By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Dr. M.V. Kalaycioglu recently took a glance behind him at what will soon be his 90 years of life. He will celebrate those nine decades on March 15th. And in looking back, he says there is not one thing he would change. Although there were many hardships along the way, he noted that they were far outweighed by joys.
Both Dr. Kalaycioglu and his wife Jeanny are natives of Turkey, but as far as they are concerned, they are AMERICANS – and two of the most appreciative, flag-waving citizens you’ll ever find. Perhaps that is because it was something they truly earned; it was not handed to them.
Dr. Kalaycioglu’s name has been shortened to “Kelly” as he is known now by most people. He recalls his years in medical school in Turkey but is quick to add that all of his post-graduate work, his internship and his residency were completed in the United States of America. He says he feels it was just his “destiny” to end up in West Virginia.
“I practiced medicine in Philippi for eight years and it was a wonderful experience,” Kelly noted. “We became indoctrinated there, had many good friends, and were happy. So we were very saddened to receive a letter telling us that because I was an exchange student and had spent my allotted time here, my student visa had expired and we needed to return to Turkey.”
It was with much disappointment that they packed up to leave what had become their home – the U.S. and West Virginia in particular. They recalled leaving with their 5-year old daughter in tow; they boarded a ship in New York and as it pulled away, another smaller boat approached and a man boarded to ensure that the doctor and his family were aboard!
Kelly says that according to law at that time, he was also forbidden to return to the U.S. for two years and he describes it as a “long wait”.
Jeanny added, “I watched every day for the mail to arrive, hoping that there would be word that we could return to the United States!”
An opportunity finally came for Kelly in Canada. He said at least it put him closer to U.S. borders, so he took it – along with a demotion!
“As educated as I was and with experience, I went back to intern status with a pay to match – $150 a month,” he continued. “We stayed in contact with some of our friends in Philippi and they knew we could not survive on that. Suddenly we began to receive checks – without names. A fund was set up for us just as their gift to us. It was very humbling.”
At that time, Jeanny also secured a job in a factory as a seamstress, but they were so frightened that it might jeopardize their eventual return to the U.S. that she quit and they personally apologized to the immigration department. Thankfully, all was forgiven and their return to American soil finally transpired.
For a time they were in Cleveland … and for a while in Virginia, where he could be licensed. Finally a stint at an Emergency Hospital in Fairmont changed things. Kelly brought a patient back to life who had been declared dead. Within a few days the man walked out of the hospital and newspaper publicity brought the incident much attention. The consensus was that such a fine doctor should be licensed, and when that message resonated to Charleston, West Virginia, laws were changed in the Mountain State!
It was thanks to the late Arch Moore that Kelly obtained his citizenship – the reason being that a physician was sorely needed in Shinnston, WV. Due to the death of Dr. Coffindaffer, the community had no local medical care provider. And Dr. Kalaycioglu ultimately assumed that post.
“It was wonderful to be back in West Virginia. Right away we knew that we were among good, caring people who welcomed us with fruit baskets and apple pies,” Kelly stated tearfully. “We were in another very supportive community among people with values.”
He noted that during his forty years in Shinnston, his office really never had strict hours. “My staff started at 10 a.m. while I was making hospital rounds. I arrived around noon and didn’t leave until the last patient had been taken care of. Those were my days,” he explained.
Jeanny added, “Those days were tough sometimes – especially because we had three children and I never knew when my husband would be home. But he loved what he was doing, so I supported him.”
Kelly concluded, “It was a long journey and maybe things didn’t happen as fast as we would have liked, but in God’s time. It became a wonderful life, living in a peaceful country. We became Americans through and through. We never spoke our native language again. We learned English; we ate American dishes. We flew our American flag and still do. I feel that my years here have been very blessed and that’s why I would never go back and change a thing. I guess you could say I am addicted to being an American. This will always be my home.”
Kelly retired from his medical practice and a long association with United Hospital Center in 2000 at the age of 75. Next week his role will be reversed and the former surgical physician will become a surgical patient at UHC. Please wish him a speedy recovery and a Happy Birthday!