Dr. Byron Oberst
Who would have thought a shoulder injury in high school would eventually lead to a life-long career in medicine? “I certainly didn’t. I was a sophomore at Omaha North High School at the time when I injured my shoulder “trying to play” football. At 140 pounds, needless to say I wasn’t very effective out on the field,” said Dr. Byron Oberst. It didn’t take him long to find his passion. It was right in front of him. “The doctor treated my shoulder injury and that experience really influenced me to pursue a career in medicine,” said Dr. Oberst. Born and raised in Omaha, Dr. Oberst graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1943, known then as Omaha Medical College. He then spent time in the Army at Fort Dix in New Jersey and Sendai, Japan before moving back to Omaha to start his own private practice in 1951. “Overtime I had a huge practice and a large consulting practice as well. At one time I did work for more than 160 doctors outside of the Omaha area,” said Dr. Oberst.
Dr. Oberst spent nearly 40 years as a pediatrician caring for some of Omaha’s youngest patients. “In the early days, it was mostly infants; and I soon became a high risk premature doctor,” said Dr. Oberst. Back then, doctors were battling Rh disease, a type of hemolytic disease of the newborn which typically occurred in pregnancies where the mother’s blood is Rh negative and the fetus’s father is Rh positive, leading to an Rh+ pregnancy. During the birth, if the mother is frequently exposed to the infant’s blood, this usually caused the development of antibodies which would then be passed down to the fetus through the placenta. In many cases that would cause deafness, mental deformities and sometimes fetal death from heart failure. To treat that disease, doctors like Dr. Oberst had to replace the baby’s blood through an exchange transfusion where the blood is exchanged with other blood from donors. “I did 500 of those exchanges,” said Dr. Oberst.
He saw the very first shot of penicillin given at the Nebraska Medical College and Hospital. Pediatric immunizations became very important in those days as children were being immunized against such diseases as diphtheria and polio. In 1952, Nebraska had the worst polio outbreak in the state’s history. “People were so frightened. More than 360 children with polio were treated at Children’s Memorial Hospital during that summer. Most of us pediatricians lived in the hospital during that time as well,” said Dr. Oberst.
His private practice centered on the well child. “My efforts focused on health care and health care delivery to young people. We all volunteered to do tuberculosis testing for children at area schools. We even had a well baby station at 24th and Lake Street in Omaha between 1952 and 1958 where we weighed, measured newborns and infants,” said Dr. Oberst. He and other doctors would talk to new mothers about best practices and proper care for their babies. He chose a career in pediatrics because of the challenge. “The patient can’t talk back to you, so you have to become a great observer. If you stay around young people, you’ll always stay young,” said Dr. Oberst. That couldn’t be more truthful for him.
Now at 93 years old, Dr. Oberst continues to be a life-long learner. “I’ve written seven books and one children’s story. I also take guitar lessons.” What songs can he play? “Almost nothing! I’m still trying to learn certain songs,” Dr. Oberst said. His grandson, singer-songwriter Connor Oberst, who is best known for his work with the American indie rock band Bright Eyes, recently married a woman of Hispanic descent who’s working on her United States citizenship. Dr. Oberst wants to be able to communicate with her so he is using two computer programs to learn Spanish. “Don’t ask me anything in Spanish right now though, I’m still working on that too,” Dr. Oberst said.
He was married to his wife Mary for 66 years until her death in 2011. Together the couple raised three boys: Byron, Terrance and Matthew. “Mary came from a family of four girls. She had to learn about baseball. Three strikes and you’re out. She hated football and wrestling but the boys loved it. We had a wonderful life together. She had a lot of compassion and patience. She was a great mother and wife,” said Dr. Oberst.
After he retired in 1988, Dr. Oberst and his wife traveled the world together, touching 48 of the 50 states and made trips across the pond to England, Rome, the Greek Islands and other European territories. He has lived at Lakeside Village for about five and a half years and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “You have to have exercise, access to faith, family, safety, health, and activities to keep you busy. I get all of that and more here at Lakeside Village,” Dr. Oberst said. For him, it was truly love at first sight. “I walked in the door and just fell in love with the place. I saw the grounds and the community. Most retirement communities I visited have no place for people to really walk, talk and visit with one another. I wanted a place where I could go out and walk, see the flowers and get fresh air. I can do all of that here at Lakeside Village. It’s one of the reasons why I love living in an Immanuel community. It really is a lovely place.”