said his father’s retirement is significant because being a pediatric surgeon defines who his father is. And now his father can spend his time elsewhere.
“It’s nice to be able to work at something I enjoyed. Too many people get into professions and jobs they don’t really like.” Hodge said. “I loved taking care of the kids and working the entire time.”