Dr. Ralph Camacho, who retires this week as ValleyCare's veteran gastroenterologist, has probably seen more of us from top to bottom than we'd like to admit, but he's also been a lifesaver to hundreds in Pleasanton.
Over the last 35 years of practicing medicine, all of it with the ValleyCare Health System, Camacho estimates that he has performed 60,000-70,000 colonoscopies, along with endoscopies, esophagoscopies and all other procedures involving what makes us tick. He must be good at it. His patients keep coming back and even commentators on Yelp write about his gentle touch.
Camacho is more than a medical specialist, though. Early on, he joined committees at ValleyCare when its main medical facility was still in Livermore. He has now served on every panel the hospital has had.
Last July, he resigned from the health system's board of directors after two-and-a-half four-year terms. It was during this board service and with his guidance, ValleyCare gained momentum after several financially-troubling years to become the leading regional medical facility it is today.
Camacho was raised in Pittsburg, and then enrolled as an aeronautical engineering major at Cal State San Luis Obispo with every intent of becoming an astronaut.
But he was a bit too late. By the time he graduated in 1970, Americans already had landed on the moon and the list of wannabee astronauts was filled. So he switched to medicine, earning a medical degree at UC San Francisco and then completing his residency work at UCLA before moving to Pleasanton.
In 1978 he opened a practice on Santa Rita Road and 10 years later, moved his practice into the new ValleyCare Medical Center when it opened.
Camacho chose gastroenterology as a specialty because of its diversity and the chance to provide patients with the care needed for healthy lives. Technology, computer-tracking and advanced scoping systems keep getting better, allowing gastroenterologists with ever-better, closer and more detailed exams of the stomach, liver, pancreas, colon, esophagus and other abdominal pathologies.
Not long ago, colonoscopies, part of this specialty, were seldom discussed and too often avoided, Camacho says, often to the regret of patients who waited too long for the procedure. He credits TV news personality Katie Couric for broadcasting her own colonoscopy with helping to alleviate the public's fear over the process.
Camacho insists that anyone who is 50 should have a colonoscopy; anyone older should have had one by now. To bolster public awareness, Camacho and his colleagues at ValleyCare even hold annual Walks for Colonoscopies in Livermore, and ValleyCare's promotions have helped encourage more patients to have the procedure done.
Medical practices have changed since Camacho first started his. Back then, he would spend 80% of his time with patients. Today, it's the reverse, with as much as 80% of his time required to prepare, review, prescribe and discuss insurance and regulatory issues concerning his practice.
That will get worse as state and national monitoring efforts and computer links increase. Even pharmacies will soon be involved, providing lists of patients' medication to a national monitoring service that will determine if there's a conflict in what's being prescribed or too many drugs being handed out that could lead to overdoses.
Looking ahead, Camacho and his wife Sue, who also has worked in the practice, are planning to travel in Europe, taking their time to look up long lost relatives in Italy, where her family roots are, and Spain, Camacho's ancestral home. Extended trips away from Pleasanton most often haven't been possible because while his office closes at 6 p.m., patients with any kind of pain call after hours and he always rushes off to the emergency room to see them if there's real trouble.
It's those frequent 16-hour days that led the Camachos' son and daughter, now in their 30s, to choose different careers with regular work hours. This Christmas, the family will all be together in the Camachos' Pleasanton home with no phones ringing to disturb the gathering.