Longtime Gresham oral surgeon to retire Friday, Dec. 20

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Gresham oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Henry Windell plans to become reacquainted with a fishing pole after he retires from nearly 40 years in practice.

For more than three decades, Gresham oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Henry Windell has been reshaping the faces and lives of his patients through reconstructive jaw surgery.

But after Friday, Dec. 20, Windell will begin to alter the face of his own life when he hangs up his surgical scrubs for the last time.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do yet,” Windell said with a laugh, referring to his retirement. “I’m going to fish more, I know that. I’ve had to put that on the back burner for a quite a while.”

It’s easy to understand why Windell says fishing and other personal interests have been shelved for some time. During his lengthy career, he spent numerous years serving the best interests of the dental industry to ensure its equal representation in the ongoing evolution of healthcare. He kept pace with the technological advancements within his own field and passed his expertise on to others as an instructor of oral surgery and head and neck anatomy at OHSU’s Dental School and Mt. Hood Community College, respectively.

But beneath it all, Windell is a calm, compassionate and caring man, whose highest priorities have always been the well-being of his patients, his staff and the profession he so loves.

A native Oregonian, Windell was born and raised in Coos Bay. He graduated from Marshfield High School and went on to play football for the University of Wyoming in Laramie. After completing his undergraduate degree, he returned to his home state to attend dental school.

Windell graduated in 1967 from what was then known as the University of Oregon Dental School and spent six years practicing general dentistry in Seattle. But he discovered an interest in maxillofacial surgery during dental school, which led him to a surgical residency in Buffalo, N.Y.

“I always wanted to do general dentistry,” Windell said, “but I found I really l liked the surgical side.”

In 1976, Windell hung out his shingle in Gresham, across from the old community hospital downtown. By the mid-1980s, he was working with the state Legislature addressing issues facing the dental profession and found he had a passion for making things happen. Windell used his involvement with various committees as a springboard for uniting all sides of the dental industry, to ensure their voices were heard by lawmakers.

“What we’ve tried to do is keep the specialty of oral surgeons and general dentistry integrated,” Windell said. “That was mostly for legislative purposes. I did a lot of legislative work with the procedures that were to be covered under the Oregon Health Plan.”

Windell served as president for the Western Society of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons from 1999-2000. In September 2001, he was scheduled to take the oath of office as president of the Oregon Dental Association at the organization’s annual conference in Bend, but ended up stranded in Orlando, Fla., instead.

“I flew into Orlando very early the morning of Sept. 11 for another conference,” Windell recalled. “I got a couple hours sleep, and we were just waiting for everybody else to arrive. Then we found out what was happening. I ended up being sworn in over the phone by the ODA, sitting with my feet up on the bed. I was supposed to be in Orlando for two days, but it was almost a week before I got home.”

Windell served a year as president of the ODA. His prior work with various ODA committees had brought forth changes within the association to streamline decision making for board members and delegates, easing their time consumption as volunteers.

During his tenure as president, Windell furthered the implementation of smaller committees within the association, to enable quicker action for changes to bylaws and budget decisions. Windell also supported an existing task force that interfaced with government regulatory boards ensuring government safety standards were reasonable and understood by members of the dental industry.

From 2008 until last year, Windell was a trustee for the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, representing nine western states. As the end of his term as trustee approached, he decided to run for an elected office with the association, but was unsuccessful. Changes within his profession, combined with the election loss, led him to seriously consider retirement.

“Things have changed dramatically,” Windell said. “The surgery is the same, but it’s all analyzed by the computer now. We can take a model and rotate it on the computer to see what the face will look like. But I’m 71 — it was time to go. We’re doing some heavy things here with anesthetic and it was tiring — physically and mentally.”

Windell and his wife, Donna, are planning a road trip in their motorhome after the holidays, destined for a hiatus at the winter home in Arizona they are still settling into.

“My wife is a quilter, so she’s setting up her room down there,” he said, laughing. “We’re loading up all her sewing machines in the motorhome to take with us.”

Windell admits he will miss seeing patients and more importantly, his staff, many of whom have been with him for decades. He sold his interests to the practice on the campus of Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center to partners Russell Lieblick and Brandon Rehrer, with Beacon Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, in October. The group also has offices in Milwaukie, The Dalles and Vancouver, Wash.

While quietly pleased at having dedicated 37 years to helping his patients recover from the trauma of personal injury, Windell takes equal satisfaction in the contributions he has made to the profession he loves and the one that has been good to him.

“I’m not the kind of guy who likes the notoriety,” he said. “I don’t do what I do to get my picture on the wall — I do it from the heart. Some people give back to the community. I chose to give back to the professional associations. That’s just who I am.”

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