I grew up in that era when doctors made house calls,” says Robert “Bobby” Watlington, a patient of Johns Hopkins Medicine since 1997. “They came to the house, and we went to their house,” he recalls. That personalized care is something he values at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
At 87, Watlington wears wide suspenders with American flag patches and carries a Johns Hopkins baseball cap, which his mother taught him not to wear indoors. Second only perhaps to his passion for baseball is his support of the Johns Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.
His friend H. Furlong Baldwin, former chair of the Johns Hopkins Medicine board of trustees, suggested years ago that Watlington see the doctors at Johns Hopkins. Since then, Watlington has undergone shoulder replacements by Steve Petersen, hand surgery with Gene Deune and Dawn LaPorte, and treatment for bursitis by Ronald Byank. Throughout, his physicians have stressed the importance of physical therapy, which has allowed him to stay active. Despite living in Virginia Beach, a four- to five-hour drive from Baltimore, he wouldn’t consider going anywhere else.
Watlington describes a consultation before his knee replacements, performed by Carl Johnson. “I weighed 260 pounds. He said, ‘Mr. Watlington, I’d be glad to replace your knees. But until you lose 60 pounds, we won’t operate because it won’t be a success.’”
Johnson referred Watlington to a nutritionist, who helped him lose the weight over a year’s time. “Today, I weigh 177 pounds, same as in high school. I work out every day,” says Watlington.
“I had no trouble whatsoever after knee surgery,” he says. “I went home to Virginia Beach and walked up the steps. Such a great sensation.” Since then, he has become friends with Johnson, and the two attend Orioles games together.
When asked to describe the Johns Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery in a word, Watlington says, “the best.” He says, “They’re interested in your human welfare. They treat you as if you were one of their own.”
Having spent his career in retail, Watlington knows about customer service. “My granddaddy said, ‘You want to make the customers happy.’ That’s what he conveyed to me,” he says. He recognizes that spirit in the staff at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “I’m always early [for appointments]. They work me in. They know me by name,” he says.
After Watlington retired in 1997, he traveled to every Major League Baseball stadium in the country and even attended a Mets versus Cubs game in Tokyo. Watlington has no intention of slowing down, and his physical health allows him to maintain an active life. He’s looking forward to Christmas, when he hosts friends and family for breakfast. “I’ve had as many as 50 people,” he says. “It’s another challenge. It helps you stay alive.”
Watlington’s support of the Johns Hopkins Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and his loyalty to his physicians are his way of “treating people the way I want to be treated,” he says. “That’s my motto.”