Dr. Harold Chastant can’t stop practicing medicine. He’s still reading the journals, and he’s still giving advice to his son and two grandsons — all practicing doctors in Lafayette. Clearly he continues to be moved by a love for his work that makes it seem “work” might be the wrong word.
This month, Chastant (known to most as Popa Doc) will turn 93 years old. He’s as passionate as ever about exactly how to treat patients and is still making house calls.
“I love medicine,” he says simply when asked why his retirement in 1991 doesn’t look much like retirement. “Also, I have no other talent.”
Chastant left his private solo practice in the early ’90s and has been working with Hospice since. From what we can find, he’s the oldest practicing doctor around these parts. Rather than sit at home and enjoy his golden years, he’s still arriving at patients’ homes and bettering their lives. For many, it’s as their own lives are ending. And he’s steadily guiding the three doctors who carry his family name — Ryan Chastant, Bradley Chastant and Bradley Chastant II.
Harold began his journey into medicine at an age most kids are looking at their first car — 16. That’s how old he was when he went to college, graduating three years later to pursue medicine. Sure, he was young, but this is a man who started working at his father’s local feed store — Chastant Bros. — in the wee hours before school began ahead of getting a “real” job at 10 years old at Keller’s Bakery.
“I made a dollar a week,” he says. In 1945 he finished med school as a general practitioner and interned at Charity Hospital in New Orleans before returning to Acadiana to start his own practice.
He had an office in Broussard and one in Youngsville at a time when the roads were unpaved and gravel lined. He was paid in everything from clothing and horses to veggies. People had very little. He treated them anyway. He made house calls. He never took a break. He had the revolution of penicillin and little else.
Chastant was young and on the verge of a breakdown, he says.
He returned to education and specialized in internal medicine and cardiology, becoming the first heart doc in the area and ushering in a new era of medicine as diagnostic tools advanced, pharmacology boomed and procedures once revolutionary became common place.
When we sit down to talk and I share that Harold’s grandson is my doctor, he’s quick to ask if he put me on the table and talked and physically examined me.
I say yes, and his pride is clear. “He taught us that you sit down, you put them on the table and you listen to the patient,” Bradley II says. “If you spend enough time with a patient, they’ll tell you what’s wrong with them. You have to be a good clinician. Not a technician.”
Bradley II practices at Lafayette General Medical Center as an internist. Just across the street, his father Bradley and brother Ryan are at the helm of Acadian ENT.
“He gave us a philosophy of how you approach patients,” Ryan says.
Ryan is the most recent to join the Lafayette fold of Chastant doctors after finishing a fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery last year in New York.
Bradley has been watching his father in action since he was a young boy going on house calls and sticking by Harold’s side even at the hospital.
“Back then there were not a lot of doctors in town. Those were the formative years of medicine. He opened the first ICU unit and helped develop it. That was at Lourdes. It’s an era of medicine that’s forgotten,” Bradley says.
While many have forgotten a time when meds were little more than sulfur and penicillin or open heart surgery was unheard of, Harold recalls them all with sharp clarity. He is moved by medicine, by his family and his beloved late wife Evelyn (who was a nurse) and a lifetime of doing the only thing, he says, he was ever any good at.
“I love to make house calls. I get to know the whole family. I speak French to the ones who enjoy that, and I sit in the bed with them,” Harold says. “The Lord has been good to me, and I love what I’m doing.”