Family physician Trent Pierce, M.D., has worked for almost three decades in his solo practice in West Memphis, Ark. So when a bomb exploded outside his car almost two years ago and injured him critically, his physician colleagues swiftly rallied to help in any way they could.
Heeding a call from the Arkansas AFP and the Arkansas Medical Society, fellow family physicians and other primary care physicians signed up to volunteer. For more than four months, a group of 32 physicians treated patients at Pierce's clinic on West Polk Street in West Memphis, a town of 28,000 in the northeastern corner of the state.
Today, the Pierce family continues to express amazement at the outpouring of support.
A total of 32 volunteer physicians chipped in to cover the practice of Trent Pierce, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark., during his recovery from severe injuries sustained in a bombing attack. They are:
John Alexander Jr., M.D., of Magnolia, Ark.
Marian Barr, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
L.J. Patrick Bell II, D.O., of Helena, Ark.
Steven Blanchard, M.D., of Jonesboro, Ark.
Tada Butler, D.O., of Jonesboro, Ark.
Stephen Carter, M.D., of Morrilton, Ark.
Jim Citty, M.D., of Searcy, Ark.
Brandy Davis, M.D., of Forrest City, Ark.
James DeRossitt, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Alexander Dunlap, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Rebecca Floyd, M.D., of Van Buren, Ark.
Yuen-Yee "Anna" Fong, D.O., of Germantown, Tenn.
M. Edward Hord, M.D., of Stuttgart, Ark.
James Meredith, M.D., of Forrest City, Ark.
Randy McComb, M.D., of Cordova, Tenn.
Lance Monroe, M.D., of Paragould, Ark.
Kenneth Nadeau, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Chester Peeples, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Edward Pillow, M.D., of Helena, Ark.
Thomas Robinson, M.D., of North Little Rock, Ark.
Perry Rothrock III, M.D., of Cordova, Tenn.
Frank Schwartz, M.D., of Forrest City, Ark.
Leonus Shedd, M.D., of Paragould, Ark.
Floyd Shrader, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Robert Shull Jr., M.D., of West Memphis, Ark.
Giri Swamy, M.D., of Memphis, Tenn.
Tammy Tucker, D.O., of Bull Shoals, Ark.
Tommy Wagner, M.D., of Manila, Ark.
Benjamin Walsh, M.D., of Crossett, Ark.
David Webber, D.O., of Helena, Ark.
Dwight Williams, M.D., of Paragould, Ark.
James Zini, D.O., of Mountain View, Ark.
"Trent and I feel immense gratitude," said Pierce's wife, Melissa, a nurse practitioner who works with her husband. "They (the volunteer physicians) want to act like they didn't do anything. But they left their own practices and drove (here) -- some drove three and four hours -- and drove back to see their own patients.
"It was a collective effort. It was absolutely amazing. People wanted to do something. Because of their contribution, our office, our girls, were able to continue to have a job and our patients got care. It wasn't just a gift to Trent, it was a gift to our office staff and our patients."
According to federal investigators, Pierce, who also served as chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board, was leaving for work on the morning of Feb. 4, 2009, when a device, later identified as a grenade, exploded in a spare tire near his Lexus SUV, critically injuring him and sparking outrage in the Arkansas medical community.
Pierce was taken to the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center at the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn., with blast injuries to his face and body. He lost his left eye and the hearing in his left ear. His 41 days in the Level 1 trauma center were followed by months of rehabilitation.
After a massive investigation by federal, state and local authorities, a physician who had been disciplined by the Arkansas State Medical Board, Randeep Mann, M.D., of London, Ark., was arrested and charged in the car bombing. In July 2010, he was convicted on charges related to the bombing and will be sentenced Feb. 28 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock.
Alexander Dunlap, M.D.
Following the bombing, Pierce's family members talked about hiring physicians to cover his office. But fellow FP Alexander Dunlap, M.D., who works in West Memphis as an emergency medicine physician, had another idea.
He told Pierce's family, "You worry about Trent; we'll worry about the clinic. The
doctors in the community will rally around him."
Carla Coleman, EVP of the Arkansas AFP, put out a call to family physicians across the state. Dunlap; Tommy Wagner, M.D., of Manila, Ark., who is a member of the Arkansas AFP Board of Directors; and Robert Shull, M.D., of Memphis, Tenn., became the impromptu coordinators and managers.
