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It’s all about Timing with Dyrc Sibrans, M.D.

It’s all about Timing with Dyrc Sibrans, M.D.

DECATUR — Dyrc Sibrans, M.D., still greets patients with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. His laughter is infectious and easily fills the room as he reminisces about what he’s accomplished during his career. Already retired once from his own thriving medical practice in Decatur in 2000, he originally prepared to spend more time with his wife at a fishing cabin they purchased in Montana, but something just wasn’t quite right. It was all about timing.

“The personal relationships you build with your patients is what’s so special to me,” Dr. Sibrans said. “I thought that it was probably time for me to get out. We bought the place in Montana in 1998, and went out there after I retired in 2001. I had a stack of books on one side of my chair that kept me in that chair until I had read them all and moved them from that side of the chair to the other side! I never had time before to read just for fun until I retired.”

The allure of Big Sky country was more than just reading for Dr. Sibrans. He’s an avid fly fisherman, and with miles and miles of streams awaiting him, the Alabama rheumatologist actually felt right at home…for a little while. But, as with most who answer a calling in their lives, the first retirement never quite sticks. So, when he was asked to review a few charts for a small community free clinic back home, he happily obliged. It wasn’t long before those few chart reviews became to mean much more to him and to the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County. Today, Dr. Sibrans serves as the clinic’s medical director.

The Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County opened in 2004 and provides free medical care, dental care and prescription medication for low-income residents of Morgan County. Staffed by a handful of full-time employees, the medical staff are all volunteers and has expanded to care for more than 3,000 patients annually.

“I did some chart reviews here when the clinic first started, and they needed a physician to help review the charts that the nurse practitioners had done during the day. We had about three or four of us doing that in the beginning. We average about 20 patients a night, and we do clinic two days a week. That’s a lot. Occasionally we have about three or four doctors that will come in after they have closed their practice, and we’ll finish up the night together. We get here about 4 p.m., and we go until we get finished, but we aren’t the ones who have the long days. The ladies in the office have the long days. They stay a lot longer than we do because they have to do all the paperwork,” Dr. Sibrans explained.

The difficult part is to continue to recruit physicians willing to volunteer. The clinic does not take walk-in patients, and there is a screening process. Patients are seen at times when most working physicians have just closed their practices for the day, this makes it difficult for some physicians to come to the Clinic and work three additional hours.

“I do interviews mainly to get some more doctors to come in and volunteer. I think it is a privilege as medical professionals to volunteer. I think it is our responsibility to the community to, in some way, give back to the people who gave so much to us,” Dr. Sibrans said. “When the clinic first opened, they had a lot of physicians who would come in and volunteer. But, over the years, they began to drift away and things got worse. I was doing the chart reviews and noticed there were just a few people doing a lot of the work. Pretty soon I was asked to be fully on board.”

Early on in Dr. Sibrans’ career, he made a critical choice about his career…a choice which could have landed him far outside the path of medicine.

“I have some questions about some of the things I have done in my life, but becoming a physician is definitely not one of them. I truly enjoy it. I knew when I was in high school that I was either going to be a priest or a doctor. I went to the seminary and realized that maybe the celibate life maybe wasn’t the life for me!” Dr. Sibrans laughed. “So, I answered a different calling, and I do consider medicine my true vocation. I had already made up my mind that medicine was what I was going to do. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t really get going in academics until my senior year in high school. Most kids now have to start making great grades in high school. I was very lucky. I got into medicine long before the control by the federal government and insurance companies. The demands that you have to be automated now, it just takes too much time to do what you need to do, and that’s to simply treat your patient. The practice of medicine has become way too difficult these days.”

As a battalion surgeon with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Dr. Sibrans was part of the Battle of Dak To at the beginning of the Tet Offensive, a nasty battle lasting 19 days and killing 376 U.S. soldiers. He was wounded himself during this battle. Even though he spent much of his time mending his fellow soldiers after battle, Dr. Sibrans found time to render aid to a Montagnard hospital in the highlands not far from his camp.

“Later, we were at a relatively benign base doing protection services. At that time, I was just doing sick call that could mostly be taken care of with antibiotics or cough syrup. I asked for permission to go to that hospital to help out. They were operating on anyone who came in. I saw stuff there that I hadn’t seen since Tropical Medicine in medical school. It was fascinating! All sorts of stuff that I had only read about and never seen again. One day a leper came in, and he was sent on to the leper colony a few miles away that was run by French nuns. I’d never seen anything like that, so I went to volunteer any way I could. I only went twice. Apparently some Viet Cong came into the colony looking for someone. I don’t think they were looking for me. I think they were looking for a Montagnard chief, but our intelligence people found out, and I couldn’t go back. I contacted my wife stateside who got in touch with some drug companies who donated some medicine back to the colony several times. That was such an eye-opening experience. I don’t know that I did that much good, but I know I learned a lot. I tell you what, the training I had at the University of Alabama, and the time I spent at the ER and in the VA, I felt like there wasn’t much I couldn’t handle for at least a little while,” Dr. Sibrans said.

