By Dana Sleger //
Dr. Allison Wall is not your regular doctor. There is gentle kindness in her eyes, unbending hope in her words, determined patience in her practice, and sincere warmth in her hugs. Oh, those hugs. Dr. Wall likes to think of the gesture as her signature, and to the more than 1,000 people she treats, it’s a rare, beautiful one-on-one connection of genuine care.
Dr. Wall, 40, has practiced medicine on the Gulf Coast since 2008. She specializes in the study of hematology and oncology, which is the treatment of blood disorders and cancers.
When patients and staff members are asked to share their thoughts about what makes Dr. Wall so special, compliments of highest praise fill the room. Holly Dear is a chemotherapy infusion nurse who has worked with Dr. Wall for the past five years. As patients visit Memorial’s Medical Oncology at Cedar Lake every week, Dear says she is constantly amazed by Dr. Wall’s deep connection with every person she treats.
“She is by far the most devoted and passionate doctor to all of her patients,” Dear says. “It doesn’t matter if they have been her patient for 10 years or if it’s been a year — every patient receives top-quality care. She is very hands-on, personable and takes her time with each one because they are important to her. She is not your normal doctor.”
And Dr. Wall wouldn’t have it any other way. She believes in the healing power of touch, attention, and a dependable doctor/patient relationship based on the notion that she is by their side, arm in arm, to face health obstacles together.
“I truly believe that if a patient has a really good connection with their doctor and understands they really care for them, a patient could have the scariest diagnosis, but gets through it with such courage if they have strong support,” Dr. Wall says. “They didn’t choose it to happen to them, but we have to tackle it together. I want them to know we are doing it together and I will be there to support them the best way I can. My patients are my second family.”
Dr. Wall completed her hematology and oncology fellowship at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Mo. She attended medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she also met her husband, Mark, who is a radiologist stationed at Keesler Air Force Base. They have been married 11 years and have two children: Katherine, 5, and Grant, 4.
By 28, she had finished medical school, but her fascination with this field began at a young age. Her mother is a retired obstetrics nurse, and her father still practices family medicine full time. However, there is a foundational memory that greatly shaped her passion for patient care.
When Dr. Wall was 5 years old, she lost her beloved grandmother to breast cancer, who lived with the family during her sickness. She remembers watching her mother care for her grandmother with such tenderness. She remembers hearing the bell ring from her grandmother’s room if she was in pain. She remembers walking by an empty room after her grandmother passed away.
As hard as it was to lose a part of her family and see her mother grieve, Dr. Wall’s strong faith in God brings comfort in knowing the exchange of physical pain for eternal peace is a soothing balm for the mourning soul.
“My first interaction with a cancer patient was my own grandmother,” she says. “I think about all my patients and what they go through. Cancer treatment is tough and it’s really tough to watch a family member die. The memory of my grandmother left a forever impression on me.”
This type of special empathy is what makes Dr. Wall such a special doctor. Over the years, she has rejoiced with many brave patients who successfully defeated their disease, but the hardest part of her job is losing cherished champions during the battle for their lives.
Whether facing a triumphant victory or a grim reality, Dr. Wall is humbly astounded by the number of gifts she receives from patients who want to express their appreciation. There are two treasures she especially holds very close to her heart.
“One of my dearest breast cancer patients who died in her late 30s gave me a pillow that says, ‘Hope is the eternal well from which life springs; hope is the promise of all good things,’ ” she says. “It’s one of my very favorite possessions. It reminds me of her and how courageous she was. Hope is tremendously important to me and to my patients. Without it, I don’t know how you can get through the journey.”
The second gift is a pearl given to Dr. Wall from the daughter of one of her patients who died from lymphoma. The precious gem hangs next to a cross Dr. Wall wears proudly around her neck every day — a memorable gift that makes her tear up when talking about its significant meaning.
“This pearl represents all the people that I have lost that are so dear to me,” and as she points upward, she says, “I know where they are and that gives me peace. I think about them every day.”
Dr. Wall’s profession may be emotionally challenging at times, but looking back, if she had to do it all over again she wouldn’t change anything about the path that led her to a second family on the Gulf Coast, she says.
“Medicine is not a job, it’s a calling — a ministry,” Dr. Wall says. “At the end of the day, I want to feel like I did whatever God put me on this earth to do and that I had some purpose in giving back.”
Need a hug? Dr. Wall is waiting with open arms, a smile on her face, and hope in her heart.