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The cookie doctor

Affectionately known as the “cookie doctor” to her patients, Carlann DeFontes, DO, ’12, hasn’t led a cookie-cutter life. From LPN to DO and everything in between, this adventurist helps underserved and diverse communities in the most remote locations.

Growing up athletic and outdoorsy, Dr. DeFontes’ lifelong dream was to become a doctor. With a father from Hawaii, her childhood was filled with swimming and sailing, but as a LPN in rural Colorado, she also learned to ski, kayak, and river raft. Furthering her education in Seattle, Wash., she paid her way through nursing school as a commercial fisherwoman. She worked as an RN for many years, putting medical school on hold as a single mother.

Encouraged by her physician brother to become a PA, Dr. De- Fontes enrolled at the University of North Dakota, which offered a program focused on serving rural and underserved areas. After graduating, she moved to Alaska and for 10 years performed minor surgeries, endured inclement weather, and participated in search and rescue missions, climbing glaciers and facing raging rivers.

She served many remote villages and communities including those on the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, an oil rig on the North Slope, and a gold mine near Juneau. As a PA, she was often the highest level provider available, but to those she helped, she was much more.

“I love becoming part of a community,” she says. “I wasn’t related to anyone, so they would often ask me to do other things like grade science fair projects and hide Easter eggs.”

One of her fondest memories comes from early house calls to the villages. She baked cookies and took them to elderly patients and their families as a segue into their homes. After a few visits, they warmed up to her. Eventually, the children stopped by her home on weekends to learn to bake.

“My name is a little difficult to pronounce, so they ended up calling me the ‘cookie doctor,’” says Dr. DeFontes. “In fact, that’s how I’m listed in their recipe books.”

Some memories are not as sweet. One day, a young crab fisherman caught his jacket in the lines as he lowered crab pots into the water. His arm was pulled through the block and crushed, leaving it partially amputated. While Dr. DeFontes tried to stabilize him, an elder walked in with chest pain and a heart rate of 30. To make matters worse, the Coast Guard couldn’t reach the island because of hazardous weather conditions. Unaided, she took care of both patients for three days.

“I knew what to do most of the time, but I didn’t always understand why,” Dr. DeFontes says. “I wanted to give my patients more and understand more about medicine.”

She finally pursued her dream at SOMA.

Now completing her residency in Honolulu and happily married to a boat captain, she’s splashing back into water sports, adding stand-up paddling and canoeing to her repertoire. Planning to stay in Hawaii, she not only remains committed to serving rural and underserved communities, but she also carries her multifaceted background and experiences with her.

“I wouldn’t have done what I did in Alaska if I had completed medical school first,” Dr. DeFontes says. “I’m so grateful for every step along the way.”

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