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Frontier medicine

Dr. Carole B. Rizzo carries on a legacy of family medicine on Daufuskie Island.

Story By Barry Kaufman + Photography by Kim Smith Photo

Dr. Carole B. Rizzo, D.O., BSN, is shown with Daufuskie Island residents Nancy and Fred Ludtke.

When Dr. Carole B. Rizzo was a little girl, her grandma was essentially the town doctor. Whether it was a specially made poultice or something a little higher proof, grandma always had the medicine on hand to treat whatever the citizens of her small town required. 

“She was a piece of work,” said Rizzo. “She would take Smith Bros. cough drops, melt them down and mix in a little bit of whiskey. She always helped everyone feel better.”

For her own medical endeavors, Rizzo went with a little bit more of a formal education. 

Starting as a nurse’s aide at age 14 (earning $1 per hour), she encountered sickness and death at an early age. Later, while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Detroit’s Wayne State University, she worked as a public health nurse for Oakland County and found herself on the front lines during the infamous 1967 12th Street riot. 

“We were confined to the nurse’s unit for days, taking care of gunshot wounds, suturing faces, treating burns. It was humanity at its worst,” she said.

She went on to earn a doctorate from Michigan State School of Osteopathic Medicine and practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 35 years before moving to Daufuskie.

Her early stint as a public health nurse in Detroit would prepare her for her ultimate role in retirement. Back then, she was participating in polio and rubella vaccine immunization clinics to the largely rural population of Rochester, Michigan. On Daufuskie, she’s helping curb the spread of Covid and carrying on her grandmother’s tradition of being everyone’s go-to for what ails you.

She moved to the island five years ago with her husband, a California native who couldn’t stand another Michigan winter. Within a few years, she was proving to be a valuable addition to the island when Hurricane Matthew roared through.

With most Daufuskie residents beholden to the ferry to visit a doctor, traveling for a Covid test seemed impossible. So with the help of Burk’s Main Street Pharmacy, Dr. Carole B. Rizzo brought the testing center to those who needed it.

“Everyone was out chopping wood and taking brush away. Seeing all these people with scrapes and scratches, I realized we needed DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) shots. I contacted Dr. (Raymond) Cox, who is a physician with Volunteers in Medicine, and he arranged it so 14 members of the county came here to Daufuskie,” she said. Working with a crew of four nurses who lived on the island, they distributed DPT shots to everyone on the island, no matter what it took. “I gave shots in restrooms, golf courses, wherever.”

When Covid hit, Rizzo once again saw a need for her unique medical skills. With most Daufuskie residents beholden to the ferry to visit a doctor, traveling for a Covid test seemed impossible. So she simply brought the testing center to those who needed it. Once again reaching out to VIM and Hilton Head Hospital, she had 14 people and more than 250 Covid tests delivered to Daufuskie, putting a halt to any potential outbreaks. 

“I feel so privileged to offer my services and make sure my neighbors have what they need,” she said. It’s a sight better than whiskey and cough drops, and the citizens of Daufuskie are better for it.