Chapter executive: Carla Coleman
Number of chapter members: 1,155
Date chapter was founded: April 9, 1948
Location of chapter headquarters: Little Rock, Ark.
2011 annual meeting date/location: July 20-22/Doubletree Hotel, Little Rock
Tommy Wagner, M.D.
Other Arkansas physicians drove in to volunteer for a day or two.
One such volunteer was another member of the Arkansas AFP Board of Directors, John Alexander Jr., M.D., who drove five hours across the state from his hometown of Magnolia in southwestern Arkansas to provide care to 30 patients, stay overnight and then go back home.
The volunteer physicians kept the practice on track. "Our biggest goal was to continue to provide medical care to the community and keep the practice going so he'd have a practice when he came back," said Dunlap.
John Alexander Jr., M.D.
During Pierce's hospitalization and rehabilitation, patients and other well-wishers sent cards and e-mail greetings, started prayer chains, made burn recovery blankets and waited for his return.
Other members of the community rallied around Pierce, as well. The owner of the local Holiday Inn provided free lodging to the visiting physicians, while the community provided their meals.
Almost two years after surviving a car bombing tied to his service with the Arkansas State Medical Board, Trent Pierce, M.D., of West Memphis, Ark., has returned to his duties as chairman of the medical board(www.armedicalboard.org).
Pierce told AAFP News Now that he drives to Little Rock, Ark., every two months for a two-day meeting with the board, which regulates medical practice in Arkansas. He also helps direct the board's daily activities.
Pierce said he returned to the board after the bombing to continue the job he started.
"Right and good have to prevail. I wasn't done with my service on the board. I had things left to do. And I had to show that right ultimately prevails."
The violent incident has sparked other changes in Arkansas.
Scott Ferguson, M.D., of West Memphis, a radiologist who served as the Pierce family spokesman, said the state legislature now has passed measures to start the first Level 1 trauma center in Arkansas. Pierce was treated at the Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center, a Level 1 trauma center in the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tenn.
"Arkansas was the last state to get a Level 1 trauma center. They used Trent's incident as an example when they passed it in the state legislature," Ferguson told AAFP News Now.
His daughter, Catherine Ferguson, a fourth-year student at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, said Pierce serves as a model of dedication and determination.
"I truly do feel that what he has done here is one of the bravest things I have ever read about or seen. I hope that his quiet courage in both continuing to practice openly with his name out front of his office door, continuing to serve as the head of the Arkansas Medical Board despite the attempt on his life … is not lost in the story.
"Most of all, I remember the long lines of yellow ribbons that filled our streets after the bombing became public. It was so beautiful to see how deeply valued we are as caregivers in these small, forgotten towns.
"Sometimes that gets lost in the endless debates over health care reimbursements, Medicare and physician burnout."
Pierce heads up a staff that includes a nurse, two nursing assistants and five office workers. Together, they manage a practice that cares for patients across the entire life span, from children to the elderly.
Pierce previously worked an average of 60 hours a week, but has since scaled back his long hours and made some other adjustments. Because of visual and hearing issues -- he now has a prosthetic left eye and a hearing aid for his left ear -- he uses an otoscope with special magnifying features and an electronic stethoscope. Other changes include using a new microscope with a television screen to evaluate specimens.
But when it comes to the care Pierce's practice provides, nothing has changed.
Pat Burns, of West Memphis, told AAFP News Now that Pierce has been her family's physician for 25 years. Pierce is a true family physician, she said.
"He knew us personally. And it was more than the doctor-patient relationship," said Burns. "There are not many doctors like that any more -- they take a personal interest in you.
"I just wanted him back."
In a blog that was kept during Pierce's hospitalization and rehabilitation, a May 18, 2009, entry from Melissa Pierce expresses her family's gratitude to the volunteer physicians: "In large part, Trent's passion for medicine is driving his recovery. We will never be able to repay the selflessness of so many physicians from all over the state that have worked to keep Trent's practice open; patients continue to come. They wait patiently for Trent's return.
"As Trent said: 'They gave me a gift of time, time to heal. They have preserved a 26-year labor of love -- my practice.' "
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