Upon his retirement, Dr. Frank Kane looks back on 37 years as a family physician

Sparta. His compassion for patients was his lodestar.

Newton /
| 14 Jan 2021 | 04:12

It wasn’t an easy decision.

“You come to know your patients not just as patients but as individuals,” said Dr. Frank Kane. “You are with them throughout the various phases of their lives.”

After a lot of debate, Dr. Kane, 69, decided it was time to retire. Several weeks ago he bade his patients and co-workers a heartfelt adieu. He had always put his patients first.

Jack and Ailish Hambel know that firsthand. He saved both of their lives. “He’s more than great, he’s phenomenal,” Jack said.

In August, a few years after Dr. Kane saved Hambel by recognizing a serious problem behind his dehydration, it was his wife who was ailing. “She was having problems with balance and just didn’t feel right, so we went to Dr. Kane,” he said. “He told us, ‘It could be an inner ear problem but let’s do a MRI.’”

Dr. Kane sent them to a specialist at Overlook Hospital. She had a malignant brain tumor. “He’s the kind of doctor who would call you at home to make sure everything was going okay,” Hambel said.

Dr. Kane was elected American Board of Family Medicine’s director in 2001 by the membership. “I was the first family practitioner selected and was responsible for the certification of 70,000 family doctors,” he said.

Early in his career, Dr. Kane worked in urgent care facilities. “I got to suture, which I like, but there were long hours — 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” he said. “Still, when you went home you went home. With urgent care, I wasn’t seeing continuity of care, and that was what I was trained for.”

Dr. Kane’s Facebook page links to many studies about the heart. He started extensively researching the heart after he suffered a heart attack in 2014 and had a quadruple bypass. “I have strong genetics but my mom died at 53,” he said. “You have to look at your family history and other contributing factors. It’s the number one cause of death in women.”

Dr. Kane tried to be there for his family as much as possible, but in the context of his job which required his attention 24/7. “We had many interrupted dinners,” said his wife, Pat.

Becoming a doctor

It wasn’t Dr. Kane’s lifelong goal to become a doctor. He went to the University of Connecticut as a math major his freshman year. During his sophomore year he changed that to accounting.

“At that point, football was more important,” he said, laughing.

The summer heading into his junior year, Dr. Kane’s mom, who worked as a switchboard operator at Beth Israel Passaic, got him a job as an orderly. Working in the hospital changed his mind and his major to pre-med.

After earning his B.S. at Rutgers, he became a physician’s assistant in 1978, and graduated in 1982 from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. At Mountainside Hospital, he served his family practice residency and was chief resident from 1984 to 1985. He was an owner and medical director at Family Medical Care in Cedar Grove from 1985 to 1987, then owner and medical director at Immediate Medical Care in Newton. From 1996 to 1999 he was medical director at Family Health Center in Andover. He joined Skylands Medical Group as a physician in 1999 and transitioned to become a MDVIP physician with Skylands in 2010.

“MDVIP allowed me to see patients at a pace I found much more reasonable for my age,” Dr. Kane said. “I could spend more time with patients and it was more personalized.”

Connie Coco Kirk of Stillwater has been a patient of Dr. Kane’s for about seven years. “When I learned he was joining the MDVIP, I was so pleased because I would be able to make an appointment with him,” she said. Before that, she said he was “well known as ‘the best doctor’ in Sussex County, but because of his popularity, it was difficult to see him.”

Like many of Dr. Kane’s patients, Neil McCaffrey of Fredon calls him a friend, to himself and to his wife. “It’s hard to put what Dr. Kane is all about into words because he’s so different from any other doctor I’ve seen,” McCaffrey said.

He reminds McCaffrey of the beloved main character in the ‘70s medical drama “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” who was on a first-name basis with his patients. “I know I’ll see him as a friend, but as a doctor there’s a huge void,” he said.

Dr. Kane has numerous honors, publications and awards to his credit. But, to him, the biggest accolades come from his patients. “It brought tears to my eyes when I learned of the news,” said Karen Meyer of Sparta. “He’s just so wonderful and, because of his knowledge, saved my husband’s life.”

Tenacious searching saves a life

One story of a life saved is very close to home. Pat married Dr. Kane almost 40 years ago, while he was in medical school. She saw the intense education and residency it took to become a doctor, and bore witness to the long hours he put in throughout his career. “So many people have told me how Frank had helped them or even saved their lives,” Pat Kane said. “I recently experienced that myself.”

In September she was very fatigued, so her husband ordered blood work. Nothing remarkable came up, so he kept searching. “He realized that my records did not have the biopsy from my colonoscopy of three years ago,” Pat said. “He did not order the colonoscopy and therefore would not have received the biopsy. He called the doctor that I had the procedure with and requested the results. It turns out the polyp that was removed was pre-cancerous, and I needed an immediate repeat colonoscopy.”

As it turned out, she had a malignant tumor and needed immediate surgery. “I was operated upon on October 20th and had part of my colon removed,” Pat said. “Fortunately my surgery removed all the cancer, and at this point I do not need chemo or radiation. I am, however, being followed by an oncologist. If not for Frank’s determination and thoroughness, my outcome would be very different. I like to say medicine and his patients are his second love. He truly is my hero. Thanks to his tenacious efforts to keep searching, my life will be longer and healthier.”

Dr. Kane said he’s looking forward to enjoying his my family. “Lord knows they’ve been very patient with me over the years,” he said. “Ordinarily my wife and I would travel, but it’s now not in the cards.”

What is in the cards are their two sons, Michael, 27, and Frank IV, 32, and his wife, Barbara, along with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Lorelei. “They live nearby, so we can babysit,” Dr. Kane said.

“He is the only physician I have encountered that spent the time to explain medical issues, listened to my concerns, answered questions, and kept me up to date on my medical history,” Coco Kirk said. “I never felt rushed or like I was just a number. I will miss Dr. Kane and it will be difficult to find someone that can fill his shoes. I wish he could have cloned himself before retiring!”

“There are many stories like mine,” Pat Kane said. “He is blessed to have had a calling that has made a difference to so many. To love what you do and helped people. What could be better than that?”

Dr. Kane on COVID-19:
Dr. Kane received his first dose of the COVID vaccine last week.
“It’s all so new,” he said. “There’s no experience [with this virus] to get information. The issue we face is even if the antibody test is positive, they are reluctant to say you are immune. Another issue is that many people are afraid to get the vaccine. With the Swine Flu, there was an issue with a vaccine that caused a very unusual neuromuscular condition. It had to be recalled.”
Dr. Kane provided some information he received from MDVIP to help ward off the virus.
“They are recommending 500 mg of vitamin C, 2000 IU of vitamin D, 50mg of zinc and 500 mg of quercetin daily,” he said.
“Dr. Kane is the only physician I have encountered that spent the time to explain medical issues, listen to my concerns, answer questions and keep me up to date on my medical history. I never felt rushed or like I was just a number. I will miss Dr. Kane and it will be difficult to find someone that can fill his shoes.” Coco Kirk