With a lifetime of medicine and volunteerism under his belt, Dr. Sibrans is getting ready to retire…again…at the end of the year. There will be more time for family, reading, fly fishing and his many other hobbies, but when he talks about retiring there’s a bit of a twinkle in his eye.

“It took me a long time to decide to retire. It’s like an old saying I heard a long time ago in medical school that if you’re thinking about doing a tracheostomy, then you should have already done it. So, if I was thinking about retiring, I probably should have already retired!” Dr. Sibrans laughed.

For more information about the Community Free Clinic of Decatur-Morgan County or to become a volunteer, please contact Executive Director Jessica Payne at (256) 309-2491.

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Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer!

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer!

TUSCALOOSA – Jimmy Robinson, M.D., was the first Primary Care sports medicine-trained physician in the State of Alabama. One could say he’s seen a thing or two over the years.

Originally from New Orleans and a graduate of LSU, when Dr. Robinson first came to The University of Alabama, he faced a tough crowd but quickly found a new home.

“I came to The University of Alabama on a rotation as a medical student and realized just how strong the family medicine program was here. I knew right then this was where I wanted to come. It was an ideal family practice program. It had a little bit of everything I wanted from pediatrics to surgery…just everything. There were students from all over the country here for the same reason I was, and we all took advantage of that. We learned from each other. The things we can learn from each other, from other programs and places, is really amazing and should never be discounted,” Dr. Robinson said.

Dr. Robinson said he feels he was truly in on the infancy of sports medicine as a growing field as his work with the Crimson Tide continued in those early days. During his second year of his residency, he chose the one elective that changed the course of his career.

“There was one elective in sports medicine under Dr. Bill deShazo, who our sports medicine clinic is now named for here on campus. Before Dr. deShazo started with the Family Practice program he was with Student Health where he started taking care of the teams under Coach Bear Bryant. I spent a whole month on this sports medicine rotation without hardly ever seeing Dr. deShazo!” Dr. Robinson laughed. “Instead, I did everything the athletic trainers needed me to do. Every day during August practice, doing everything I could. Wrapping sprains, doing x-rays, whatever was needed, I did it. There were no other residents who wanted to do sports medicine, so when my rotation was up, I just kept going back, still doing whatever was needed, even if it was just evaluating a player who had a cold. I was happy with that.”

Eventually, the time came when Dr. Robinson decided to further his training in Sports Medicine by doing a Fellowship in Primary Care Sports Medicine. It wasn’t easy to find a program that would now meet the medical standards set at the Capstone. When he finally found that program, it was at The Cleveland Clinic where he trained with “two of the best sports medicine physicians in the country. We took care of the Cavaliers, Browns, Indians, and the high school football and hockey teams in the area. It was a lot of fun, and I never thought I would be working with hockey players, especially. Working with players that eventually went on to play professionally was very special to me. Keeping them healthy and watching them get to that level gives you a great sense of a job well done on your part as their physician.”

Still, sports medicine was not yet considered a true medical specialty and had a long way to go to get there. But, the best was yet to come.

“When I got the call to come back to Tuscaloosa, I think I accepted in about a nanosecond!” Dr. Robinson laughed. He was heading back to a city and campus he had fallen in love with years ago. He opened his practice in August 1989, and he knew that he had big shoes to fill. All eyes would be on him and his staff to take care of more than 500 student-athletes carrying on the Crimson Tide athletic tradition. But, Dr. Robinson had much more planned for his team.

As the medical director for all the athletic trainers at DCH Regional Medical Center, located just on the edge of the campus, Dr. Robinson and about 14 athletic trainers cover the city and county schools and hold injury clinics on Saturday mornings. Yes…that’s game day morning.

But, when the Tide rolls, everything else fades away.

