At an age when many doctors are retiring to spend more time on the golf course, Walt Failor is just starting his new career in our home town, Masterton, New Zealand, and the Hospital where Maree worked for over 10 years.
American first-year house surgeon Dr Failor is working alongside colleagues younger than his own children and loving every minute of it.
“It’s amazing. I’m around talented people. When you have that opportunity you gain from it.”
Previously trained as a chiropractor, Dr Failor began his medical degree at the University of Health Sciences in Antigua when in his mid-50s.
In his third year of study, Dr Failor travelled around United States hospitals on training rotations, and through sheer persistence he procured a rotation at world famous Cook County Hospital in Chicago.
Determined to prove his competence, he volunteered for a six-week rotation at Cook County juvenile detention facility, performing HIV and STI checks on gang members and youth offenders.
His willing attitude earned him further work experience at the hospital.
But becoming a doctor is only part of his colourful career history. Dr Failor has been a reserve deputy sheriff, All-American footballer, pilot, commercial fisherman, chiropractor, hunter, shop worker and logging crew member.
He has clung to a tree for two days in Alaska while a brown bear circled the base, taken a childhood fishing trip with Senator Robert F Kennedy, and played on a college football team with O.J. Simpson.
He said at that time, University of Southern California Trojans teammate Simpson was “a great guy”. “It’s a dubious distinction now I realise but in college he had no peer. He’s the best player I’ve ever seen.”
Dr Failor was born in Aberdeen, Washington, where his father owned a sporting goods store but also became mayor of Aberdeen when his children were young.
In high school Dr Failor excelled at football and baseball, earning a place on the All-American football team and being drafted into the New York Yankees baseball team. However, his father decided he should go to college, so he didn’t tell him he had been drafted until years later.
After completing a degree in business and athletics, Dr Failor spent some time in Aberdeen working at his father’s store and patrolling beaches as a reserve deputy sheriff.
Deciding it was not his “cup of tea”, he left Aberdeen to train as a chiropractor in the American Midwest.
Upon his graduation in 1982 Dr Failor moved to Alaska to set up a practice and spent more than a decade there commercial fishing, dodging brown bears and flying Piper aircraft.
He arrived in Masterton in September 2011, fresh from driving a long-haul truck across the US to pay for his airfare to New Zealand.
Dr Failor said he chose New Zealand as a graduate job destination because he preferred the style of the entrance exams to that of other countries.
Before coming here, his only exposure to Kiwis was through 1972 All Black Duncan Hales who coached his chiropractic school rugby team to win the national championships in the 1970s.
He said Masterton reminded him of his home town Aberdeen for both its size and lifestyle. “Coming here is the best decision I made.”
Dr Failor would like to become a consultant in emergency medicine – a qualification he will reach by the time he is 68.