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‘She Cares’: A CU Department of Medicine Doctor Celebrates a Patient’s 100th Birthday

Charles and Janice Carlson get patient-centered care and share a human connection with Annie Moore, MD.

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Written by Mark Harden on February 15, 2024

It’s common for doctors to develop close connections with longtime patients – connections built on trust, caring, and common humanity. It’s not common for a patient to invite his doctors to his birthday party. And it’s even less common when it’s the patient’s 100th birthday party.

Last November, when Charles “Chuck” Carlson reached the century mark, he and his wife of 69 years, Janice, age 92, celebrated with a gathering at the Denver senior residential center where they live together.

The Carlsons are both internal-medicine patients of Annie Moore, MD, MBA, professor of clinical practice in the Division of General Internal Medicine of the University of Colorado Department of Medicine. Moore was on hand for the celebration. So was Elaine Lam, MD, professor in the Division of Medical Oncology of the CU Department of Medicine, who has treated Chuck Carlson. Lam brought flowers to the party.

Chuck says that he met Moore when she filled in for his previous primary-care doctor on an appointment. “I thought, ‘Here’s a lady who knows what she’s doing.’ She knows how to read a lot into what you’re doing, or not doing.”

“Dr. Moore, she cares,” says Janice. “We make a Christmas letter, and she took the time to compliment me on my writing.”

“I’m her superstar patient,” Chuck says with a chuckle. “There’s no one older than me. My son-in-law says I’m older than dirt.”

Full lockers

Any patient “who wants to invite me to their 100th birthday party, I’m happy to go,” says Moore with a smile.

Moore has been seeing both Carlsons at her practice at the CU Medicine Internal Medicine center in Denver’s Cherry Creek district since 2018. She has helped them through cancer diagnoses and various other chronic conditions. “They’re doing exceptionally well for their age, and they’re both pretty cognitively astute for their age.”

She says she loved hearing more of the Carlsons’ personal stories at the party.

“You learn stories about patients over time,” Moore says. “I have little storage lockers in my brain for each patient, particularly by the time I’ve seen them a while. A lot of their personal stories go into their lockers, and this is particularly true for Chuck and Janice. That’s what I find interesting about my work is – knowing people over time as people.

“So their lockers are getting fuller and fuller. I think that’s something they enjoy, too, because they know that I see them, I know them, I know who they are, and I know more about their history. When you have that connection with that patient, they see that you care about them for who they are as a person, not just as a patient.”

Chuck Carlson PartyCharles Carlson with his doctors, Annie Moore, MD (left) and Elaine Lam, MD, at his 100th birthday party. Photo courtesy Annie Moore.

A Christmas party

The Carlsons are lively conversationalists, pausing from time to time for a soft chuckle or a tender glance at each other.

Chuck was born on November 23, 1923, on a homestead in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in what is now Grand Teton National Park. He shares tales of his roots, his family, and his childhood of drawing water from a creek and splitting wood for the kitchen stove. As World War II loomed, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as an aviation machinist’s mate with a patrol-bomber squadron keeping watch for Japanese ships on the South China Sea.

After the war, he worked in a veterans training program, then spent several decades organizing and eventually leading apprenticeship programs in Wyoming and Colorado.

Janice’s father died when she was 11. There wasn’t much money, and she and her “wonderful mother” moved from place to place until they settled in the home of a ranching family in Cheyenne, Wyoming. That’s where she met Chuck, at a Christmas party in 1953.

“I thought I wanted to move to Houston,” Janice says. “He came and got me before we really were an item. He saved me from myself. I think we’ve been lucky, don’t you, Chuck?”

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “It was kind of scripted for us.”

20240112-Colwell-CUAnschutz-Charles_Colson-A8C6847Janice Carlson. Photo: Andy Colwell for the CU Department of Medicine.

Staying active

For more than 50 years, they lived in a home in Northglenn, where Chuck did several remodeling projects himself, including a full basement and deck. At age 92, Chuck was still mowing the lawn and climbing trees to trim them. Janice has written poetry and stories over the years.

When they moved into senior housing several years ago, they stayed active on resident committees.

“Janice is a very opinionated person,” Moore says. “She’s very clear on what she is after and what she will do. And I think that is a quality in her personality that’s helped her live this long and kept her alert, and I admire it. She's also always extremely well groomed, which I think is a lovely quality. She’s of that era where she dresses up to come see the doctor.”

"Chuck is the quieter of the two,” Moore adds. “And Chuck at 100 years old doesn’t want to have any annoying symptoms – even things like a runny nose. He takes pride in his ability to walk around as well as he does, using the cane.”

“I've been lucky,” Chuck says. “I still have a little memory and I still can stand up and not fall. I do have a little balance.”

“I don’t let him feel sorry for himself,” Janice says of her husband.

Patient-centered care

When patients reach an age as advanced as the Carlsons, “it’s normally not recommended to do standard screening” for certain cancers, based on life-expectancy statistics, Moore says. The common view is that the longer a patient lives, the lower the value of screening for some cancers.

But that's not the path Moore took with the Carlsons, who both were diagnosed with cancers while under Moore’s care.

“It’s the whole tension of, do we put everyone into the age group, or do we individualize some of these things? I tend to try to individualize if I really think the longevity is there, and so I don’t always stop screening quite as early” as other doctors might, she says.

“In their case, I do think it has been important that they’ve had these diagnosis and treatment, and that is a patient-centered care approach – individualized, personalized medicine.”

20240112-Colwell-CUAnschutz-Charles_Colson-A8C6868Charles "Chuck" Carlson. Photo: Andy Colwell for the CU Department of Medicine.

Secrets to longevity

So what accounts for their long lives? There’s no magic pill or supplement for that, Moore says.

“It’s good genetics, and strong family connections, and having a reason to get out of bed in the morning. And they’ve probably had pretty good health habits in all the classic ways – they weren’t big smokers or drinkers. They’re not interested in just accepting conditions that happen just because of their age. They like to have improvement and to try things to help them have less of those symptoms.”

She adds: “As we often see in couples of this length of marriage, they’re determined to stay there for each other. Each of them is determined not to be the first one gone. They’re now going for their 70th wedding anniversary in September; that’s their new goal."

The Carlsons have their own theories about long life.

“Keep moving,” says Chuck. “Stay active. Get off your duff. If you quit moving, pretty soon you can’t move. Just try to behave and stay out of trouble.”

“Agree to disagree,” says Janice with a laugh. They’ve both faced health challenges, she says, “but you don’t sit and worry about it. Help each other and support each other. You kind of want to be there for the spouse. Who knows what tomorrow holds? I pray that we can still be together for a while, anyway.”

Photo at top: Janice and Charles Carlson. Photo: Andy Colwell for the CU Department of Medicine.

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Annie Moore, MD, MBA