At age 94, old-time country doctor Hugh ‘Ted’ Payton is not exactly idling away the golden years.
He conferences with business partners. He promotes his latest invention on Facebook to oxygen users. He’s got people.
Payton’s industrious character embodies the Greatest Generation. Persevering in the service of others the doc was always thinking how he could make life better for his patients.
That led him to inventing.
“You see a problem and it keeps cropping up and cropping up,” Payton said. “And you figure, what can I possibly do?” He may have hit on his biggest invention yet.
Raised in Oklahoma amid the Depression, he served Stateside in the U.S. Navy during World War II and arrived in Jeffersonville, Ohio, population 900, in 1946. He was the sole doctor — and coroner — until he retired nearly 50 years later. He doctored seven days a week, sometimes making 10 house calls a day.
“Had to,” he said. “Nobody else around.”
The part-time Naples resident still has the faithful ‘81 Dodge Ram truck he drove to house calls in Jeffersonville, 40 miles southeast of Dayton.
If you saw ‘Doc Payton’ bearing down in the rearview mirror, you’d best give him room, friend and town funeral director, David Morrow, 76, said.
“You didn’t want to get in his way because he would run you over,” Morrow said. “He did not suffer slow speeds.”
Payton delivered thousands of babies in farmhouses, saved nearly severed limbs after tractor accidents and set countless broken bones of devilish farm boys.
When the phone rang at 3 a.m., there was no question who needed help moving a patient or a body. Doc arrived lickety split anywhere and expected the same of you, Morrow said. There was no hospital nearby for many years, let alone pharmacy.
“We didn’t have a drug store so we were dispensing our own medications,” Payton said.
The country doctor
Payton and his wife of 72 years, Jo Ann, divide their time between Naples and near Asheville, North Carolina. He calls her “sugar.”
Their life together has been a dream, his wife, 92, said. She only wanted him to be the best doctor he could.
“He never turned anyone down,” she said. “If someone didn’t have the money to pay the bill, he said they already had problems. He wasn’t going to add to their problems by asking how they would pay the bill.”
They both are from Oklahoma. They met when Payton was in medical school at the University of Oklahoma and a bad tooth sent him to a dentist. She was the dental assistant.
They wound up in Jeffersonville by way of Dayton. Payton was a U.S. Navy physician but the war ended before he could be shipped to the South Pacific. The Navy sent him instead to a veteran’s hospital in Dayton.
When his obligation to the VA hospital ended, he approached a doctor in private practice about joining him. They were too poor to move anywhere far.
The other doctor said he had the ideal town for Payton, meaning Jeffersonville, and arranged financing for an old house.
Open your practice on the first floor and live in the two rooms on the second floor, the other doctor told him.
“This man was a total stranger to me,” Payton said. “We were poor as church mice.”
It took some time for people in Jeffersonville to accept him, given he was 24.
One of his first patients, an elderly woman with a broken hip, called him to her home.
“She said when I walked in, ‘I called for a doctor not a little boy,’” he said. “That made me realize I was a little boy at the age of 24.”
Jo Ann Payton liked the simpler life; farmers are good people.
For five years, they lived in the two rooms on the second floor above the practice. Their three children were born 16 months apart and she had to keep them entertained and quiet in the day. They didn’t have toys so they made circus trains out of boxes.
“We always played with my pans. They loved my pans,” she said. “They couldn’t do in the afternoon because we lived above the office.”
Every Christmas Eve, they piled in his truck to drop off presents to the townspeople, sneaking around the farm dogs to drop the goods on front stoops. Pulling out of each driveway, he’ d honk to announce Santa had visited.
Payton remains beloved in Jeffersonville.
“Doc was an icon in our small town and county,” Morrow, the funeral director, said. “Everybody called him ‘Doc’ or ‘Doc Payton. If we were serious about something, it was Dr. Payton.”
“We laugh about him being made out of cast iron,” Morrow said. “He is tougher than all get go.”
His inventing side is something most people in Jeffersonville don’t know about, Morrow, the funeral director, said.
Payton developed a plastic umbilical cord clamp, to replace steel clamps, in the early 1960s. He invented a walking cast. He connected a push lawn mower and a riding mower — side by side — for a wider swath.
“It worked beautifully,” he said. “I used it all the time in my own home.”
He secured patents on his half dozen inventions. Patents didn’t prevent his ideas from being stolen. He didn’t have marketing know-how.
His wife was used to him spending money on inventions, even though they’ve never brought in a penny. At least not yet.
“It keeps me home and out of mischief,” Payton said.
Payton came up with the idea of a single prong nasal insert for oxygen in 1988. He was 67. The single-prong nasal breathing device is a cannula delivering supplemental oxygen for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. The compassionate country doc always knew what troubled his patients.
“I took care of a lot of people who were on oxygen,” Payton said. “They were so miserable with the double prongs. How it irritated their nose and their ear and the constriction of the chin and all that stuff. I thought, surely there’s a better way.”
His device is called Uni-Flo2 for a unilateral patient oxygen delivery system. He has partners in a company, UPODS, to market it, deal with manufacturing and negotiate contracts with health care businesses.
“This will go,” he said.
The thin plastic tubing goes behind the ear to the front of the face and nostril. He used an EKG patch as an adhesive to keep the tubing secure. He got a patent. He pitched it to Medtronic, the medical device company but it was rejected.
Payton dropped the whole thing. When he retired in 1992, he sold the original house and practice together to someone who liked the set up.
“I sold it off to a young boy I had delivered,” he said. “He went to medical school.”
Back to the drawing board
Payton’s idea for the single prong nasal device was reborn in North Carolina. Payton and his wife moved to Black Mountain, east of Asheville, to be near their daughter. A respiratory therapist mentioned the breathing difficulties of a patient and nostril ulcers from a double prong device.
“He was my father’s best friend,” Campbell Cauthen, 63, the respiratory therapist, said about Payton.
Cauthen suggested revisions to the device based on his training and experience in industrial design.
“I’ve adopted Dr. Payton as my second father,” Cauthen said, who is one of the business partners for the device. “I want him to see his dream come true.”
They added a thin wire in the plastic tubing to contour to the face; the nasal insert is at a 70 degree angle for better fit and a flare at the top to keep oxygen in the nasal passage between breaths.
A clear adhesive can secure the tubing behind the ear and cheek and a clip on the plastic tubing secures it loosely to the shirt.
Eighteen months ago, an Atlanta-area medical device product development expert, John Stephens, agreed to meet Payton.
“We drew it up on napkins,” Stephens, 58, said. “I think this has a good chance of success because it addresses all the issues, the nose irritation and it increases the oxygen level.”
What’s critical is that it gives dignity to people who have been tethered to an annoying dual prong device, he said.
Stephens is the chief operating officer in the company handling the product development and manufacturing. There are negotiations with major medical companies.
Payton and his team will have a booth at a convention of home health companies in October in Orlando. He and the retired country doctor speak daily.
“We kind of have this standard morning call,” Stephens said. “He’s very active. His mind is sharp.”