Cardiologist Dr. Wills Geils relies on minute adjustments to keep his mental and physical health ticking
WRITTEN BY Robin Howard
PHOTOGRAPHS BY Scott Henderson
There’s something fitting about a heart doctor who enjoys repairing grandfather clocks. Dr. Wills Geils knows well the careful adjustments and regular resets that it takes to keep each type of ticker running smoothly. Whether he’s working with patients, tinkering with his clock collection or carving out time with his family, the Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated interventional cardiologist believes that little modifications can add up to big successes.
“I have two teenagers at home, and my wife is a pediatrician. Like any busy family with a hectic schedule, we do the best we can,” says the husband, father of three and dog dad. While family dinners are frequently thrown together, Dr. Geils takes purposeful steps towards an overall healthy diet. For example, he usually eats chicken instead of beef, chooses foods low in saturated fat and avoids processed snacks. “If I want to eat a small steak or hamburger, I try to be a vegetarian the rest of the day,” he says. The busy doctor’s go-to meal is a big salad with a wallet-size piece of chicken or salmon, and his favorite snack is peanut butter.
He also tries to fit physical activity into his regular schedule whenever possible. During winter’s abbreviated daylight hours, the doctor dons a hat with a built-in headlamp and heads out for a run in the dark two or three nights a week.
As their children (Christian, 19; Genevieve, 17; and Hampton, 15) have gotten older, finding time together as a family has also necessitated some creative maneuvering on the part of Dr. Geils and his wife, Meghan. “If one of my kids is in a common area of our house, I intentionally stop what I’m doing and hang out with them,” he says. With one son away at college and two teenage children juggling their own full schedules, these parents make a concerted effort to find family-centric activities, such as weekend afternoons spent boating.
The family’s Johns Island home is just a skip from where Dr. Geils grew up on James Island. When he was six years old, his father’s Air Force service took the family to Germany. “My mom became a fanatic about clocks when my dad was stationed in Bitburg,” he says. Following stints in Germany and North Carolina, the family settled back in Charleston, where the elder Dr. Geils practiced hematology and oncology for 30 years.
While his brother followed in their father’s footsteps, Wills felt drawn to cardiology after a senior year elective at MUSC. He was intrigued by the visual modalities (think ECGs and echocardiograms) that allowed him to understand precisely how the heart works. “The heart is a complex pump with numerous moving parts.”
But matters of the heart took on new meaning for Wills when he met Meghan, a fellow MUSC student and the daughter of one of his favorite professors. In 1993, after accepting an internship at the University of Alabama Medical Center in Birmingham, Wills wed his med-school sweetheart. On the heels of his residency, the couple made the move back to his hometown to pursue careers and start a family of their own.
While the day-to-day demands of his job have become increasingly intense through the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Geils remains dedicated to the people he serves. “The patients keep me in this job,” says the cardiologist, who finds their courage when facing an illness inspiring. Of course, as patients work to recover or improve their heart health, he encourages them to follow the same small-things-add-up advice that he relies on throughout the day. He ticks off guidance such as, “Eat less than 10 grams of saturated fats a day,” and “Focus on the right kinds of snacks, like nuts and fruits.”
Dr. Geils also urges patients to combat stress by relaxing with family, friends or a hobby. “Without a mental break, we become irritable, overwhelmed and beat down. Downtime helps us to recharge,” says the doctor. “When there’s no closure at the end of the day, physical health can be adversely affected.”
Whenever Dr. Geils is feeling mentally worn out, he turns to his clock collection. His affinity for antique clocks first began to tick during a backpack trip that he and Meghan took through Europe as med students. In Prague, they discovered a Gustav Becker wall clock and carried the 19th-century piece home in their luggage. Then, a few years ago, he traveled to Bordeaux, France, with family for his birthday. “We found a beautiful old clock that reminded me of my mother’s love of antique timepieces, so we shipped it back,” says Dr. Geils, who majored in history at the College of Charleston. “I’ve been buying clocks ever since.” A self-taught clocksmith, he learned how to repair old timekeepers from YouTube videos, online classes and a small but dedicated community that shares his enthusiasm.
Dr. Geils has amassed so many grandfather clocks that his wife requires some be kept at his office. In his front office stands one of the doctor’s most prized possessions, an English grandfather clock from 1820 that he found at an estate sale for a steal. “I’m amazed that a 200-year-old clock that’s been well cared-for keeps perfect time,” says Dr. Geils. He hopes the same attention to detail might have a similar effect on his patients.
Name: Dr. Wills Geils
In his Spare Time, Find Him: Running, boating, tinkering with his antique clock collection and carving out moments with his wife and children.