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Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche

While there are many who aspire to the motto, “Never give up,” Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche is a true example of living it. She was a trailblazer by becoming the first female OB-GYN and surgeon in Murfreesboro, and after almost losing her leg to a 12-inch blood clot, she returned to endurance racing as a way to raise money for a local non-profit.

“I am so fortunate to have been reared by parents who instilled in all of us a strong sense of commitment to family, community, and service,” said Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche. “… I have tried to follow those simple rules my entire life.”

The desire to serve led her to wanting to become a doctor at the tender age of five, after reading a book called Nurse Nancy.

“In the story,” said LaRoche, “Nancy’s brother was the doctor. I remember thinking that I wanted to be the doctor, and couldn’t understand why Nancy wasn’t. From that moment on, I had the dream to become one and didn’t stray from that commitment --ever…Now, I have been one for 38 years!!”

Born in Murfreesboro, LaRoche was the middle of five children born to Richard and Marty LaRoche. She attended Campus School through the eighth grade, and then Central High School (which is now Central Magnet School). She went on to the University of New Mexico, and then to University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I really had no idea what type of MD I wanted to become,” said LaRoche. “I wanted to do it all. Everything interested me. When I did my OB-GYN rotation, I KNEW immediately that taking care of women was my calling…It encompasses everything----caring for teenagers to the elderly...It involves family medicine to surgery!”

When she began her practice in 1984, she was surprised to learn that she was the first female OB-GYN and surgeon in Murfreesboro. Initially, the nurses weren’t sure how to treat her or work with her, but she gained their respect after her first weekend on call. After 34 years, that weekend is still the busiest on call weekend she ever experienced.

In the end, the nurses helped her negotiate the surgical suites, labor, and delivery. “I will never forget that first weekend,” said LaRoche. “It gave me the self-confidence I needed to survive in a male-dominant career, as well as [coming to understand] the value and importance of listening to, and learning from those who have had a lot of experience and expertise.”

Deciding to help women beyond the confines of her office lead La-Roche to become involved with both the Girl Scouts and the Domestic Violence and Sexual Abuse Center.

“[My husband and I] have contributed to and volunteered for many community organizations,” said LaRoche, “but Girl Scouts and Domestic Violence Center are particularly near and dear to my heart. They are organizations that help and serve women in their development to become leaders, and give them hope and help in their darkest hours.”

It was her commitment to these organizations that got LaRoche, at the age of 58, interested in running a half Iron Man Triathlon. “I had done a sprint and an Olympic distance triathlon the year before,” noted LaRoche, “and fell in love with the sport. I surprisingly won my age group [in the Iron Man]! No one was more surprised than me, and that led to a three-year career of competing. At the time of a career- ending event, I was ranked fifth in the world in my age group.”

She was in the middle of a triathlon in Las Vegas when her leg quit functioning, and she had to swim almost a mile using just her arms. When she got out of the water, the leg went numb, and her foot turned white.

Popliteal artery entrapment syndrome caused a blood clot that almost took her foot to amputation. After multiple surgeries and a case of staph infection, the Wound Care Center at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital was her last chance, according to the hospital’s website. After two months of spending two hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber, the results were astounding. She could walk again.

“My participation in [triathlons] made me push myself physically and mentally…” said LaRoche. “It taught me how strong one can be…Through my determination and encouragement from family and friends, I am competing once again.”

Realizing that she’d have to find a “new normal,” one that didn’t include competing in triathlons, led her to long distance open water swimming. With the support of her husband, John Murry, who acted as her pilot, she took on an 11-mile swim called “Swim the Suck” in the Tennessee River in Chattanooga.

“My husband and I raised over $25,000 for domestic violence and sexual abuse through that swim,” said LaRoche.

LaRoche has seen first hand the results of domestic violence and sexual abuse in her job as an OB-GYN. It was thinking about the women (and men) who suffer from domestic violence and sexual abuse that kept her going through the pain and struggle of the swim fundraiser, according to an interview on WGNS.

“I am a truly blessed woman” said LaRoche, “and want to give credit to my loving and extremely supportive husband and family. I never could have accomplished many of my goals without their support, understanding, patience, and most of all love.”

Confessing that she sometimes drives her husband crazy with her zest for life and not taking any day for granted, she continues to drive herself towards new challenges and she is always learning something new.

“I hope to continue to serve our community for many years to come,” said LaRoche.

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