GC's Top 5 Doctors

Trysta Eakin

April 2, 2011 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated April 1, 2011 at 11:02 p.m.

At one time or another, we all have been poked and prodded by a doctor. Oftentimes we are sick or scared, and hope we get a doctor who listens with compassion and treats us with respect.

With more than 80 nominations, GC chose these five doctors to represent all the Golden Crescent area doctors who are cherished by their patients.

Dr. Gary S. Branfman, Plastic Surgery

Family: Wife, Susan; daughters, Sarah, 24, who lives in New York; Shaina, 21, who lives in Israel; and Hannah, 13, who goes to Cade Middle School

Background: A 55-year-old plastic surgeon, Dr. Branfman established The Victoria Plastic Surgery Center and Complexion Plus Skin Wellness in the early 1990s. He graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas Tech University School of Medicine, with surgical residencies at Mount Sinai Medical Center and St. Joseph Hospital in Houston.

A music- and art-loving, magician/photographer/screenwriter, Branfman said these are necessary to keep him healthy when not performing patient care.

These are more than hobbies, however. He's a member of the Society of American Magicians and one of his screenplays will begin production this spring.

Branfman was nominated by Andrea Castaneda, who after an act of violence, required skin graphs and reconstructive procedures to the body and face.

"When this happened, it was difficult for me to look in the mirror and recognize myself. Dr. Branfman promised he would do what he had to do until I felt comfortable with what I saw. And eventually I was. He did everything in his power to return my confidence in myself and I truly cannot repay him for that ... He has restored my faith in people which I had lost."

Why did you become a doctor? To do something good for the world and enjoy myself while I'm doing it. This philosophy was epitomized when, in four days, I performed 36 cleft lip and palate operations in Villa Hermosa, Mexico. Although these children will never remember me, I will always know the difference I made in their lives.

The thought of pursuing a career in medicine was an afterthought. I had finished college (the first time) and studied radio, television and film ... I was involved in the production of an educational film for high school students titled, 'Careers in Health Care Education.' This got me thinking. I knew of an uncle in San Antonio who is a physician (still practicing today), and I spent a long weekend with him. The rest is history.

What made this specialty appealing to you? I get bored easily. In plastic surgery, every day is different. My practice does not get routine or monotonous. I moved to Victoria because the Crossroads region did not have a plastic surgeon. This enabled me to do cosmetic surgery, reconstruction, hand surgery, cleft lips and palates and a variety of other sub-specialties I have been trained in.

Although cosmetic surgery, like face lifts and breast enlargements are fun, rewarding and lucrative, I did not spend a considerable portion of my life in training only to perform cosmetic surgery. In a single day, I might do a facelift, a breast augmentation, a cancer reconstruction and a carpal tunnel.

When most people hear the term, plastic surgery, they only think of cosmetic surgery. In reality, only 10 percent of plastic surgery is elective cosmetic surgery. We are the surgeons who re-attach amputated hands, stabilize and reconstruct burned patients, correct many birth defects of the face and hand, and rebuild breasts lost to cancer. There is no medical training program in America which requires more years of training than that required to be a board certified plastic surgeon.

What qualities should patients seek out when searching for a new doctor? Unless you have an emergency situation, don't rush into a new relationship. Once the chosen doctor's credentials have been verified (i.e. board certified in the specialty, experience, etc,) it boils down to personality. Theirs and yours. They gotta mesh. No matter how well trained a doctor is, if they cannot communicate with you, it doesn't work. Perhaps a personality profile site like "match.com" should be invented, to match patients with doctors? "Healthcareharmony.com" has a nice ring to it.

Dr. Claire Zengerle, Family Practice

Family: Husband of 26 years, Daniel; sons James, 34, and Jeff, 31, are both married and have children.

Background: This 50-year-old family practitioner has worked at Goliad Family Practice and Cuero Community Hospital for 15 years.

A graduate of Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, Zengerle did her residency at Memorial Medical Center in Corpus Christi.

Bill Ehrlich nominated Zengerle, noting that she maintains a close relationship with patients and she saved his life from a near-fatal aneurysm.

"Thank goodness for Dr. Zengerle, her staff and the small-town doctors that care enough to take care of folks, not only in emergencies, but in every day life. I am living proof of their dedication."

Why did you become a doctor? A college professor planted that seed in my head that I should become a doctor. I didn't think much of that idea initially, but then I was able to get a job working in the hospital and had some invaluable experiences that showed me what a fascinating field medicine is, and that this would be something I could accomplish.

