When an old filling broke loose in Dr. David Brunworth’s mouth one weekend last August, he didn’t have to worry about getting an emergency appointment Monday morning. He knew a dentist who’d be willing to clear his schedule for him — his son and new dentist, Marty Brunworth, DDS, FAGD.
As it turned out, Dr. Marty Brunworth was starting his first day at Washington Smiles Complete Health Dentistry that Monday, and as yet had no patients scheduled. For his father to be his first official patient as a dentist was both rewarding and fitting, since he credits his father with teaching him the values of a career in medicine.
“In my head I wanted my parents to walk in and be my first patients, but I didn’t want to ask them,” Dr. Marty Brunworth remarked. “So it worked out great. It really made my day and kicked off my career.”
Dr. David Brunworth, 71, who retired at the end of last year, has been a beloved physician here since he arrived in 1980 to join a practice with Dr. Sam and Mary Eleanor Farrell.
He had begun his career as a primary care doctor, seeing patients of all ages, but he discovered a particular fondness for the elderly, especially those in nursing homes. So in 1995, Dr. David Brunworth became board certified in geriatrics. He also earned a certificate of medical direction for long-term care and then served as medical director at Cedarcrest for more than 30 years.
Dr. Marty Brunworth, who described his father as a “hard worker,” said the most important lesson he learned from his dad about being a doctor is to focus on the patient.
“He taught us that it really is all about the patient, that interaction, that feeling of helping a patient in need, really working and dedicating your time and your thought to that patient in that experience,” said Dr. Marty Brunworth, whose two older brothers also are doctors.
Dr. Louis Brunworth is a plastic and hand surgeon, and Dr. Joseph Brunworth is an ear, nose and throat surgeon.
Their father taught them to be great listeners and good communicators, people who are both passionate and empathetic, said Dr. Marty Brunworth.
“He taught us to really try to understand where a patient is coming from and how you can help them along their way,” he said.
That was particularly evident whenever his father made house calls. Often Marty and his brothers were there with him, especially if the calls came in after hours or on the weekends.
Dr. David Brunworth, who made house calls throughout his entire career, said it was an ideal way to get a true picture of what a patient was experiencing.
“That’s where you really saw people in their setting,” he said. “That’s a nice, complete personal evaluation.”
The Brunworth boys tagged also along with their dad when he was called up to the hospital on emergencies, sometimes even making rounds with him at the hospital.
“He would round us up into the car and say, ‘OK, there’s an emergency. We’ve got to go,’ ” said Dr. Marty Brunworth.
He has heard from one of his dad’s old patients about what a difference him being there with his father made to her.
“I don’t remember how old I was, but old enough to walk and talk, and there must have been something that triggered in my mind that this person was in need, so when Dad had to step out into the hallway, I grabbed a pad of paper and just started drawing and telling her a story,” Dr. Marty Brunworth recalled. “Still to this day, she says I was her angel that day while she was in the hospital.”
Crooked Path to Careers
Dr. David Brunworth said it did surprise him that all three sons followed him into careers of medicine. That was never anything they talked about growing up.
“That was never common table talk,” he said. “I didn’t want to spook them off from the idea. They had to sort of see what life was like.”
For the youngest Brunworth, a career in medicine didn’t come right away. After graduating from Washington High School in 2001, Dr. Marty Brunworth studied biomedical engineering at St. Louis University and then earned a master’s degree in engineering management from Duke University before working for a VA hospital as an engineer for a couple of years.
Even though his own childhood dentist, Dr. Mike Radetic, had often told him that his teeth were so nice, he should be a dentist, Dr. Marty Brunworth (who doesn’t have even a single filling and never needed braces) didn’t give that a thought until he caught a glimpse of the dental department at the VA hospital where he worked.
“I got to interact with them closely, and what they are doing is really exciting stuff,” he said. “They are very cutting edge on technology. It’s not what dentistry used to be.”
At the same time, his work in engineering was less fulfulling than he expected.
“I missed the interaction with people, thought I was going to be a little more integrated with the patients and stuff, but didn’t find that to be the case, so I started the pursuit to go to dental school,” said Dr. Marty Brunworth.
He enrolled at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Dental School, a four-year program, where he earned his DDS degree. He then completed an optional one-year residency at Mercy Hospital St. Louis last year.
