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Chiropractor retires after five decades

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum  Dr. W.E. Jackson and Vicki, his wife of 56 years, have said goodbye to their chiropractic practice in Covington following a long and successful career. "I didn't expect I was going to live this long. I never expected to practice this long. I've done pretty much everything one day at a time," Dr. Jackson said.

Staff Photo: Crystal Tatum Dr. W.E. Jackson and Vicki, his wife of 56 years, have said goodbye to their chiropractic practice in Covington following a long and successful career. "I didn't expect I was going to live this long. I never expected to practice this long. I've done pretty much everything one day at a time," Dr. Jackson said.

COVINGTON -- Vicki Jackson can explain how her husband has managed to keep a successful chiropractic practice going for half a century: "He's the guy with the magic hands," she says.

Dr. W.E. Jackson, who's been adjusting patients for 51 years, said a bittersweet farewell on Dec. 17 to clients who have become more like family. Vicki has been by his side for his entire career, including his nearly 40 years in Covington at an office off U.S. Highway 278. She is his assistant, X-ray technician, office manager, and, as she puts it, "chief cook and bottle washer."

The Jacksons have become trusted healers for many in the community, treating four generations in some families. Over the years, they've given away free care to those who couldn't afford it, because it was the right thing to do.

"I know I'm going to heaven. I'm just going to have to walk because I can't afford a chariot," Vicki Jackson said.

They've offered more than just medical care, recommending plumbers and roofers when patients ask, as they often do. Though their son, Marc, works alongside them, he has decided not to continue the practice, so it really is the end of an era, for the Jacksons and their patients.

"There are no two finer people, doctor or otherwise," said Janice Stone, who stopped by the office on the Jacksons' last day to deliver a fruit basket and hugs. Stone has been a patient since 1975, treated for headaches and injuries suffered during falls and car wrecks. "I won't have another doctor I feel like I can trust like them."

Dr. Jackson said he'll miss his patients, but, "One must know when it's time to quit."

At nearly 75, he's in need of knee replacement surgery. And though he still finds fulfillment in relieving people's aches and pains, the health care business just isn't what it used to be.

"I've enjoyed it all these years because it's been fun. These last few years are not so much fun anymore," he said.

"It's not the patients, it's the politics," his wife quickly added.

When Vicki Jackson first began assisting her husband with his practice, she spent the majority of her time on patient care. Now, it's taken up wrestling with insurance companies and trying to adhere to federal regulations.

"They tell you what to do, when to do it, how much time to spend with patients, how many patients to see in a day, and then they reimburse you 10 to 40 cents on the dollar. That doesn't even cover overhead," she said.

New regulations requiring all medical records to be kept electronically could cost the Jacksons as much as $100,000.

"Now you know why your medical doctor charges you so much money," Dr. Jackson said gruffly.

When he started out, office visits were $2 and all the patient's information was kept on a 4x6 index card.

Those days were simpler, but the Jacksons aren't averse to progress. Their office was the first in Georgia to electronically submit an insurance claim. The Jacksons want to publicly thank Sue Armistead, their loyal assistant of 30 years, for that accomplishment.

In addition to the advent of technology and increasing government involvement in health care, the Jacksons have seen a shift in the last 50 years in the medical community's opinion on chiropractic.

"When we started out, the relationship between chiropractors and medical doctors was not very good because people did not understand what we did," Vicki Jackson said. "Now, most of our referrals are from MDs."

The Jacksons have sought to work in tandem with primary care physicians and orthopedists, not replace them. Nor do they oppose the use of prescription medications when necessary.

But they also believe that chiropractic can sometimes offer healing that traditional treatment doesn't.

"To some people, we're the providers of last chance. They've been to orthopedists, neurosurgeons, they have sacks full of prescription medications and they still can't function," Vicki Jackson said.

It's giving people a better quality of life that's made the journey all worthwhile, the doctor said.

One of their most notable cases was a 3-year-old boy who hadn't slept through the night since birth. After one adjustment, his problem was solved, and he never had to return.

"That was very rewarding. It was very unusual, because we don't treat a lot of children," Vicki Jackson said. The Jacksons have from time to time received referrals from the Department of Family and Children Services to do pro bono work on toddlers born to drug addicted mothers, whose motor skills are diminished. They've seen those children improve in walking and become less sensitive to sound and other environmental stimuli.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, they've helped elderly patients get mobile enough to go on trips or simply sit more comfortably in a church pew.

"I think we feel so humbled these people, whether fourth generation or new this year, chose us to participate in their health care. All of them had a choice and we never took that for granted," Vicki Jackson said.

Dr. Jackson said he doesn't like to "toot my own horn," so he leaves most of the talking to his wife. He's a great physician, she said, with gifts that are divinely given.

"It's the community that has made us what we are. It's not us. We're an instrument. He was taught in school that healing comes from above. The physician is the instrument," Vicki Jackson said.

Jackson became a chiropractor because he was looking for a job; he didn't know it would become his life's work. Fresh out of military service, he needed to make money. His in-laws suggested chiropractic. At the time, it didn't seem that any supernatural forces were at work. But now, Jackson has a different viewpoint.

"The reason I became a chiropractor had to do with destiny," he said, but added, "I was led kicking and screaming all the way."

Vicki Jackson describes reminiscing about the last five decades as "like watching a black and white movie. It unfolds. There's an evolution to it."

"People are put on this earth to do certain things and deliver mankind to a better place," she said. "He said he's gone kicking and screaming. We all go kicking and screaming. But he's made the journey."