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African medical student continues great-grandfather’s legacy

January 1, 2019

NORFOLK, Neb. (AP) — Megan Tarantal never met her great-grandfather.

But she’s continuing the legacy that he created when he cared for the people of Pierce County. Which is why she recently traveled from her home in Capetown, South Africa, to Northeast Nebraska.

“I wanted to connect with my roots and get to know my great-grandfather,” Tarantal said to the Norfolk Daily News . “I had heard a lot of stories about him. He left a legacy.”

Tarantal’s great-grandfather was Dr. John Calvert, a noted physician who worked out of his office on Main Street in Pierce for 55 years. He was also active in the community, having served as mayor and on the school board there. He and his wife, Alma, both died in 1995.

“I’ve learned he was a dedicated physician and a caring man who went out of his way with his patients,” Tarantal said.

The desire to learn more about her ancestor was partly driven by Tarantal’s shared interest in his occupation. Tarantal is in her fourth year of medical school at the University of Stellenbosch Capetown. There, students enter medical school right out of high school. The program takes six years.

She came to Nebraska recently to work for a month with Drs. Tim Davy of Norfolk and Lane Handke of Pierce.

“As part of our course, we had a four-week rotation when we could do what we wanted,” Tarantal said. “I chose family practice.”

But Tarantal is no stranger to the United States or Norfolk.

Her mother, Kathi, was raised here. Kathi’s mother is Marian, John and Alma’s daughter. Kathi and and her family, were involved with the former Christ is King Church of Norfolk, which recently was renamed Lifepoint Church.

Tarantal isn’t the first person in the family to consider following in her great-grandfather’s footsteps. Her mother worked as a nurse for Dr. Davy for a while and thought about going on to medical school, too, but “felt called to be in the ministry,” Tarantal said.

While attending a conference in England, she met Peter Tarantal, who was a missionary in South Africa, where the couple moved after they were married.

Now, Tarantal is bringing the family’s interest in medicine full circle.

“I’ve always loved medicine ... and wanted to help people,” she said. “I felt it was a calling from God.”

While here, in addition to working with the doctors, Tarantal had the opportunity to learn more about her great-grandfather from Dr. Larry Birch, a longtime Norfolk and Pierce physician who recently retired.

In fact, Birch took over Calvert’s practice when Calvert retired. Birch showed Tarantal the house where her great-grandparents lived and took her to her great-grandfather’s clinic, which is now used as storage space for a business in Pierce. He also told her a lot of stories about her great-grandfather.

“Dr. Birch has a lot of respect for my great-grandfather,” Tarantal said.

As she returns to medical school, she’s grateful to Davy and Handke for allowing her to work with them and allowing her to gain such practical experience.

“This has been life changing in my medical career,” she said. “To know you’re doctor truly cares and can connect with people ... that’s something they don’t focus on teaching you in medical school. That’s why these experiences are key.”


Information from: Norfolk Daily News, http://www.norfolkdailynews.com

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