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After spending decades healing the body, Joanna Seibert turned her attention to healing the soul.
Moving to Arkansas in 1976, Seibert became the first trained pediatric radiologist in the state. Before that, she was the first woman on the faculty at the University of Iowa. In 2001, she became an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church and has served four congregations.
“I would see patients and their parents and I wanted to do something more than just heal them physically,” Seibert says. “I wanted to have the chance to heal them spiritually and mostly just to let them know that God loves them.”
Even though she retired from medicine in 2015, her work as a physician continues to be honored. In April 2022 in Denver, she is scheduled to receive the Gold Medal from the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the organization’s most prestigious honor. The award ceremony was originally scheduled for October in Rome but was delayed because of covid-19.
Her journey toward becoming a healer of body and soul has had many twists. She went through a divorce, was involved in a horrendous car crash and suffered from alcohol abuse. But each challenge led her to the path she is on now.
Seibert grew up in West Point, Va., a small town about 40 miles east of Richmond. From her house, she could gaze across the York River and see the land where one of her grandfathers farmed.
Her father, Bud Johnson, was a forester who eventually became a lobbyist for the pulp and paper industry. Her mother, Florence, was a homemaker, raising Seibert and her younger brother, Jim. Seibert’s maternal grandparents — Annie and Joe Whaley — lived a block away and played a big role in her life. Her name is a combination of their names.
“The thing about being a grandparent is you can give unconditional love and that is what they did,” she says. “They loved me no matter what I did. They just loved being with me and they made me feel like I was loved and I was loved by God.”
Seibert got a weekly double dose of religion. Her paternal grandfather was a Methodist minister. She attended Sunday morning services at a Methodist Church and evening services at a Baptist Church with her maternal grandparents.
“I tell people I was kind of a Metho-Baptist,” she chuckles.
She left her postcard perfect hometown for the all-female University of North Carolina at Greensboro, picking that school to be close to her boyfriend, who went to the University of North Carolina. She was one of about 4,000 women on a campus about the same size as West Point. Her high school class had 33 students.
She married her boyfriend between her junior and senior year of college. Her husband wanted to go to optometry school and the couple moved to Memphis.
“I’d always planned to become a medical technologist. I didn’t even think about becoming a doctor. Women just didn’t do that,” she says. “I worked as a medical technologist between my junior and senior year in college and I realized I have all the education that pre-med doctors do, but I’ll just be running the tests and they’ll be the ones taking care of the patients.”
She applied and was accepted at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine. She was one of eight women in the class.
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A few years into medical school, Seibert’s marriage ended in divorce. Then came the accident. As a busy med student, her biggest indulgence was having her hair styled on Friday afternoons. One day, she was leaving the salon in her red Volkswagen Beetle when a drunken driver in a Cadillac slammed into her.
Both of her ankles were fractured and a knee and her back were injured. She still walks with a cane and sometimes a walker.
“I had to sit out of school for six months. They weren’t even sure that I was going to walk again; it was that serious of an accident,” she says. When she was able to return, she met her second husband, Robert Seibert.
“I would not have met him if it hadn’t been for that accident. I am still suffering from some of these injuries — some of the consequences of them. But I never regret it.”