Woman of the yearDr. Janet Fisher’s faith, family aid in fight against Parkinson’s

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

When Dr. Janet Fisher heard she’d been chosen Warren County Woman of the Year, she was stunned.

“Oh, you could have blown me down with a feather,” she said. “I was shocked.”

For the past two years, Fisher, 58, has been adjusting to a life after 20 years next to a dental chair, finding blessings in disguise after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

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She is savoring her time away from her practice with the things she loves.

“Now I’m mainly working with this yard,” Fisher said. “My fiance, Tracy Kirkland, helps me a lot because with my Parkinson’s, there are some things I can’t do. I love to decorate, and retirement has afforded me time to concentrate on some of the things that I enjoy.”

Fisher was born in Indiana, Pa., but moved to Vicksburg when she was 4 months old. She graduated from Warren Central High School in 1971, then received a bachelor’s in biology from Mississippi College. She then became a registered nurse for about a decade before heading to dental school.

She graduated from University of Mississippi Medical Center in 1990 and came home to Vicksburg.

In 2000, Fisher opened a dental practice, which she maintained until her diagnosis two years ago.

“The most interesting part about coming back here was seeing people from high school that would come in as patients,” Fisher said. “It was fun getting caught up with their lives and seeing what their careers turned out to be.”

She said she began developing friendships that went beyond the doctor-patient relationship.

“I became very close friends with some of my patients over those years,” she said.

“I saw patients with insurance, cash-pay patients and Medicaid patients,” Fisher said. “I saw a very diverse view of people and how they lived and their concerns about the community affairs.”

Fisher said that it’s hard for her to go out these days without seeing someone she knows through her practice.

“I still see some of my child patients at the grocery stores or somewhere like that,” she said. “It’s really heartwarming to have a child run up to you and say ‘Dr Fisher, I love you and miss you so much!’ It’ll bring tears to your eyes because they have a good memory of me.”

That nature was evident when she was diagnosed in 2010.

“At first I was very concerned about the future of my practice, my employees, and how I could handle getting the practice sold, but keeping it running until I could sell it,” Fisher said. “Dr. Margaret Nichols contacted me and she came over and started working. And then I advertised my practice for sale. Dr. Lake Garner of Hattiesburg bought it and he continued to employ Dr. Nichols.”

Nichols credited Fisher with helping the transition be a smooth one.

“She introduced me to a lot of her patients as she was slowing down,” Nichols said.

Fisher said leaving her patients and employees was the most difficult aspect of retiring.

Nichols said the family atmosphere Fisher emphasized was obvious when she first arrived.

“I don’t know of anybody that couldn’t get along with Janet,” Nichols said. “She’s just an incredible person really, one of the most likeable people you’ll ever meet. She treated her employees so well that they never wanted to leave.”

Fisher said the fact that her practice continues to thrive today as Vicksburg Family Dentistry, coupled with her faith, made leaving much easier.

“I do have a strong faith and that helped me a lot through that and things did fall into place.”

Today, Fisher is taking advantage of her opportunities.

“I’ve been able to spend more time with my granddaugther, McKena, and getting to set priorities in my life that aren’t based on financial gain,” she said. “I’m just concentrating on the things you can do even when faced with a devastating diagnosis such as Parkinson’s.”

Fisher praised Drs. Randy Easterling, her physician, and Lee Voulters, her neurologist, for their work with her over the past two years.

Alongside her doctors, Fisher said Kirkland has been her biggest supporter.

“My fiance has stood by my side throughout this unexpected lifestyle change,” Fisher said. “There have been some unfortunate side effects due to the anti-Parkinson’s medication and he has helped me cope with those.”

Even while being recognized for her contributions to the community, Fisher was humble.

“There are other women in Vicksburg that are much more deserving of this award than me,” she said. “For example, Georgia Lynn, the director of Vicksburg-Warren County Humane Society, works tirelessly on a limited budget to provide for abused and unwanted animals.

“Judge Vicki Roach Barnes, who is my hero, is the person that exemplifies the character that I strive to be. Hester Pitts coordinates Operation Christmas Child in Vicksburg and works at the First Baptist Church Medical/Dental Clinic; and Angela Turner, a community resource officer with the Vicksburg Police Department, who is heavily involved in making our community a safer place.

“Those are four great ladies that give themselves to make a difference.”