Doctor’s approach to care inspired by St. Therese of Lisieux’s ‘little way’

Dr. Bettag’s goal is to ‘be the best person God wants me to be’

APPLETON — There are numerous dramatic accounts in the Bible of Jesus healing the sick. Many people today share that same mission of bringing help, hope and healing to the infirm.

As part of the Diocese of Green Bay’s 150th anniversary, Bishop David L. Ricken will celebrate a Jubilee Mass for Persons with Disabilities, the Sick and Caregivers on Sunday, Feb. 11, 11 a.m. at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.

Dr. Matt Bettag, a member of St. Bernadette Parish, said he draws on his faith to guide his work as a medical doctor. Before visiting patients he often says, “Let me be Christ to others.” Bishop David Ricken will honor caregivers, the sick and people with disabilities during a Jubilee Mass Feb. 11. (Amanda Lauer | For The Compass)

Following Mass, Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D., director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, will speak on “End of Life Decision Making in Sickness and Compromised States.” His address is sponsored by the The St. Gianna Molla Catholic Medical Guild of Northeast Wisconsin.

Dr. Matt Bettag, a member of St. Bernadette Parish in Appleton, has spent his career taking care of the sick. He is a board certified otolaryngologist from the Chicago area who moved to the Fox Valley in 2002 with his wife and children to join the staff at Ear, Nose and Throat Surgical Associates in Appleton.

Dr. Bettag had good role models as a youth when he was discerning his profession. “My dad was a physician; we grew up with medicine,” he said. “My mom was a very nurturing person, a very devout Catholic. Our whole lives, our parents were very good about helping people.”

The care Dr. Bettag offers to his patients as an ear, nose and throat physician may seem mundane compared with what an oncologist or heart surgeon can do for their patients, but it’s proven to be the ideal endeavor for him.

“We’re not doing open heart surgery. We’re tweaking lifestyles — we’re making a person’s nagging pain or nagging hearing loss or nagging sinus problem better,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but it does help people. It’s not major cures but I’m OK with that. I actually enjoy it a lot. I think it’s what I’m made to do. Not everyone can be St. George slaying the dragon.”

He likened his role in taking care of people to St. Therese of Lisieux and her “little way,” seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday.

“If I can do my best and be the best person God wants me to be in the situation, where (maybe) I’m not saving lives but I’m helping people, that’s great,” said Dr. Bettag.

“I jokingly tell my kids I’m making the deaf hear,” he said, when asked if he was following in Jesus’ footsteps. However, something as minor as an ear tube procedure can have a considerable effect on a person’s life and can actually cure some people of chronic ear issues.

“This is the ‘little way.’ You can teach anyone to put ear tubes in but it happens to be what I do. It never seems giant to me. It’s like we’re tweaking,” said Dr. Bettag. “I didn’t invent antibiotics, I didn’t create these surgical procedures — I’m doing what I was trained to do. It’s the surgical technique that’s healing. I’m just the instrument and anyone could be that instrument.”

Faith is an integral part of Dr. Bettag’s life and profession. “I go into work in the morning and I might be listening to Catholic radio or I might be saying a prayer and then you kind of get caught up in your day and every once in a while you’ll get kind of worn out,” he said.

“It’s at times like that I’ll stop outside the door of a patient, and think, ‘Let me be Christ to others.’ On the way to surgery I pray, ‘Help me take care of these people to the best of my ability.’”

Caring for the sick is rewarding for Dr. Bettag.

“Being a physician, people are constantly thanking you and they’re probably giving you more credit than you deserve,” said Dr. Bettag. “It’s easy to get those surface rewards. For me, in my practice, maybe I can’t fix your problem but I can help you understand it more. To me that’s a great reward. That is the biggest thing when people say, ‘Thanks for helping me understand.’”

Dr. Bettag said his mother asks her children if they are happy with what they are doing.

“In retrospect, this is what I was called to do,” he said. “I enjoy talking to people — they’re all fun and they all have an interesting story. The problem is the problem — the individual with the problem is interesting.”

Ultimately, Dr. Bettag is doing his best to show Christ’s love to his patients.

“I hope I am — I try to. I figure something must be right when people at the hospital, the nurses, come up and ask me questions,” he said. “I’m doing something right that Christ wants me to do, that they’re comfortable enough to come up and just ask. I really hope (I’m demonstrating the love of Christ). I’m sure I fail … but I try my best.”

 

Jubilee Year liturgies

Bishop David L. Ricken invites the faithful from across the Diocese of Green Bay to come together in thanksgiving to God during the diocese’s 150th jubilee by participating in monthly liturgical celebrations at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay. Each liturgy will be followed by a reception.

Complimentary tickets are required. The Jubilee Mass for Persons with Disabilities, the Sick and Caregivers will be held Sunday, Feb. 11. Go to this link to register for tickets: http://connect.gbdioc.org/s3/February-Jubilee.