By Nancy C. Williams
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles in honor of Doctors’ Day, which was celebrated on Tuesday, March 30. The series looks at the medical family and how physicians serve as leaders in healthcare, their homes, and our community.
In the Aiken household, healthcare is truly a family affair…everyone has some sort of role as a medical provider.
Dr. Marc Aiken and his son, Dr. Alan Aiken, are orthopaedic surgeons at Watauga Orthopaedics. Marc’s wife, Laura, and Alan’s wife, Chelsea, are both nurses. Marc’s and Laura’s daughter, Emily, is a physician assistant and worked in orthopaedics two years, now presently working in obstetrics. Brett Anderson, Emily’s husband, is an orthopaedic physician assistant.
“With everyone being a frontline worker except for my retired self, conversations are either about bones, medical work, or vacations!” Laura said.
Both Marc and Alan, though, started out on different career routes.
“Marc was preregistered in architecture at Mississippi State as a freshman,” Laura said. “His job to put himself through school was working as an EMT at the hospital and eventually as a scrub tech. It was the orthopaedic cases that he loved the most. He says that generally ‘orthopods’ are down-to-earth and fun people who enjoy their work.
“He loved the challenge of being able to ‘fix things’ in different ways. He had wonderful mentors in medical school. The sports, joints, and trauma cases have all been his favorites.”
Alan watched Marc enjoy his chosen profession through all the years. Marc included daughter Emily and Alan in his activities—volunteering medical help at ballgames, traveling on medical mission trips, serving as the official U.S. Water Ski team physician, and all the time being involved in church, their schools, and community. “Neither Alan nor Emily really wanted to do anything else but medicine,” Laura said.
Before deciding on medical school, Alan spent three years as a ski patroller at Keystone, Colo., and Mt. Hotham in Australia. “Those years of taking injured folks down the mountain increased his desire to not just deliver them to the clinic, but pursue the next steps to care for them as a surgeon,” Laura continued. “I think that the hope of becoming an orthopaedic surgeon is the only thing that got him off those snow-covered mountains!”
Marc’s support of Alan’s sense of adventure enhanced their bond and brought them back together in work. “Alan and Marc both have an outgoing and positive personality and a lot of energy,” Laura said. “They have restored cars together and love restoring people to their best state of mobility!”
That energy and overall excitement for life is what originally attracted Laura. “Marc and I have been married 40 years, but we’ve known each other longer. We were in the same first-grade class in Starkville, Miss., and attended the same Starkville schools through the seventh grade, graduating from different high schools. We ‘re-met’ as sophomores in college at Mississippi State and married right before his third year of medical school.
“I knew there would never be a dull moment if I was to spend my life with him…this has proved to be more than true. One year, he was chief of staff at the Johnson City Medical Center, at Quillen Rehabilitation Hospital, and chairman of the deacons at our church. That takes a lot of energy.”
Marc’s real passion, though, is teaching. He has taught orthopaedics to medical students at Quillen College of Medicine since moving here, volunteering all that time. He is now actually teaching his second generation of medical students at Quillen.
“He has taught many residents and fellows locally and abroad,” Laura said. “It combines his love for teaching and travel. He has actually taught 12 of his current Watauga Orthopaedic partners, including Alan.” Alan became Marc’s 20th partner in 2020.
“Marc has loved being able to teach and guide Alan through all the challenges entailed in medical school, residency, and joining a practice,” Laura said. In 1999, Marc suffered a broken neck after a river rafting accident and healed after a number of months as a patient at Quillen Rehab Hospital. “Marc has not taken for granted the blessing of these 22 years with his kids after his accident…he gives God all the credit for his healing.”
Marc and Alan have been on multiple medical mission trips together and traveled to China and Austria while Marc worked with the U.S. Ski Team. One of Alan’s and Marc’s favorite trips was a month-long medical trip to Mongolia in September 2013.
Laura enjoys her role these days as a grandmother of four. Emily and Brett have three daughters, four-year-old Nellie, three-year-old Naomi, and nine-month-old Eden. Alan and Chelsea have one son, two-year-old Hudson.
Alan met his wife, Chelsea, when he was in his last year of medical school. “On our first date, he talked my ear off because he was nervous, but also because he was leaving for a mission trip to Haiti the following week and didn’t want me to forget about him!” Chelsea said. “He was a hard one to forget, and here we are after five years of marriage, with a little boy who says he ‘fixes bones like his daddy’!”
Alan is very similar to Marc in his passions for both people and adventure. Alan grew up ‘fixing things’ with Marc, woodwork and cars specifically.
“He also saw Marc at work and his passion for people,” Chelsea said. “Marc showed Alan that a career path in orthopaedics could be fulfilling and an ongoing adventure, with endless opportunities to serve.
“Alan cares for his patients like he would his own family. And after a long day, he comes home just as happy to love and care for us—he is an amazing man!”
Chelsea has joined Laura now, too, in membership with the Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance.
“I consider myself one of the lucky few who truly love their mother-in-law!” Chelsea said. “Laura has always gone out of her way to help me feel at home in Johnson City, and I cannot be more thankful for that. I have seen so many wonderful connections and friendships Laura has made through the Medical Alliance, and I am thrilled to now share that with her!”
Laura, too, is excited to have the next generation serving with her.
“When we moved here in 1988, I knew only one couple,” Laura said. “The Medical Alliance provided me an immediate family of folks whose lives were medically-driven. They are still some of my best and longest friendships here in Johnson City.
“I wanted Chelsea to experience the same support, friendship, and fun. She jumped right in and has been on the health promotions committee. She has also been involved as a nurse in the vaccination efforts at the Speedway and in Kingsport.”
Chelsea said that when she thinks about the Aiken family, one phrase comes to mind—that time together is time well spent. “This is something I’ve always found to be sweet about them,” Chelsea said. “They all truly value time together no matter what that time is!”
The Washington-Unicoi-Johnson County Medical Alliance supports the local medical community, provides volunteer services and funds for health-related organizations, and promotes healthy lifestyles in the tri-county area.