It was 26 years ago when Dr. Mary Jo Kutler founded and opened Ahwatukee Pediatrics.
She’s tended to thousands of little patients in the ensuing years, and now the Ahwatukee resident is retiring. She saw her last patient on Christmas Eve.
And she admitted it wasn’t easy, but was necessary.
“I’ve done this for 26 years, and I’ve done a really good job, but I’m exhausted,” Kutler, 61, said of her 12-to-15-hour days, six days a week.
“I plan to get some much-needed brain rest and to sleep,” she laughed. “And first and foremost, I plan to love on my husband, my children and my precious grandchildren.”
Kutler, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, has been married to Sheldon Kutler for 34 years. Together they raised daughters Lauren Kutler and Nicole Pont, both of whom live in Ahwatukee.
Though Kutler will no longer be seeing patients at her office at 15715 S. 46th St., she will be on-site for two months as it transitions to Pleasant Pediatrics under Dr. Kathryn Brown, also a doctor of osteopathic medicine.
“We actually did our residency together,” Kutler said. “All my staff is staying, and I’ll help facilitate the change. It will be great for the patients as it is a bigger group with more appointment availability.
“And yes, it will look a little bit different because it’s a different entity, but overall the change will be good for patients and their families.”
Born on Long Island and educated at the New York Institute of Technology, Kutler received her medical degree at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, then came to Phoenix to complete her residency at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Maricopa Medical Center.
Straight out of that residency and despite well-intentioned warnings against going it alone, she opened Ahwatukee Pediatrics as a solo practitioner.
It was a move she said she never regretted, even when times were hard – and there have been hard times with the years bringing skyrocketing malpractice insurance costs and other overhead expenses.
She recalled her attempt at growing her practice to include other physicians, but it didn’t bring the results she’d hoped for.
“I decided bigger wasn’t better and scaled back to myself and my nurse practitioners,” she said.
She is profuse with praise for her staff, some of whom, like Julie Kelly, have been with her for more than 20 years.
Other long-term staff members include Krista Serio and Cindy Cain, whom she credited with being her “peripheral brain.”
She said she is grateful to work alongside her nurse practitioner, Dianne Olson, who has been with her 13 years and is retiring as well.
“They’re dedicated and loyal,” she said, crediting her practice’s success to them and the office’s consistent wins in AFN’s “Best of Ahwatukee” awards for Best Pediatrician and Best Nurse Practitioners.
“It wasn’t just my work that won these awards, it was also the devotion of my front and back office staff,” said Kutler. “If you have a bad experience at the front desk, chances are you might not come back again.”
Her staff readily heaps praise on their doctor, too.
Kelly, an Ahwatukee resident of 22 years, recalled how her association with Ahwatukee Pediatrics began when she sought a part-time job while her two children were in school.
“I answered an Ahwatukee Foothills News ad for just that type of position at Ahwatukee Pediatrics. Never would I have imagined I would still be here 22 years later working for, and now having to say goodbye to, Dr. Mary Jo Kutler,” she said.
“She’s watched my children grow up and has cared for them along the way,” Kelly added. “I have had the privilege to watch her care for countless other children and even those children’s children. She has dedicated her life to this practice and although I’m so very sad to see her go, I consider myself fortunate to have been along for the ride for all these years.”
Added Cain, her office administrator and a 24-year Ahwatukee resident: “It’s been a pleasure to work with Dr. Kutler and Dianne Olson for 12 years. We at Ahwatukee Pediatrics have made a great team, and they’ll both be missed greatly.”
And then there’s God, who gets continuous acknowledgement and thanks from Kutler.
“If it were not for God’s presence in my life, I really believe I wouldn’t have done as well,” said Kutler, who has gone on “between seven and 10 mission trips” to Africa, China and Mexico, and regularly volunteers at Neighborhood Christian Clinic in downtown Phoenix.
Kutler and her husband attend the Chandler First Assembly of God Church. Sheldon Kutler is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God and has an ongoing prison ministry at the Lower Buckeye Jail for the past 10 years.
Kutler said one of the advantages of having her own medical practice was being able to pray with parents of young patients when they needed more than physical help.
“I pray with patients, yet I’m not pushy about it at all. I’ve made some good relationships through the years,” she said. “I have seen God’s work at hand in my practice, my life and the lives of many patients.”
And the relationships built with Ahwatukee families have brought her great joy, she said.
“I’m forever grateful to families who have entrusted their children to me; I hold that dear. There are phenomenal doctors all around me, but they chose to have me as their pediatrician and that’s humbling,” she said.
“I’m blessed to have served the community, and enjoyed watching parents with second generation children having the continued confidence to bring their children to this practice.”
One of those patients, Katelyn Koloseike Hall, was a patient of Kutler’s as a child through age 18 and chose her for the pediatrician for her own three children, ages 2-5 years.
“I’m the oldest of six kids, five girls and one boy – he’s the youngest and was still seeing Dr. Kutler,” said Hall, a Chandler resident.
“Obviously, going to Dr. Kutler as a child was not my choice, but bringing my kids to her once I became a mom was. When I was pregnant with Jimmer (James, 5) and filling out hospital paperwork, it asked for our pediatrician. It didn’t take much time for me to choose Dr. Kutler, Hall explained, noting:
“Although I personally had not been a patient of hers since I turned 18, I saw her often while shuttling my younger siblings to appointments. Dr. Kutler became part of our family over the years.”
Having traversed childhood through teen years with the same pediatrician, Hall said there were many instances where it was more than just another office visit.
“She saw me when I was sick, but also when I was healthy. She saw me when things in my life were going great and when things in my life were not-so-great. She cared about keeping me healthy in every aspect of my life,” recalled Hall.
“Although she challenged my teenage thoughts and behavior at times, I always knew it was from a place of love and concern. And though she challenged me at times, she never made me feel as though my concerns, thoughts or ideals were invalid or unimportant.
“She appreciated me growing up and becoming my own person while still respecting my parents’ wishes and our family values. She is one in a million, and I’m grateful my mom dragged me to her office all those years ago.”
Although Kutler never purported to be a “special needs specialist,” she gained that reputation as more parents of special needs children heard about her compassionate care and wisdom.
“I have a little OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which is good for them because it makes me pay attention to detail, but bad for me,” she chuckled.
“And I so admire the parents of these children, I really feel God chose them to be their parents, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to have been their pediatrician.”
Teri Koerner is a mother who has had an intensely close relationship with Kutler for nearly 20 years as her two sons both suffered with a rare disorder.
“Dr. Mary Jo Kutler served as a pediatrician for my two sons, Brandon and Cody, over the past 23 and 19 years. Just prior to discharge from the NICU, I recall interviewing her just to make sure she’d be up for the task. She not only proved to be an exceptional pediatrician; she surpassed far beyond what I had hoped,” said Koerner.
“Dr. Kutler walked with me through a 16-year passionate journey to identify a diagnosis of this rare condition known as Snyder-Robinson Syndrome (SRS). She continued her responsibilities to Ahwatukee Pediatrics while she advocated for my precious son, Cody, at his bedside until he passed away on Dec. 11, 2018.”
Kutler has served on the Snyder-Robinson Foundation Medical Advisory Board since its 2014 founding.
Koerner said the physician also serves as principal investigator in the foundation’s natural history study, learning more about the rare condition with only 50 recorded cases worldwide.
Koerner said Kutler delivered her son’s eulogy and the doctor’s husband performed the service.
“I will never forget her incredible support during the most difficult time of my life. This demonstrates her extraordinary compassion, which separates her far from the pack. She’s a dear friend, and yes, an unparalleled pediatrician.”