By Gabrielle Fimbres –
When Mark and Ginny Wheeler opened a pediatric endocrinology practice in Tucson 21 years ago, an infant swing for their baby, Ben, was among the most crucial pieces of office furniture.
Ginny, a pediatric nurse, and Mark were able to care for children with diabetes and other endocrine disorders while raising their own four children.
“I was in practice by myself so I was on call all the time,” said this M.D. who has been voted in “Best Doctors in America” for the past seven years.
“At that time, when we sent newly diagnosed diabetes patients home from the hospital, they would call me every time they ate and they would give me their glucose numbers and I would tell them how much insulin to take until their dose was stabilized. Our four kids grew up in the practice. They learned mama, daddy and insulin as their first words.”
Wheeler, now division chief of pediatric endocrinology and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona, is a 2015 Father’s Day Council Tucson Father of the Year.
Seeing the daily struggles that parents of children with type 1 diabetes endure, he said it is an honor to accept the award on their behalf.
“Over the years I have gotten to know the mothers and fathers and I have learned a lot from them,” Wheeler said. “That is truly a deserving group. I hope I can be a representative of some of the challenges they go through.”
Wheeler was born in Fresno, Calif., and grew up in Yuma, where his mother and stepdad worked for a seed company.
“When I was a kid I always wanted to be a doctor,” said Wheeler, whose father was a general practitioner in Fresno.
He attended the UA, where he studied microbiology, and went on to medical school at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I wanted to go into pediatrics,” Wheeler said. “You develop relationships with patients and families and you get to watch your patients grow and develop. I thought I would be a general pediatrician in a small town, but one of the things that interested me was endocrinology. You are still able to maintain those relationships with families and the pathology is very interesting.”
During residency at the UA College of Medicine, Wheeler met Ginny, who was a pediatric nurse in the intensive care unit. The two married and Wheeler completed a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at the University of California, Davis.
After having three children, they decided to return to Tucson. So when the children were 4, 2 and 10 days old, Tucson became their home once again, and a fourth child was born two years later.
“There were no jobs at the UA, so we set up a private practice,” Wheeler said. Ginny would check in patients, do diabetes education and hormone testing and translate for Spanish-speaking families.
After five years, the growth of the practice led Wheeler to move it to the Children’s Clinics for Rehabilitative Services, which allowed Ginny to spend more time with their family. A decade ago, he joined the UA.
The Wheelers, now married 28 years, are parents to Paige, who lives in Salem, Ore., with her husband, Ryan; Charley, who lives in Tucson with his wife, Alex; Ben, who is a senior at the UA and Greg, a UA freshman.
This Wildcat couple is proud of their four, who all have attended UA.
Wheeler and the UA pediatric endocrinology team treat a variety of disorders, including thyroid disorders, growth problems, adrenal disorders and issues in puberty. About 40 percent of patients have type 1 diabetes.
“In endocrinology, usually when you find a problem there is a solution or a treatment. It’s nice in that respect, that we can help children,” he said.
When his children were younger, Wheeler worked his schedule around theirs as much as he could.
“I would go to the kids’ events and go on rounds after,” he said. “We all wish we had more time with our kids. You have to make a commitment to be there when you can.”
He is also involved in his community. He served on the board of JDRF and has taken part in events that raise money for research for type 1 diabetes.
He has also traveled with his church group to Agua Prieta, Sonora, to help build shelters.
After years as a nurse, Ginny fulfilled her dream of becoming a school teacher, and teaches first grade.
Wheeler credits his wife with making the family a happy one.
“She does it all,” he said.