What began in 1988 as a mission trip to the poverty-stricken island nation of Haiti became a passion for Chattanooga cardiologist Dr. Mitchell Mutter.
Over time, the trips became more frequent -- from once or twice a year to as many as five times annually, he says. He founded the Children's Nutrition Program of Haiti to help meet the medical needs of the nation and its children.
Mutter, who is a Champions of Health Care award recipient for "lifetime achievement," also says each of his three sons saw first-hand the needs of the Caribbean country when they turned 12 years old.
"It was a rite of manhood," he said in an interview. "They got to see the rest of the world."
The 75-year-old physician is medical director of Volunteers in Medicine in Chattanooga, a free clinic for primary and specialty care provided to indigent patients.
"Mainly, it's retired health care providers get together and offer free care to people who can't afford insurance," he says. "The sad thing is, we develop a relationship, they turn 65, get Medicare and they have to go find a doctor."
Mutter says he has a dream that indigent providers can somehow take the pressure off of hospitals and emergency rooms.
"A third of the people in the hospital emergency room had been in the hospital the preceding 90 days and don't have a provider," he says. "If we in the volunteer arena become providers, that would take a lot of pressure off. I think we could provide better care and keep them out of the emergency room waiting room. The ER is no place for routine health care or incidental care."
Mutter also put in an eight-year stint that started in 2012 with the Tennessee Department of Health in Nashville, where he was medical director of special projects and spearheaded the state's pain management task force.
A Johnson City, Tennessee, native, and one of seven children born to a deaf-mute couple, he grew up in Jonesborough, not far away from where he played football. He recalls his team competing against, and losing to, former Science Hill High School quarterback Steve Spurrier. Mutter earned a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee where he played for then-coach Doug Dickey.
Graduating from UT, where he studied biology, he received his medical degree from the UT Health Science Center in Memphis in 1972. Mutter then spent about a decade in the U.S. Army, stationed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and later served as chief of cardiology at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia.
Mutter says he left the Army, returned to Knoxville to practice cardiology, then moved to Chattanooga in 1992 and joined the Chattanooga Heart Institute. He later founded the University of Tennessee Erlanger cardiology group.
He was chief of staff at Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga from 2004 to 2007.
Dr. Mitchell Mutter
* Role: Medical director of Volunteers in Medicine in Chattanooga
* Career: Graduated from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis where he received his medical degree; founded the University of Tennessee Erlanger cardiology group; chief of staff at Erlanger Hospital from 2004 to 2007; medical director of special projects for the Tennessee Department of Health from 2012 to 2021.
* Personal: Married to Carol Mutter, an attorney; three sons and six grandchildren