Dr. Michael Lastine retired last fall after 44 years as a doctor, all of which he spent in Pipestone, Minnesota. During that time he delivered 3,217 babies. He clearly did much more than that during four decades as a doctor, but that bit of information is an example of how Lastine’s mind works and part of what led to him becoming a doctor. He’s meticulous, he remembers details and has what he described as a mathematical mind. At age 72, he’s also quick to tell a story.
When he was about 10, he said, his mother had cancer and it created in him a type of “cancer phobia.” That phobia and his analytical mind caused him to research healthy lifestyles. “I started doing this epidemiology stuff…and found some 37 civilizations that had little or no cancer.” What he found caused him to make lifestyle changes including cutting meat and sugar out of his diet.
His path took a clear turn toward becoming a doctor when he was around 12 years old. He had received some academic honors in school and when he went to church “this elderly lady came and talked to me and said, ‘Michael, you need to become a doctor and come back to our small town,’” Lastine said. “That was the first time I ever thought about it and I could never get her out of my head.”
Then something else happened. He damaged his front tooth playing basketball and had to have a root canal. The dentist had numbed his mouth, but when he started working, Lastine passed out. “When I came to he said, ‘People who do that make good doctors because they can feel pain when they can’t feel pain,’” he said. “I never forgot that one either.”
He ended up in Pipestone due to a classmate he had at a Christian boarding school. The two became friends and were later roommates during their freshman year at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska. Later they lived across the street from each other while attending medical school at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California.
During medical school, Lastine ran out of money and was thinking about joining the Army. Christensen’s dad heard about it and offered Lastine a loan to help him finish his schooling. “He didn’t require that I come to Pipestone, but he said, ‘At least think about it,’” Lastine said.
He had other offers, but he wanted to work in the Midwest. The words of that lady from church, urging him to be a doctor in a small town, echoed in his mind. Lastine started working as a doctor in Pipestone in 1978.
Lastine said he continued to receive offers to work elsewhere, but that it was the wonderful people he worked with that kept him at Pipestone County Medical Center.
During his long career, Lastine saw significant changes in the field of medicine. One of the most significant is technology, which has impacted countless elements of the profession. “We can treat things now that we had no treatment for 40 years ago,” Lastine said.
Lastine said he stuck with his profession for so many years because he saw it as his Christian calling to serve people. “I have considered it my complete privilege and honor to care for people and help people,” he said.
Lastine plans to remain in the area after retiring. He said he decided to retire now due in large part to his wife of 15 years, Kathleen, who has become bedridden due to an illness. He also hasn’t been able to visit his children and stepchildren in Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado and California. “I just want to focus on that,” Lastine said. “I’m not tired of the job at all.”
Lastine also said he’s looking for his next calling, which could include writing, providing health classes or seminars, and helping more with the Black Hills Health and Education Center that he helped start in 1979. He also plans to keep gardening in his three-acre plot, running and enjoying art and music.