'Dr. D. straightens out schools, backs

Local chiropractor Dr. Donald Hattier, aka “Dr. Don,” aka “Dr. D,” has spent the last 52 years doing a little bit of everything.
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Now running for re-election to his second term on the Indian River School District (IRSD) School Board, Hattier has been an assistant manager at McDonald’s, a biologist, a boilermaker, an IBM customer engineer (hardware guy) and, finally, a local medical practitioner for the past 19 years.

So, how did he wind up making upper cervical adjustments? It was actually a rather logical progression.

Hattier admitted to a somewhat reckless youth, especially where motorcycles were concerned — he said he’d crashed more than a dozen times.

“When I was in my 20s, I wasn’t as cautious as I am now, in my 50s,” Hattier explained. “You know what happens to a lot of people.”

So, he’d hurt his back numerous times, but the fateful day actually came while he was out working in the garage. “I was putting a (motorcycle) engine back in the frame when my lower back finally, officially, went out,” he recalled.

“I went to the MDs — I had sciatic nerve, possible surgery, etc.,” Hattier continued. “Then, one of my friends said, ‘Why don’t you try my cousin, the chiropractor,’ so I did, and after about two visits I thought, ‘Hey this guy really knows what he’s doing.’”

Apparently, the experience inspired him. “I thought, ‘you know what — I can do this,’” he remembered. “Mom cried when I quit IBM,” he said. “It was a good job — I would have made management sooner or later, but I decided to go back to college.

At age 29, Hattier already had his Bachelor’s degree (biology, 1975) and had been working toward a Master’s, so he jumped right back into the mix.

He earned another Bachelor’s, in human anatomy and physiology and completed his Doctor of Chiropractic training in 1985.

The rest is history — Hattier has been aligning spines since 1986.

He said it hadn’t always been easy. “Basically, when you’re starting out as a chiropractor, let’s face it — the medical community is not always very happy with what you’re doing,” Hattier admitted.

However, he had some remarkable successes early on — with his wife-to-be, Laura, for one.

According to Hattier, she’d suffered from nystagmus — involuntary movement of the eye. That condition combined with more garden-variety vision problems, she was considered legally blind.

Hattier said doctors had mistakenly concluded that her optic nerve was severely damaged. He performed an upper cervical adjustment, the nystagmus abated, and her other vision problems became treatable, he said.

In addition, he and Laura had been spending quite a bit of time together, between his treatments and trips to the eye doctor, and apparently one thing led to another.

They married in 1988.

“For a success like that, early on in my career, it really helped to solidify my belief in chiropractic,” Hattier recalled.

“There’s an awful lot of power in pinched nerves,” he said. “A lot of people think of them in terms of pain, but they affect many other areas, as well.”

Hattier said he was happy to see the area’s increasing medical services — much different from the days when it was just him and Dr. David Howard in the Ocean View area.

“Everything else you’d have to run up to Beebe for,” he said. “Then Dr. (Prentiss) Adkins came down here, and it’s been growing ever since.”

He applauded local advances in alternative medicine, and said he often recommended his own patients augment his treatments with massage, yoga or tai chi.

“Some things about the growth here aren’t good, but some of them are,” Hattier said. “I think it’s very good that we have all these other practitioners here — we’re long overdue for that.

“I can do an adjustment, but if you’ve experience muscle spasms over a long period of time, the muscles yank the bones right back where they used to be — that happens all the time,” he said. “I encourage patients to get some shiatsu at the same time, or some deep muscle therapy. Break up the muscle spasms, increase the normal movement, increase the blood flow.

“My adjustments will hold better, and save you money in the long run,” Hattier said. “We (Hattier and his sister, Julie) grew up on a sergeant’s salary in the 1950s and 1960s — if I can save my patients money, or time with pain, that’s the goal.”

Born in Trieste, Italy, Hattier and family moved to the U.S. in 1962.

While he likely didn’t stay in any particular school district for more that a year or two, his own four children (ages 14, 13, nine and six) are all enrolled in IRSD schools.

Hattier commended the district on several fronts.

“We probably have the safest schools in the state of Delaware,” he said, applauding IRSD’s Lois Hobbs (superintendent) and Charlie Hudson (administrator, student services) for making them so.

“We do not tolerate violence of any type in our schools, and because of that, we have some of the lowest problems in the state,” Hattier said. “Basically, if kids mess up too many times — we believe they should be given a second chance. However, if students are pushing three, four, five times on something (the lower number, if the severity of the offense warrants), they belong at an alternative location.”

He also commended IRSD front man Dave Maull for his work on the district Web site, and the various school Web sites in general.

Hattier recently moved to post a more comprehensive transcript of School Board meeting minutes on the district Web site, so parents who haven’t been able to attend should soon have that resource available.

He characterized himself as a history buff — with an especial knowledge of vintage motorcycles, but also much interest in the local schools.

For instance, he said part of the old “No. 210 School,” the segregated predecessor to Phillip C. Showell Elementary, was still being used today at the Zoar Church in Selbyville.

He said state law discouraged the practice of naming schools after people, but the School Board had been able to vote for a return to the old John M. Clayton name.

With so much going on in the district these days — two new high schools, renovations elsewhere and possibly another middle school on the horizon, Hattier said he hoped to stick around to see how things develop.

He joined the district’s finance committee two years prior to actually joining the School Board, and said it had been a real eye-opener.

“I’m in business for myself now, and of course you run your own audit, you do your own day sheets, you make sure that your finances are correct, that the patients aren’t being overcharged or undercharged,” he said. “All of these things have a bearing on the School Board as well.”

A resident of the district since 1990, he said he’d originally become involved because he couldn’t figure out where all the money was going.

“Well, a lot of people in this area have a feeling that you run a school the same way you run any other business,” Hattier said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.

“In your right mind, you wouldn’t publish out there that you have X amount of money to spend on something — you’d keep it secret, maybe try to bargain down that way,” he said.

However the state requires business be conducted with total transparency. Hattier said it had taken time, but he now had a clearer understanding of how it all worked.

“After three years on the School Board, I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface,” he said. “We have so many things going on, things I’m involved with, and I want to follow them through to the finish.”

Regarding education in general, he said he was a firm believer in self-motivation.

“It certainly helps to find something every kid is interested in, whether that be music or sport or whatever,” he said. “My seventh grade history teacher, I’ll never forget her, because of the way she presented things.

“For example, sports — you can give the student a chance to research the history of the major leagues, or baseball during World War II or the way Arthur Ashe helped integrate tennis,” he continued. “Then, you’ll have kids that just aren’t going to do anything, but if you can find something they’re motivated in — computers, maybe — and give them some options, you’ll often find something they can do.

“Other than that, it has to come from the parents doing their part at home — but a lot has to come from the kids, too,” Hattier said.