Once I made up my mind, I never looked back and have enjoyed a rewarding career in trying to lend a hand, or most likely an ear, to all types of people with all types of problems. I can't think of anything else I would rather do; my patients have made the best teachers in many ways, and of many different lessons learned. To be trusted with another human being's life and problems remains a very humbling experience. It is very difficult to explain this feeling in words adequately.

What made this specialty appealing to you? Family practice is never a dull moment. So many different things occur in a single day's work, you really have to be on your toes. A wide variety of illnesses and ailments, from the common to the rare and unusual occurring in people of all ages and all types. I find this aspect very interesting and challenging, it's what keeps me going.

What qualities should patients seek out when searching for a new doctor? Someone who is still interested in the practice of medicine, stays up to date, and most importantly is able to give a little extra time to listen when it's needed the most. I have to say that this is much easier said than done in today's busy world.

Dr. Larry O. Riedel, Internal Medicine

Family: Wife, Janyth; daughter Cari and son, James

Background: Even at 81, this doctor continues to make his rounds at DeTar Hospital and is loved by many of his patients.

W.R. Franz wrote in his nomination, "From our first visit, he has demonstrated a genuine caring for our physical and mental health ... In his humble, quiet way, he projects a love from his patients and calling that sets an example for his staff."

Riedel, a 1956 graduate of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, began his Victoria practice in 1963.

This longstanding relationship with the community afforded him this recommendation from Pat and Bill Knebel: " ... most people in the area already know of him and do know of his great dedication to his patients."

Riedel said his hobbies include football, sailing and reading.

Why did you become a doctor? My father was a pharmacist and I worked in the drug store where I became interested in medicine.

What made this specialty appealing to you? I did not like surgery.

What qualities should patients seek out when searching for a new doctor? Integrity, honesty, sincerity and availability.

Dr. Maya Pathikonda, Pediatrics

Family: Husband of 29 years, Suresh; son, Anoop, 26 and daughter, Leena, 23

Background: Earning a medical degree in Indian, Pathikonda also trained in St. Louis and Chicago.

The 52-year-old pediatrician is known for listening to her patients with compassion and understanding, something Debra Hurst pointed out in her nomination letter of Pathikonda, who has treated her granddaughter for 11 years.

Holly Holland wrote that she has two children under the doctor's care, one of whom was diagnosed and treated for Kawasaki Disease.

"Dr. Maya knew what (my son had) when every other doctor was unsure and wanted to wait and run more tests. At the time, I wasn't aware that (Kawasaki Disease) was best treated 10 days from onset of symptoms for best outcome. She saved my son's life."

Why did you become a doctor? My dad was a doctor. I always watched him, sympathetic and caring to others. I wanted to give back in the same way.

What made this specialty appealing to you? I always loved to work with kids because they get better so fast and they don't complain. Even when you have to give them a shot, they always say, "Thank you Dr. Maya." They appreciate you. My dad was a general practitioner; he was a medical officer in India, but worked more with the kids. It keeps you young at heart and they make you feel energized.

What qualities should patients seek out when searching for a new doctor? You want a good listener, someone that appreciates you and is compassionate. Parents should look for a doctor who makes eye contact, isn't standing at the door and is available for you.

As a pediatrician, you have to listen to the parents because the child is not talking. I also don't want to just prescribe medication, I want the parents to understand the pathology behind the illness.

Dr. Terry Whitehouse, Gynecology

Although chosen to represent the Ob/Gyn doctors in this Top 5, Whitehouse could not be reached in time for publication.

His patient for more than a decade, Erin Reininger, wrote a recommendation of Whitehouse.

"Even during my first visit with him, I knew he was someone special and that I definitely wanted him taking care of me. The first thing Dr. Whitehouse did when I was called back from the waiting room, before my exam even commenced, was invite me into his office, sit down with me, and have a friendly chat. He asked about work, how I was doing, interesting books I was reading, how my recent weekend had been, and just generally how life was treating me. Never before nor since have I had a doctor exhibit that kind of care. I know it's a novel concept, but by taking those five minutes to get to know me, he totally put me at ease and earned my trust.

"... I was lucky enough to find a doctor who treats me like a person with thoughts and concerns, who takes the time to patiently answer all my questions, who immediately puts me at ease just by walking in the room, and who doesn't dismiss me as if I'm beneath him because I only have a lowly bachelor's degree and not a medical degree. When you're sick and you're scared, having someone like that in your corner is even better than having a winning lottery ticket."



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