“These women and their babies need me, and they will get the care they deserve.” These are the words of James Cross, MD, the founder of Cherokee Women’s Health in response to why, in 1993, he came out of retirement.
After years of being a highly reputed clinical professor at Georgia Baptist/Atlanta Medical Center, he arrived to single-handedly provide OB services for metro Atlanta’s Cherokee County, delivering babies in the hospital that is now Northside Hospital Cherokee. His presence was credited for cutting the perinatal morbidity and mortality rate for the county’s babies in half, a rate which before his arrival had been among the highest in the state.
Cross has made his mark in obstetrics history in metro Atlanta over the past half century. He was the first OB-GYN in Georgia to offer epidurals to women in labor. He was among the original 17 obstetricians who opened Atlanta’s Northside Hospital. Shortly upon his arrival in Cherokee County in 1993, Cross was diagnosed with cancer. Rather than close Cherokee County’s obstetrical services, to address his own health concerns, he remained as the sole obstetrician in Cherokee County, overnighting in the hospital to deliver babies, while he himself received chemotherapy.
In 2006, Cross delivered his last baby. This time, he stayed retired for three years, remarking, “I was never so bored in my entire life.” When an offer came from Northside Hospital Cherokee to join their radiology department in dye studies, he quickly gained his certification, and is still called in on an emergency basis six to seven days a month. In addition to his contributions at Northside Cherokee, he also has worked in Marietta, specializing in pain management and addiction medicine two days a week for the past nine years. Today, James Cross, MD, is still practicing medicine at 86 years old.
As the beautiful new Northside Hospital Cherokee facility was approaching its opening last May, Cross was interviewed to discuss his mark in obstetrics history in metro Atlanta. As he entered the soaring main atrium of the hospital and marveled at the hanging chandelier, he shook his head and laughed, “More like a hotel, don’t you think?” He was cheerful and spry in a white doctor’s coat and remarked that “a hospital makes all the difference in a community,” with the air of someone who has said it hundreds of times.
Thanks to Cross’ dedication and vision for physician-led health care, Cherokee County continues to have one of the lowest perinatal mortality rates in Georgia. Cross recently was given an honorary staff membership at Northside Hospital Cherokee, and, when asked if, looking back, he would do anything differently, he smiled and said, “I’ve been so darn busy, I haven’t had time to think about that.”
By Dr. Michael Litrel, MD, FACOG, FPMRS, contributing writer and board-certified OB-GYN and urogynecologist at Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists.