Making a difference in Arcade
Dr. Gordon Comstock

By Donna Hoke; photo by kc kratt

If the fewer than 2,000 people of Arcade, New York, have anybody to thank for bringing another doctor to their medically underserved town, maybe it’s Richard Nixon. And why not? That’s who Gordon Comstock, M.D., one of Arcade’s three physicians, thinks should get the credit. Following graduation from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and two years in the Peace Corps, Comstock returned to his alma mater to do research. Five years later, Nixon balanced the federal budget and wiped out the funding that was providing his paycheck. “My professor said, ‘Get a job or go to medical school,” recalls Comstock, who chose the latter and earned his degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Comstock is not an Ohio native, nor even a native of the Northeast; rather, he worked his way north from birth in Florida, early childhood in Georgia, high school in Maryland, and college in Ohio. His residency landed him at Highland Hospital in Rochester, and when the time came to choose a medically underserved area to meet the stipulations of a scholarship—he was required to stay two years—he chose Arcade. That was thirty years ago, and he’s been here ever since.

“I was always interested in providing care to rural and underserved areas. I was in the Peace Corps and I’m socially conscious,” Comstock says. “There’s a fair amount of work and frequently not a lot of money, but I like the [small] community spirit, the people you know, the fact that you can see that you make a difference when you do something.”

With the help of a physician’s assistant, Comstock’s practice serves more than 3,000 patients at the office and, occasionally, with house calls. And lest anybody think small-town family practice is boring, Comstock is happy to dispel the notion. “I am responsible to be their doctor, their specialist, gynecologist, endocrinologist, orthopedic surgeon, and pretty much everything else,” he points out. “If it’s more serious than I can handle, I get assistance or advice from specialists in Buffalo, but many things, we take care of right there.” And that includes everything from everyday broken bones and heart attacks to more exotic afflictions like malaria, flesh-eating bacteria, and even one rare case of paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, literally a one-in-a-million disease, all right there in Arcade.

Because many of his patients are elderly, Comstock sought increased specialization in geriatrics so that he might better serve them. “When people retire, they go south,” he notes, “but when they get sick, they come back to be with their families. Older people are living longer; eighty is the new sixty-five.”

At sixty-seven, Comstock is thinking about retirement himself and looking for someone to help ease his sixty-hour work week. But for him, retirement won’t mean being idle. Since 1989, Comstock has been involved with NY/HELP, a United Church of Christ program that sends members to the remote Indian village of La Laguna in the Yoro mountains of Honduras. For the past twenty-two years, Comstock has traveled there—at times with wife Ginger or one of their two daughters—to work on medical, agricultural, sanitation, and nutrition programs. “I’d like to do more of that,” he muses. “I’d like to take care of my patients, but also spend time doing things like free clinics in Buffalo or elsewhere, or a migrant ministry,” he muses.

If that sounds like a dubious retirement, consider Comstock’s father, George Comstock, epidemiologist, tuberculosis expert, and founder of the Johns Hopkins Training Center for Public Health Research and Prevention (Hagerstown, Maryland), who retired at age eighty-eight but continued to teach until his death at ninety-two. Ironically, the elder Comstock was a WNY native, born in Niagara Falls. Seems the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Donna Hoke is editor of Buffalo Spree Home and a frequent contributor to Spree.


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