“You’re so focused on the game and the players that everything just stops,” Dr. Robinson said. “The first thing I teach our Fellows and residents is that you are a physician first and a fan last. So all your decisions and all your actions have to be as a physician first, not as a fan…and that’s regardless whether it’s the first game, a homecoming game, or the National Championship game. It doesn’t matter. You cannot be a fan and take care of these players at the same time. You have to focus on the game, but not to watch the plays. You’re watching for injuries as they happen. There have been many times when an injury happened, and I was on the field before the play was called down. When you’re watching the plays for injuries as they happen, you’ll know if the player has a severe head or spinal injury, and you’ll know more about what to expect when you get to him. When you can see how the player hits the ground, you can anticipate what’s going to happen next. Believe me, I drive my wife crazy because I can’t just watch a game because I’m watching that game to make sure the players are safe.”

It’s easy to say that in Dr. Robinson’s 30-year career in sports medicine, he’s seen some horrible injuries. From fractures, concussions, paralysis, even Tyrone Prothro’s broken ankle in 2005, but nothing compares to the devastation of Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Known as the 2011 Super Outbreak, the Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado was a large and violent EF4 multiple-vortex tornado that devastated portions of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham during the late afternoon and early evening hours. The Tuscaloosa–Birmingham tornado was one of the 362 tornadoes that day, which was the largest tornado outbreak in United States history. The tornado reached a maximum path width of 1.5 miles during its track through Tuscaloosa, and attained estimated winds of 190 mph shortly after passing through the city.

Dr. Robinson was there. He was just across the river in Northport and had closed his practice at noon so his staff could get their children out of school. When he got home, his power was out. Because he was across the river from the direct path of the monster twister, he was unaware of the true devastation it caused…until he received a phone call.

“A friend of mine from Birmingham called and said that DCH had a direct hit from the tornado. I got across the river to DCH as fast as I could, but I was coming from the opposite direction from where the real damage was to the city. I couldn’t see just how bad it really was. When I got to DCH, the hospital wasn’t that bad, but the city was in trouble, as we later found out and could see from the news coverage,” Dr. Robinson said. “For a good long time, I was the only physician trained in musculoskeletal medicine working in the ER. We had everything from cuts and scrapes to amputations and surgeries to come through that day. It was a hard day.”

That day, one of the Crimson Tide players, long snapper Carson Tinker, was a patient in the ER, and he kept asking Dr. Robinson to find his girlfriend. Tinker and his girlfriend had huddled together at Tinker’s home during the storm. Dr. Robinson searched the hospital’s triage areas to no avail well into the night. He wasn’t the one that had to tell Tinker that she was one of the storm’s 52 casualties, but he was there for him.

“Of course, I feel a kinship with these players,” Dr. Robinson said. “They’re my patients first, always first, but a friendship develops, too. That’s something special.”

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The Ministry of Rural Medicine

The Ministry of Rural Medicine

PINE APPLE – The town of Pine Apple lies about 20 minutes off I-65 South tucked in the southeast corner of Wilcox County along Alabama’s Black Belt. Driving through this farming community, you quickly notice the picturesque countryside dotted with the occasional farm house and antebellum home. This is an old and settled community with a population of around 150 residents.

However, Pine Apple is nestled into one of the poorest counties in the country with a population of about 12,000 residents and few physicians to make the rounds. Roseanne Cook, M.D., is one of a handful of physicians serving the county. The Pine Apple Clinic is a community health center with its business center in Selma. The clinic receives some federal funding, and Dr. Cook has taken care of patients there since 1986. The clinic isn’t the average medical clinic, and Dr. Cook isn’t the average rural physician.

Dr. Cook is a Roman Catholic nun, a sister of St. Joseph out of St. Louis, MO.

In 1979 working as a biology professor, Dr. Cook said she felt her life had another mission. So, at age 40, she entered medical school, and her life’s work was about to fully take shape with the intent of delving even deeper into her ability to help our country’s poor residents.

“I loved teaching, but I knew the Lord wanted me to do more. When I first went to my major superior about going to medical school, I wasn’t sure what that answer would be!” she laughed. “The answer was if it’s the Lord’s inspiration, you’ll get in, if not, you won’t get in. And, I got in at age 40…the age of most of my student colleagues’ mothers.”

After medical school, Dr. Cook had planned to follow her order to Peru, but the nurse practitioner from her order was already in Pine Apple and convinced her to come to Wilcox County instead to join the practice.

Now as a family physician serving many counties, not just her own due to a shortage of family physicians in rural areas, she has more than her hands full of patients. But, she and her staff always make the best of the situation.

“I’ve been in this area since 1986, and it’s poverty stricken…actually it’s beyond poverty stricken,” Dr. Cook said. “These residents work hard, and because they work, they don’t qualify for Medicaid or subsidies, so we do everything we can to make their lives a little better.”

