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Faces Behind the Numbers: Dr. Leo Wyrsch

Dr. Leo Wyrsch, longtime OB/GYN in Springfield
Gorman-Sharpf Funeral Home
Dr. Leo Wyrsch, longtime OB/GYN in Springfield

Leo Wyrsch was a longtime OB/GYN who delivered thousands of babies in Springfield.

COVID-19 has taken at least 763 lives in Greene County alone. One of them was a longtime Springfield physician.

Dr. Leo Wyrsch died on September 28, 2020 in Springfield, the city where he was born and raised. He was 85-years-old.

His son, Dr. Brad Wyrsch is clinic president at Mercy Springfield and a practicing orthopedic hand surgeon. He talked about his father as he took a break from work not far from where his father lived as a child.

"He grew up in a house kind of off National Avenue not too far from where I'm sitting now. It's a few blocks just to the north St. John's at the time. He was the second oldest — he had four other siblings," said Dr. Brad Wyrsch.

Leo Wyrsch attended school at St. Joseph and St. Agnes and loved playing sports, his son said.

He excelled academically, and Brad said that’s likely why his dad decided to become a doctor even through there was no one else in his family who was in the medical field.

When the elder Dr. Wyrsch was in medical school, he chose obstetrics and gynecology as his focus.

"He really like OB when he was in his training," said Dr. Brad Wyrsch. "He had a good mentor and really enjoyed delivering babies and taking care of women and their health problems."

After serving in the Air Force – including as a flight surgeon in the early part of the Vietnam War -- Dr. Leo Wyrsch set up practice in Springfield at the Women’s Clinic with two other OB/GYNs. And, over the course of his long career, he brought many babies into the world.

"He told me one time that he probably delivered in his career something like around 14,000 babies in this area," said Wyrsch. "That's a lot of people. That's like the size of a small city."

When you deliver that many babies, it’s inevitable that you’re going to run into former patients and the people you brought into the world. And that’s what happened with Leo Wyrsch.

"It would happen all the time. I remember not only growing up but even, you know, in the more recent years when I would be out to dinner with him or something there would be somebody at the restaurant that would recognize him and come up and say, 'hey, you know, do you remember me?' And, of course, he always played it pretty cool because I know he didn't remember all those patients, but he always acted like he did," said Wyrsch. "And then, of course, it was funny because a grown person would be standing next to this lady and saying, 'oh, this is the person he brought into the world, you know, 30, 40 years ago' and here's this grown person. I still get that today. Even in my practice people will come in and they'll show me pictures of my dad holding their baby or whatever when they were first delivered. So, it's kind of cool to see that."

The younger Dr. Wyrsch says his dad was a workaholic, but he always made sure to balance work with family. He was a good father, a good family man who was close to his siblings and made time for his four children.

"You know, going to our sporting events or what we were doing in school," he said, "but somehow he was also off delivering babies, and he just did it. He was just unbelievable balancing his time."

According to Brad, his father was a great joke teller – a talent he got from his mother, whom he calls “the greatest joke teller of all time.” She lived to be 100. And he was just fun to be around.

Leo Wyrsch loved to get away when he could, and, when his kids were young, he bought an RV for the family to travel around the country.

When Brad decided to become a doctor, he said, his dad was really excited, but he didn’t pressure him in any way. He remembers when he had to choose his career path in medical school and was torn between OB and orthopedics. Even though he knew where his heart was leading him, he was nervous to tell his father.

"You know, when it was about that time I thought, 'oh gosh. I've got to tell my dad that I've made the decision to do orthopedics. This is going to be the most difficult call I've ever made.' And I thought I might be disappointing him, you now. So, anyway, I made the phone call and I said, you know, 'Dad, I've been thinking a lot, been torn, you know, I love OB. I love orthopedics.' I was kind of hemming and hawing around. And he said, 'I'm going to make this easy for you.' He goes, 'I know you want to do orthopedics. You should just do orthopedics. You're not going to hurt my feelings,'" said Wyrsch.

Brad said that’s how his dad was – just very supportive.

And he wasn’t afraid to try new things when it came to his medical practice. The younger Dr. Wyrsch says his father was excited to try laparoscopy when it became available, and he became the first OB/GYN to use laparoscopic technology in his field in Springfield. Laparoscopy is often referred to as a minimally invasive surgical technique.

"I think at the time he was doing it, you know, he was probably the right person to do it," said Dr. Brad Wyrsch. "He was at that time in his career where he wasn't brand new, you know — somebody doing things that maybe they weren't skilled enough to do, but he wasn't the older guy in the group that wasn't really willing to change and be innovative. So, I think it came at the right time for him to do that. And he embraced it and introduced that to Springfield."

Brad used to go on rounds with his father when he was young. He says his father took time to get to know his patients and to make them feel at ease.

"Whether it be something with their family or maybe something their other kids were doing or, you know, from being around here they may have known a lot of common people. And so, just making that connection, I think, was his style. That, and he would joke around with them and he would make them feel at ease and relaxed. And I think that's important for an expecting mother to have that relationship or any woman to have that relationship with her physician — just to have that comfort level being able to be open with them and having that good patient experience with their physician, so I think he was really good at that."

After Dr. Leo Wyrsch retired, he took up golf and enjoyed playing with his buddies. He kept in touch with friends he’d made while attending school in Springfield.

And he volunteered at Mercy – starting at the orthopedic hospital where his son worked. He would check in patients and walk them back to their rooms before surgery. He eventually transferred to the main hospital where he worked at the information desk and enjoyed interacting with patients and their families.

Brad said his father was an exemplary person who set a high bar for OB/GYN in the community.

"I think he was the epitome of what an OB should be for their patients — their work ethic, their commitment to excellence. You know, what they do, how they take care of their patients, how they present themselves in the community. So, I think that's what he would want to be remembered by — that he was a good, quality physician; great, great person; great father and a great friend to many."

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.