Dr. David Brunworth — The Doctor Who Almost Wasn’t - The Missourian: Senior Lifetimes

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Dr. David Brunworth — The Doctor Who Almost Wasn’t

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Posted: Monday, April 7, 2014 6:32 pm

Dr. David Brunworth served the Washington area for more than 30 years, helping generations of patients from birth to those in nursing homes — even acting as medical director at Cedarcrest in Washington for many of those years.

But one could say that Brunworth, 67, is the doctor who almost wasn’t.

As a high school student in Edwardsville, Ill., Brunworth worked in his uncle’s pharmacy, “Winters Pharmacy” — sweeping floors, working the register, stocking shelves and whatever other tasks his uncle needed him to do.

“I was the only employee,” he said.

As a student at Edwardsville High School, Brunworth received a scholarship to attend the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

The scholarship was awarded to him for an exemplary science fair project in which he researched the proteins and amino acids of almonds, as well as thin-layer chromatography of almonds (separation of mixtures).

Brunworth worked at a pharmacy through his entire college career, but at graduation in 1969, “I decided I wanted to do something else.”

He enrolled at the University of Missouri, where he met his future wife, then Diane Sitzes. She was working in the newborn nursery, caring for babies as an aide. Brunworth rotated through the nursery as part of medical school.

The couple married in 1973. They have three sons, Louis, Joseph and Martin.

The couple have two grandchildren, Natalie, 5, and Vincent, who is just under 1 year old.

A Different Path

Though Brunworth isn’t sure what made him want to become a doctor, he said he always looked up to his physician, Dr. Delicate, a war doctor who started his practice after World War II.

“He was sort of rough and tough, but he took wonderful care of us and helped me with my science projects,” he said.

Brunworth always enjoyed science and biology.

“I still remember my biology teacher in high school, Mr. Day, and studying fruit flies and studying fruit fly mutations with him,” he said. “I was always excited by science and especially biology.”

Brunworth said becoming a doctor seemed natural.

“I was always surrounded by loving aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins. Family practice was a natural extension of having grown up with a good family doctor and having a wonderful family,” he said.

“Sort of the unnatural thing was going to pharmacy school, because it wasn’t exactly what I knew I wanted to do,” he said.

His family, though, wasn’t well off and the only way for him to attend college was through the scholarship he received at the science fair. The scholarship dictated his college choice.

While attending college, Brunworth worked at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital pharmacy, which he said he loved.

“I loved the atmosphere of the hospital and scientific activities that were going on there,” he said. “That got in my head and I decided I wanted to go to medical school.”

He applied to and was accepted to the University of Missouri School of Medicine. He graduated in 1973.

At the time, there was a great need for family doctors. There was a national push for physicians to go into primary care.

Prior to that, it was called “general practice,” Brunworth explained. The focus changed to a more detailed program of study, including a three-year residency.

Brunworth was one of the first required to take the three-year family practice residency, which he completed at EW Sparrow at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.

The school was one of the premier programs in family practice and had a reputation as being a good program, Brunworth said.

During his tenure at the school, he met another resident from the St. Louis area, Dr. Scott Rigden. The two became friends and decided to go into practice together.

After looking into possible locations for their practice in Missouri and Illinois, the two settled in Byron, Ill., in Northern Illinois.

At that time, they interviewed in Washington, however, the need wasn’t as great here.

Brunworth stayed at the practice for four years. In that time, several doctors in Washington retired or passed away.

Brunworth’s uncle, who at that point had retired as a pharmacist and was inspecting pharmacies in Missouri, heard about an opportunity for a family doctor in Washington.

“That’s how we were reconnected with the area,” Brunworth said, adding that he and his wife already had one son and were spending a lot of time traveling from Byron, Ill. to St. Louis and Edwardsville. Washington is closer to both of their families.

In 1980, Brunworth moved to Washington and entered practice with Dr. Sam and Mary Eleanor Farrell, at what is now SLU Care. Mary Eleanor was a nurse practitioner.

Brunworth worked with Dr. Farrell until Farrell’s retirement. He also worked with Dr. Tom Grisham, Stan Hall, physician assistant; Dr. Bill Fritz and Brunworth’s good friend and colleague, Dr. Tim Baker.

Geriatrics is a Passion

Brunworth practiced OB, worked with children, adults and the elderly.

“My other true love is the care of the elderly, especially those in nursing homes,” Brunworth said.

He is so passionate about caring for those in nursing homes, that in 1995, he was board certified in geriatrics.

“The people who are older were very appreciative of the care we would give them,” he said. “They looked at it as something very special.”

Brunworth said he loved the patients and the stories of their lives.

In geriatrics, he was drawn to nursing home care. He eventually took over as medical director of Cedarcrest, a role he had for 33 years.

