Beloved physician “busted,” but it’s all good

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Dr. James Lemons is surprised for his birthday with a sculpture commissioned by his wife and created by a California artist and friend. “If a bust can remind us of what is possible, of what care and love can accomplish, then that is a good thing.”


By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Longtime Riley Hospital neonatologist Dr. James Lemons had never been “busted” before, but his birthday last month changed that.

Dr. Lemons with wife, Pam

Dr. Lemons’ wife, Pam, arranged for sculptor Aaron Eby to create a bust of her husband as a surprise birthday gift. She flew the artist and his partner from California to Indiana for the weekend, and, as Dr. Lemons shared on Facebook, “Aaron ‘busted’ me!”

A decade ago, the couple asked a then-18-year-old Eby to make a bronze statue of Dr. Richard Schreiner when he retired as physician-in-chief of Riley. It was Eby’s first bronze, but they were impressed with his work, and the lifelike statue stands in the lobby of the Simon Family Tower today.

The plan is to eventually put the bust of Dr. Lemons in the Riley Mother Baby Hospital of Kenya, which he and his wife worked to fund and open a decade ago. That hospital, where a picture of the doctor also hangs, now delivers 20,000 babies each year.

“We just need to get one of Pam to put beside me,” he said. “Pam is the one who got our family to go to Kenya in the first place to start this amazing journey!

Dr. Lemons

Dr. Lemons said the best part of the surprise gift was having Aaron and his partner, Andrew, show up on their doorstep unexpectedly, carrying the bust all the way from California.

And though the beloved baby doctor is a humble man and doesn’t seek attention, he hopes the bust can inspire others to do the hard work it takes to truly make a difference in people’s lives.

“Although it takes a village – a whole community – to build something like the Riley Mother Baby Hospital, it always takes an individual to champion or lead the effort – to persist in spite of people saying it can’t be done,” he said.

“So if a bust can remind us of what is possible, of what care and love can accomplish, then that is a good thing.”

Friends near and far weighed in on the likeness of the doctor on Facebook:

“That is so lifelike and captures your kindness as well! What a wonderful gift!”

“You are a gift to the children and mothers of Kenya.”

“I'm one of the beneficiaries of RMBH. I will forever be grateful to you. My son was born prematurely and he was nursed in the facility for two months. He's now 9 years old, and heathy. Be blessed!”

Dr. Lemons still serves as a professor of pediatrics and sees patients at Riley and Eskenazi Health.

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