Wilcox County has a recorded median income for a household in the county is around $16,646, and the median income for a family is about $22,200. According to the last census, about 36 percent of families and 39 percent of the population were below the poverty line, including 32 percent of those age 65 or over.

Dr. Cook’s clinic is a small community unto itself and eagerly accepts donations to continue some of the services the surrounding residents have come to depend upon. The medical clinic building is flanked by an adult care building and learning center building. At the end of the square lies a thrift store-style facility. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding, the adult care and learning center has closed. Yet, the medical clinic building almost doubled in size due to a private donation in 1991.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” Dr. Cook said. “Sometimes we have more. Sometimes less. But we always make it work here.”

Working in a rural setting presents unique challenges for any physician. But in 2001, Dr. Cook was faced with one of her most challenging moments when she stopped to help a vehicle of stranded motorists just outside of town.

She was on her way to the clinic when she spotted the car on the side of the road. It needed a jump, so she pulled up and got out of her vehicle with her jumper cables. Ready to deliver roadside aide, Dr. Cook wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

She was knocked unconscious and tossed into the trunk of her vehicle. Driven down a desolate road deep into the county and only partially conscious, she wasn’t sure what was happening until shots were fired into the trunk. Five shots rang out. Four missed. One grazed her cheek.

“God didn’t want me to die that day,” she said. Today, she can look back on the incident with an ease that she surely didn’t have 15 years ago. It’s part of Dr. Cook’s character, woven into every fiber of her soul that keeps her soldiering on every day to treat the patients she’s grown to call members of her extended family.

And…she still makes the occasional house call.

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The Science of Food

The Science of Food

Vestavia Hills – Luis Pineda, M.D., MSHA, has been a practicing oncologist/hematologist for about 38 years. Like many in his field, he longed for a way to make the treatments for cancer easier for his patients.

His life’s work took an interesting turn in 2003 during rounds as he began to notice the cans of liquid supplements on the nightstands of his patients. Each day, there were more cans, and his patients continued to suffer the lingering effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms robbed Dr. Pineda’s patients from the simple act of eating a meal to regain the nutrients they needed to fight the cancer he was helping their bodies to overcome.

“I realized I needed to help my patients in a different way, by combining my knowledge of medicine with the science of food,” Dr. Pineda said. “This led me to Culinard where I could experiment with medicine and the art of cooking. I needed to find ways to stimulate their taste buds after their chemo and radiation. There truly is a science to food.”

For two years of eight-hour Saturdays, Dr. Pineda traded his physician’s jacket for a chef’s coat as he became a student again – this time at the Culinary Institute at Virginia College. His mission was different from the other chefs-in-training, but the outcome would be the same – to give others pleasure through food.

As a student, his instructors noticed some of Dr. Pineda’s culinary combinations were a bit unorthodox, yet they served a purpose. He began to craft dishes that used ingredients intended to stimulate taste, aid in digestion, ease mouth inflammation, and even detoxify the body. His concoctions are quite tasty as well!

“It’s easy to use simple, everyday inexpensive ingredients to bring good things back to the body,” Dr. Pineda said. “Our cultures center around the kitchen. It’s where we gather and make memories that last a lifetime. When something happens to take that away from us, it takes more than just food from us. It takes those good memories away from us.”

While Dr. Pineda’s recipes have not been scientifically tested by the traditional standards of medical research, they are based upon his knowledge as a trained physician and chef. Each recipe is created for a specific reason, highlighting ingredients that are known to be cathartic in some way. For example, many of Dr. Pineda’s recipes rely on chili peppers due to their levels of capsaicin, which can stimulate a cancer patient’s taste buds as well as ease symptoms of nausea.

Dr. Pineda’s mission to help those with cancer enjoy a better quality of life through good food culminated in the creation of Cooking with Cancer, Inc., a non-profit organization with the ultimate goal to provide better understanding of how food can be a healing factor in cancer patients. Cooking with Cancer, Inc., operates on donations and by the sale of Dr. Pineda’s cookbook, Prescription to Taste, A Cooking Guide for Cancer Patients. The cookbook and companion DVD have sold more than 30,000 copies nationally and internationally.

For Dr. Pineda, there is no standing still. He continues to push forward in educating his patients toward new eating habits, by guest lecturing on cancer prevention and community outreach, and with cooking demonstrations, but there is always more to learn.

“There’s always something new to learn in cooking and in medicine,” Dr. Pineda said. “There’s always someone we can help. My dream is that every patient diagnosed with cancer receives a copy of this book for free.”

To learn more about Cooking with Cancer, Inc., to order a cookbook or make a donation, visit the website at

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