With offices in Tacoma, Olympia, Renton and Kennewick, Jay Haynie drives just over 500 miles a week. And that’s since he slowed down.
A nationally recognized optometrist, Haynie comes from a family his wife, Kelly, affectionately calls “high-energy overachievers.” Haynie knew what he wanted to be before he started high school.
Driven? Haynie is considered by those he works with, and his two college-age children, as a force of nature.
“Kindergarten through 12th grade, I never missed a day of school,” he said. “In college, I never missed a class. And I’d never missed a day of work except the day my daughter was born in 1993.
“I always told the kids, my life was going to begin at 45 – when they were both out of the house. I was going to spend more time with my wife, have weekends at the beach ...
“Then, at 45, I was diagnosed with cancer.”
Haynie was, and still is, the executive clinical director of the Retina & Macula Specialists in four Northwest cities. He had become what he did for a living. And what he did, he summed up in two words.
“Saving vision,” he said.
Two years ago, colon cancer blindsided him. After giving blood at his annual physical exam, he expected to continue on his high-octane pace.
“My doctor said, ‘You are the most anemic patient I’ve ever come across,’” Haynie said. “That’s when I knew it was something bad.”
What followed was a blur to Haynie and his family.
“Jay is good at everything he does,” wife Kelly said. “With cancer, he didn’t have a choice – the disease dictates what’s going to happen, and he had to hang on for the ride.”
Son Spenser was stunned to be facing his father’s mortality.
“He had never been sick in my life. He was indestructible,” said Spenser, now a senior at the University of Washington.
Within a day, the family knew it was cancer. Within a week, surgery was scheduled.
Daughter Isabel was a student at Tumwater High School – the alma mater of her father, mother and brother.
“It was August of 2011, just before my senior year,” she recalled. “When we came out of the doctor’s office, I hated the world. Dad said, ‘we’re going to go for a drive.’ He took me to the high school soccer field. I’m a goalie, and he had us sit in the goal box.
“Dad said, ‘no matter what happens, we’re going to get through this together,’ ” said Isabel, now a freshman at San Diego State University.
Six days after surgery, a night before he was to return to his Olympia home from the hospital, Haynie looked at his abdomen and saw the skin around his sutures was red.
“I told the nurse she should take my temperature, call my doctor,” Haynie said. “She didn’t. She said the skin was red because the stitches were irritating it. Within 30 minutes I was vomiting, my temperature was 104 and I was headed back into surgery.”
He had sepsis, an infection of the blood that can be lethal. Instead of going home the next day, he didn’t leave the hospital for three weeks.
Haynie was released weighing 140 pounds, down 45 pounds from the day he’d walked in.
As for that iron will?
“I didn’t want to get out of bed,” he said. “Kelly made me keep moving.”
Three and a half months after his diagnosis, Haynie went back to work part time – twice a week, four hours a day, every fourth week of the chemo cycle.
“I did it for three reasons: I had to have something to look forward to, I wanted to give my wife a break, and the practice was my life,” Haynie said. “If a tragic situation redefines your life, you probably were living the wrong life to begin with.”
Going back to work had an immediate impact.
“His job got him through it,” Kelly said. “He truly loves what he does.”
In May 2012, Haynie went back to work full time. Dr. Willie Shields, who founded the clinics, was not surprised.
“I hired him, and he was committed, hard-working, energetic. People would see him and say, ‘I don’t know what he’s taking but I wish I could sell it,’” Shields said. “As a diagnostician, as a specialist in his field, he’s as good as anyone in the country.”
Haynie insists he has slowed down.
“I was driving my life 100 miles an hour before cancer, now it’s more like 65 mph,” he said. “We have a place in Eastern Washington Kelly and I get to twice a month now. I’m not great at letting things go, but I’m trying.”
He has dramatically cut back his national speaking engagements – from 15 to 20 per year down to a half dozen.
“I was programmed to be a great husband, a great father, a great physician, and I tried. I pushed hard in those three areas. I was not good to myself. Now, I’m better,” Haynie said.
Part of his inspiration comes from a story he read on the Internet.
“I tell everyone, ‘Go online and look up ‘The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee.’ Read it. It’ll take you five minutes; it might change your priorities.’
“I don’t want to stop doing what I do. But I try to make time to have a cup of coffee with a friend now.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638