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  • Dr. Greg Montgomery of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health examines Gaby Basalo, 11, of Warsaw who was diagnosed with severe asthma at 10 months. The Basalo family used to have to commute to Indianapolis to see a doctor, but Riley now has an office in Fort Wayne. (Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette)

Tuesday, February 06, 2018 1:00 am

Short trip to the doctor

Riley physicians commute from Indianapolis for patients

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

Kelly Basalo didn't look forward to those drives – six hours round trip – to her son's doctor appointments in Indianapolis.

But the Warsaw mother of two didn't have a choice. Gabriel, known as “Gaby” to his friends, has a particularly stubborn form of asthma that most doctors don't know how to treat. So about three times a year, he sees a specialist at Riley Children's Health.

The past four or five years, Basalo has loaded up Gaby, 11, and his sister, who is three years younger, into the family car, where the kids would be “bouncing around in the back seat.”

Before heading back home, Basalo would take the kids to an Indianapolis park or other safe space where they could run around for an hour and burn off some energy before heading home. Each office visit translated to a 12-hour day.

Well, no more. On Monday morning, Gaby met with Dr. Greg Montgomery in Fort Wayne at Riley's new clinic off Cook and Coldwater roads. Doctors practicing pulmonology, gastroenterology, rheumatology, urology and cardiology will regularly make the trip from Indianapolis to meet with their young patients in the leased office space.

“That's one drive for me vs. lots of drives for people across the state,” said Montgomery, a pediatric pulmonologist and Warsaw native.

The 6,000-square-foot office, which is divided into three treatment clusters, was open Monday, its second day of welcoming patients. Bugs – including spotty WiFi access – were still being worked out.

The specialists will take turns using the all-purpose offices and 12 exam rooms. Patients are being scheduled based on when their doctor is in the building. Riley's pediatric cardiologists will continue to see patients in offices at Fort Wayne Pediatrics until April before making the move, Riley spokeswoman Emily Garrett said. 

Riley officials plan to add more specialties to the children's clinic in the future, she added. Among the possibilities, officials said previously, are hematology and plastic surgery.

Local patients who are able to schedule appointments in the new Riley office will still need to travel to Indianapolis for surgery and other in-hospital procedures, however.

This is Riley Children's Health first foray into northern Indiana. Riley Children's Health is the statewide pediatric health system. Riley Hospital for Children is its main hospital location. Both are under the Indiana University Health umbrella. 

IU Health previously announced plans to open an adult primary care facility on the city's southwest side at 7230 Engle Road, the first of possibly several locations.

Matthew Cook, Riley Children's Health president, announced the $1 million investment in September. At that time, he said Riley isn't angling to steal patients from Lutheran Health Network or Parkview Health. In fact, Riley officials reached out to Lutheran and Parkview before finalizing its expansion plans. 

Cook said then that he wants to provide care that isn't already available in the local market. 

Gaby, who has been wheezing and feeling some tightness in his chest lately, thinks he might have accidentally been exposed to a cat, one of his known triggers.

“It's not horrible, but it's not where we want it to be,” Gaby's mother said of his breathing capacity.

After listening to Gaby's lungs, Montgomery asked several questions about which medicines his young patient has been taking. He also measured Gaby's lung capacity by having him breath into a machine attached to a computer. In the end, Montgomery seemed satisfied with what he heard.

“He has asthma, we know that. ... But, really, it's been a good, solid year,” the doctor said.

A good year. Except, maybe, for those seemingly endless car trips that made the fifth-grader miss a full day of school and Basalo, a preschool teacher, miss a full day of work.

Montgomery said hundreds of children in the region will be able to receive treatment in the Fort Wayne office, saving those families many miles and hours on the road.

Gaby didn't sugarcoat his discomfort during those trips.

“I have to suffer the drive of being in the car, which is three hours straight,” he said.

After Gaby's examination, his mother was pleased that they didn't sacrifice the quality of her son's care for convenience.

“It's just closer and easier to get here,” Basalo said. “Everything else was the same.”

sslater@jg.net