JACK HUTTON: Remembering Dr. Mike Krawetz Who Devoted 47 Years To Caring For All Of Us

Mike Krawetz

By Jack Hutton

We have lost another living legend in Bala. Dr. Michael (Mike) Krawetz, who looked after our little town for 47 years as Bala’s only doctor before retiring in 2013, died on Friday, July 16th at the age of 88.

Hundreds of us are sharing memories today of the warm and friendly man who was our family doctor for decades at his River Street home that also held his office. Mike was one of the old school of doctors who never hesitated to come to your home, regardless of the hour, if you needed him.

Mike became my family doctor 31 years ago when I married Linda in 1990, making the switch from a long-time cottager to a year-round resident with Linda at her historic home on Bala Bay. I was amazed to find that the lives of Mike Krawetz and myself had intertwined since I entered the journalism program at the University of Western Ontario in the fall of 1952.

Mike Krawetz had been there for a year as a medical student on his way to becoming a doctor. We were at Western for the next three years but never met. Journalism students were well down the social ladder from future doctors. We drank at different pubs and had different meeting rooms on campus.

I first met Mike as a Bala cottager in the 1970’s when my son John, then 10 or 11, tried to split his right big toe in two while chopping a piece of firewood at our Lake Muskoka cottage. I rushed John to Mike’s office on River Street where he got everything under control very quickly in a calming professional way.

I wrote at least two What’s Up magazine columns about Mike as we slowly became friends and then neighbours. (Bala’s Museum With Memories of Lucy Maud Montgomery is right across the road from where Mike and his beloved partner, Gail Bentley, lived until they moved a couple of years ago to Currie Street) Here are details about Mike from what I wrote years ago.

Mike was born and raised in Hamilton. He began working summers at Stelco as a teenager and worked his way up to operating a blast furnace. In the fall of 1951 he enrolled as a medical student at the University of Western Ontario, one year before I arrived there.

Western was a life-changing experience for him, he later told me. He was in awe when some of his professors, legends in their profession, mingled with him and other medical students at a nearby pub nicknamed “Buckets of Blood”. Mike graduated in 1957 and took over a medical practice in Jarvis, a village just south of Hamilton on the way to Port Dover.

I graduated from Western before Mike in 1955 with a “quickie” B.A. degree. I was eager to get first-hand experience in newsrooms, starting off with the Calgary Albertan. By the time I moved to the Winnipeg Tribune in 1957, Mike was just graduating with his degree to take over the medical practice in Jarvis.

Mike had always had an itch to move north. While helping out at a Bracebridge clinic in the mid-1960s, he discovered that Dr. Wilfred Bennett was about to retire in Bala. Mike became his replacement in 1965, renting Bennett’s home and office on River Street for three years before buying it.

To say that Mike Krawetz became widely respected is a gross understatement. His peers at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital in Bracebridge regarded him so highly that he was elected for an unprecedented three five-year terms as Chief of Medical Staff. Meanwhile, he became a father figure for the entire community of Bala and its surrounding territories, helping a new generation of youngsters enter this world and eventually their children as well.

The best thing that he ever did, Mike told me more than once, was hiring a young woman called Pam McDivitt, to be in charge of his office. We feared her raised eyebrow which told us that we were getting out of line. Pam kept the office running like clock work for more than 30 years.

I cannot finish this tribute without mentioning a miracle that happened on Remembrance Day in 2009. On that day – Wednesday, Nov. 11th – Mike became increasingly aware of unfamiliar pains and sensations in his own body. What he didn’t know was that an aneurysm was threatening to burst at a weak point in his aorta, the medical equivalent of a time bomb going off in his chest.

Finally, Dr. Mike called 9-1-1. It was not a moment too soon. The odds of surviving a rupture of the aorta that close to the heart are badly stacked against the patient. Dr. Mike had perhaps only hours to live unless he received appropriate surgery.

Two ambulance attendants started appropriate treatment as the ambulance rushed towards Bracebridge. Meanwhile, a doctor on emergency duty at South Muskoka Memorial Hospital had started a rush plan to get Mike to Toronto ASAP.

Thanks to urgent calls from that emergency doctor, a bright orange Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, one of 11 provincial air ambulances stationed around the province, touched down behind the Bracebridge hospital less than an hour after being called. Two highly trained flight paramedics wasted no time raising Dr. Mike’s stretcher into the belly of the helicopter, which is outfitted as a miniature hospital in the sky. Thirty-five minutes later the lights of downtown Toronto were clearly visible below the helicopter. The top heart surgeon at Toronto General Hospital was already in place with a team of four other doctors, waiting for their arrival.

For the record, the emergency doctor who saved Mike Krawetz’s life was Dr. Adam McClennan who has been my personal doctor in Gravenhurst ever since Mike officially retired in January, 2013. Thanks to Dr. McClennan, Mike Krawetz enjoyed an extra 12 years of life which only ended on Friday this week.

Mike Krawetz finally retired in 2013 with a crowded retirement party at the Wahta Administration Building and I well remember the speeches of tribute and the lengthy standing ovation which followed. Long-time friends like Frances Decaire lined up to congratulate Mike and have their photographs taken with him.

That brings us to Mike’s final weeks.

After spending time recently in hospital Mike had a choice of where he wanted to go next and he chose to return home to Currie Street with Gail and their majestic cat.. I had the honour of delivering Meals on Wheels to them two or three times , prepared by Ken and Tiffany Bol at the Bala Falls Takeaway Restaurant. That gave me a chance at least twice to sit with Mike and chat about our days at Western (others who delivered included Allan Turnbull, Brad Burgess, Ron Algate, Dave McIntosh, Linda Jackson-Hutton, John Jackson and Marg Durnford).

Our hearts go out to Gail at this moment. No one could have been more supportive and positive than Gail was with plans to take Mike out into the sunshine with a ramp once the weather improved. It was also good to see Pam McDivitt there, looking after her former boss in the same supportive way that I remembered from years ago.

God bless you, Mike. This whole town will remember you forever for all the years that you cared for us.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here