Brunworth earned his certificate of medical direction (CMD) for long-term care.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the job, Brunworth said, is that “people allow me into their lives.

“It’s the relationship we formed as doctor/patients, which was much more than a doctor/patient relationship — it was a friendship. Those friendships are what I most cherished,” he said.

Often, Brunworth would care for generations of families, which he also said was rewarding.

Changes

Over the years, a lot has changed in the medical world. One of the biggest changes, though, was in vaccines, said Brunworth.

Growing up, he saw people affected by polio, then the creation of a vaccine for the horrific disease.

“I had a classmate who contracted polio while we were just about to get our first doses of the Salk vaccine,” Brunworth said. “I saw that children could get and become crippled by polio. I saw the vaccine that prevented it.”

During his practice, there would be a case of H flu meningitis once each year. That disease, too, was “devastating.”

“If the patient survived, they often were left with severe disabilities, including deafness,” Brunworth said.

Then a vaccine was invented. In his lifetime, the meningoccal vaccine was developed, as well as measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

“All of which were diseases that I saw, that we no longer see if we’re immunized,” he said.

On a side note, Brunworth noted that some people aren’t immunizing their children for some reason.

“They’re terrified by unscientific information that causes them to be fearful about the vaccines,” he said, adding that those who have seen the diseases know how real and devastating they can be.

A Family of Doctors

Dr. David Brunworth may now be retired, but there are several new Dr. Brunworths entering the medical field.

All three of Brunworth’s sons and one daughter-in-law have or will have the doctor title before their names.

Dr. Louis Brunworth is a plastic and hand surgeon. His wife, Dr. Jennifer Brunworth, is an anesthesiologist. Joseph Brunworth is studying to be an ear, nose, throat (ENT) surgeon. He currently is in Adelaid, Australia, finishing his studies.

Martin Brunworth is in dental school.

“I’m very proud of them,” he said.

Community Involvement

Both Diane and David Brunworth have been active in the Washington community.

Diane served on the local school board for 24 years, as well as on the state school board for a decade and the national school board for nine years.

David Brunworth is a member of the Franklin County Children and Families Community Resource Board. He’s most proud of the Putting Kids First sales tax, which voters passed in November 2008.

The measure funds mental health services for children and youth of the Franklin County area.

“That is an amazing thing that’s happened,” he said, adding that the state and federal government have cut back on mental health funding.

“Children are the most vulnerable,” he said. “I think that’s one of the greatest unmet needs of our community... Especially with children, because they have their whole lives ahead of them.”

Brunworth said he’d like to see children develop to their full potential as youth and without the measure, there would be very little available service-wise for the children who need services.

Brunworth has been on the board since its inception and has served as president.

He is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Washington, where he serves as an elder.

He also is one of several working with the church to start a community garden. He is a master gardener, having taken the course through the University of Missouri Extension Center.

He has started a garden at Cedarcrest Manor, where his mom, Lorene, currently is a resident.

Brunworth is on the board of Mercy Hospital Washington, which he called an “honor.”

And, back when Senior Lifetimes was a new publication, Brunworth wrote columns about geriatric care for the paper.

Since Retirement

Brunworth retired Jan. 1, 2013.

Since then, he has taken several photography courses. He also wrote a children’s book, “Rocky and Randy Rattoon.”

The self-published story focuses on two raccoons who see Santa Claus and receive raccoon gifts to keep them happy through the winter.

He’s working on another book. This time, it is about his granddaughter and the first year of her life.

Brunworth enjoys bird watching. At his home overlooking the Missouri River, a couch sits in front of a window, where cardinals, bluebirds and several other birds share at the bird feeders. Bald eagles also frequent the area.

Late last year, Brunworth had a knee replacement surgery. For 10 years, he ran about two marathons per year.

He was quick to point out that he had knee problems a good part of his life and the running didn’t cause him to need knee replacement. In fact, it was his third replacement surgery.

After the first surgery, he found that he could run long distances for the first time.

“I was able to run long distances, and I loved it,” he said. “I loved the training. I loved the events and I loved the camaraderie of the fellow runners.”

Brunworth ran in Rome, Chicago, New York City, St. Louis, Phoenix and Berlin.

He qualified for the Boston Marathon, which he ran in 2009.

His wife would accompany him on the trips. The couple enjoys traveling outside of running as well.

The two continue to travel with Brunworth’s first business partner, to places like Ecuador, Costa Rica, Ireland, England and on other adventures.

This summer, he will travel to Africa on a mission trip with his family.

To go to his favorite place, though, he doesn’t even have to step out of his door. Of all the places he’s traveled, Washington, Mo., ranks No 1.

“Can you find another, more beautiful place in the world?,” he asked. “I’ve been to a lot of beautiful places, but I think this is it.”

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