“I got to meet some really great people in the area, interact with them, learn a ton about dentistry and really accelerate my career,” said Dr. Marty Brunworth, noting he treated some patients with special needs from the McAuley Clinic at Mercy Washington Hospital.
Like his son, Dr. David Brunworth didn’t follow a straight path into being a doctor either.
Growing up in Edwardsville, Ill., he worked in his uncle’s pharmacy and won a scholarship at the St. Louis Science Fair to attend St. Louis College of Pharmacy. His family didn’t have the means to pay for him to attend college, so Dr. David Brunworth accepted the scholarship and earned a degree in pharmacology. After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Missouri Medical School.
Dr. David Brunworth credits his own family doctor, Dr. Delicate, with encouraging his interest in science that led him to an eventual career in medicine.
“I just remember that he helped me with my science projects, that if I had questions about science, I could go ask him that,” said Dr. David Brunworth. “He influenced my interest in science because he was supportive of that.”
As a father, Dr. David Brunworth helped all three of his sons with their science projects. One that stands out was in 1993 when the Missouri River flood raised questions about pollutions.
The family lives on a small farm right along the river and saw the flooding up close.
“We saw this flooding and we were talking about pollution,when all this stuff washed into the river, all these oils and tanks and crude was in the river, how would that affect the growth of the plants?” said Dr. David Brunworth. “So we did a project where we put small amounts of oil in different test tubes and grew fish in them to see which ones would survive.”
Lessons in Work Ethic, Community
Long before Dr. Marty Brunworth was ever thinking about a career in dentistry, he was learning life lessons from his father about work and community. Both men laugh recalling how the sight of Dr. David Brunworth returning home with a truck full of mulch or gravel would be met with groans from the boys and any friends who happened to be at their house that day.
“They all knew they were going to get stuck unloading it,” Dr. David Brunworth recalled with a smile. “Sometimes their friends would call up first to ask, ‘Does your dad have any work that he’s doing, before I come over?’ because they knew they’d get roped into helping.”
Now, Dr. Marty Brunworth recalls those days fondly.
“That’s part of the work ethic he taught all of us,” he said. “It was an unwritten rule, if you saw the truck coming down with a load of mulch, you were helping. It was a cooperative team effort.”
Growing up the son of a beloved physician, Dr. Marty Brunworth also learned the value in providing a service to the community and doing it with compassion. He heard as much from friends (who were his father’s patients) and strangers.
During high school, when he delivered Meals on Wheels for Student Council, Dr. Marty Brunworth discovered many of the recipients were patients of his fathers and they were always excited to talk about him.
Now that he’s a dentist in town, the stories are the same, but the location has changed — to the dental chair. And hearing those kinds of stories make for very happy days at work, said Dr. Marty Brunworth.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I was a patient of your dad’s for years,’ and that’s a great moment,” he said. “I hope I can live up to their expectations.”
Some of his patients even remember him as a young boy tagging along with his father.
“I thought I would be intimidated by those moments, but everybody seems so happy and excited, that it hasn’t been that way at all,” said Dr. Marty Brunworth.
On the flip side, he is quick to share his own stories about his father with patients.
“I tell a lot of stories about my family,” he said. “When people ask, ‘Oh, am I going to have to get a shot for this?’ I say, ‘Well, my dad would always surprise us with shots too.’ ”
As a child he remembers that when he saw vials in the refrigerator, that meant they were all getting flu shots that day.
Now as an adult, Dr. Marty Brunworth has an even greater appreciation for all that his father did for him over the years. He can see the dedication his father had for the family that much more clearly.
“He would take emergency calls and house calls for patients, but he was also always there for the family,” he said. “I remember my senior year of high school being on the soccer team and my dad made all of my home and away games without hesitation. As I have worked, I have realized the dedication it took from him to leave work, make the drive, and be fully engaged in the game, and he did it full of energy and support.”
‘A Healing Ministry’
Looking ahead to his own retirement, Dr. David Brunworth said he doesn’t have any specific plans yet, but that he and his wife, Diane, will likely do some traveling. He’s interested in hiking through the national parks.
He’s excited about the future and watching his three sons follow their own paths as physicians.
“We both are extremely proud of all of our kids,” said Dr. David Brunworth. “We’re grateful that they have chosen to be in a healing ministry that their approach and attitude toward medicine is about taking care of people. That’s really what we’re proud of.”