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Orthodontist steps down to battle cancer
Doc WEB 1
Jim Whitney works on Luke Stiers’ teeth Wednesday. Whitney is leaving his Cumming practice to concentrate on his fight with cancer. - photo by Jim Dean

David Stiers sat calmly in a corner watching as son Luke had his braces adjusted.

Dressed in a blue oxford shirt, orthodontist Jim Whitney carefully used cool metal tools to work on Luke Stiers’ teeth.

David Stiers, who also brings daughter Sara Marie to Whitney, said using his services “has been awesome.”

“It’s everything you want when you go to the doctor,” he said. “He’s very warm and sincere.”

The visit earlier this month had a somber quality, though, because it likely will be the last time Whitney will examine Luke’s teeth.

Feb. 16 was scheduled to be Whitney’s last day at Whitney & Fussell Family Orthodontics in downtown Cumming, the practice he began more than 20 years ago.

Whitney and his wife, Elaine, also an orthodontist, came to Forsyth County in 1990 from Cleveland, Ohio, and bought out the practice of Jackson Reeves after he retired.

Elaine Whitney works at the orthodontic practice’s Sugar Hill branch with Tricia Fussell-Robertson.

Jim Whitney shares the Cumming office with Max Couch, who came on board in November and will now see Whitney’s patients.

Whitney is leaving the practice in order to fight cancer. He was diagnosed in September with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I’ll be doing some chemo and later stem cell therapy,” Whitney said while taking a break between patients Wednesday. “I’m going to do whatever it takes.”

He’ll also be taking time to walk his daughter, Meg, down the aisle in June.

The dental field seems to be a family affair for Whitney’s relatives.

He said Meg, one of three daughters, is currently in dental school, and his father and brother in Ohio are also dentists.

Whitney’s patients and staff have been loyal to him over the years.

“I’m seeing moms that I treated bringing in their kids now,” he said. “That makes me feel old.”

He’s seen many changes in his field over the years, among them “more surgical patients and [invisible] braces.”

But he said the quality of people in Forsyth hasn’t changed over the years.

“The biggest difference has just been the growth, but the people have always been wonderful,” he said. “It’s been a pleasure working here. I have really nice patients and we’re good friends with a lot of the dentists around here.”

Sydney Skidmore, 15, has seen Whitney most of her life.

“He’s very nice and funny,” she said. “It’s like a family here.”

Georgann Lord, has been one of Whitney’s dental assistants since he started the practice. She said he’s more than just a boss.

“He’s like one of your best friends or your favorite brother,” she said. “Once you start working here, you can’t seem to leave. Most of us have worked here for at least 10 years.”

Linda Allbrook, another dental assistant, agreed.

“Dr. Whitney has seen us through a lot of personal stuff,” she said.

Couch said he’s been honored to work with Whitney.

“I’ve learned a lot from him in the two and a half months that we’ve been transitioning,” he said. “His patients and their parents have all good things to say about him.”

The patients Whitney saw Wednesday afternoon gave him strong handshakes or big hugs before wishing him well.

Cindy Morgan, whose 11-year-old son Weston came in for an appointment, called him “a wow guy.”

“We just love Dr. Whitney,” she said. “He makes us so happy. He always has a smile and treats us all like his family.”

Added David Stiers: “He’s done so much healing of patients over the years, now is the time for him to heal.”