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Prairie Village Surgeon Confronts Death By Building His Own Coffin

Shari Hartbauer
Lincoln Journal Star

It’s one thing for a doctor to counsel a seriously-ill patient about how to deal with his illness and how to face the idea of death. But imagine going from being the doctor to being the patient.

Tuesday on Up to Date, we talk with retired Prairie Village surgeon Dr. Jeff Piehler who experienced that jolting transition. We discuss how he’s handled the stage-four prostate cancer diagnosis he received 11 years ago, and how it has changed his perspective as a doctor.

Dr. Piehler and his family struggled with his illness as treatment after treatment failed to cure him. In a New York Times op-ed, Piehler described the various efforts as, "those dark days of sickness after chemotherapy, the reactions to drugs requiring resuscitation, and the hospitalizations for complications."

Though traditional and trial treatments haven't worked, Piehler has found solace in an oddly morbid project: building his own coffin. Meticulously crafted with the help of an experienced wood worker, the elegant pine box brought out plenty of black humor ("Gee, how much nose clearance am I going to need in this thing?") Even more importantly though, it has helped him cope with his own mortality.


  • Dr. Jeff Piehler is a retired thoracic surgeon.
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.